Thursday, July 18, 2013

Slow Roasted Heirloom Tomatoes

I met Joe on New Year’s Day 2011 and it was only a matter of weeks before we embarked on a long distance relationship which has since resulted in two years of adventures,cohabitation and a recent engagement to boot (yay!).  I lived in San Francisco at the time we met, and Joe, in Davis.  It was roughly a two hour one-way Amtrak ride to see him (or three beers, depending on your choice of metrics), but it was worth it for the two short days we'd spend together each week.  We had conflicting weekends, rarely having the same days off unless I could swing some hard to come by coverage at work, so visits were often short and spent soaking up all the affection we could to last us through the next week.  Pizza and pint nights were a staple.  Late night bike rides...  Lounging in bed with Little Wings faintly playing on repeat for hours, occasionally taking a break to smoke a cigarette on the back porch and bask in the cool night air...  As the weather began to warm, we took walks through the arboretum to welcome spring and encourage it to make itself at home with us.

That April, Joe had the grand idea that we were going to plant a garden in his backyard.  My idea of gardening was derived from my mother and my Pappy: a few colorful perennials plopped into the ground and rosebush pruning.  Some geraniums and a few snapdragons.  Maybe there’d be knee pads and cute gardening gloves involved.  And maaayyybe a tomato plant or fruit tree although a little venturesome.   Round-Up and Miracle Grow were must haves in our gardening arsenal.  I had this in the bag!  But after a trip in Joe’s pickup truck to borrow a rototiller (a roto-what?) from a landscaping friend of his and purchasing over 10 baby tomato plants, I realized that I was way, waaay in over my head.   I was going to need more than a pair of knee pads and gloves to impress this guy.

During that month together, we pulled weeds and took the rototiller to the entire backyard.  We laid gravel by the fire pit and aimlessly threw sunflower and poppy seeds everywhere.  We built four planter boxes.  We planted 12 heirloom tomato plants, six green pepper plants, two tomatillo plants, two rows of corn, a patch of watermelon and an herb garden that flaunted cilantro and rosemary taller than the corn.  No Miracle Grow.  Everything just simply thrived.  I quit my job and moved to Davis.  We listened to a lot Devil Makes Three.  We drank pear cider.  We roasted marshmallows and burned cockroaches.  We got sunburned and sweaty and dirty and fell head over heels in love (note: we are not hippies, I swear. We do shower).

By the time August rolled around our yield was so large that we were giving tomatoes away by the bag full.  There was a lot of spaghetti sauce.  A lot of caprese salad.  I roasted the little fellas, too, which was my favorite way to eat them (especially the Cherokee Purples).  They were sweet and rich, bursting with flavors so unbelievably complex  that you realize the grocery stores have been fooling you all along with their oily, wrinkly canned “sun-dried” tomatoes and you'll never go back again.

We don’t have the luxury of a large backyard these days, but we still have our tomatoes and select herbs.  I assume the old house is still sprouting volunteer plants and poppies this summer, and I’m a little envious.  But we’ve done pretty well with the limited space we have.  We’re unable to plant in the ground given our small, cemented apartment patio so Joe built a tall rack to place the potted tomatoes on, giving them access to direct sunlight over the fence (that guy's just full of these genius ideas).  And even though I’m sure the roots are overly cramped and screaming  for space, we have surprisingly managed to grow heirlooms that are just as productive in 5-gallon pots as they could have been in the ground.  And still without the Miracle Grow!  What can I say?  We’re pretty good together.

Our heirlooms started ripening in droves this week and I decided I couldn't wait until we were up to our necks in tomatoes before I would roast some.  So I did.  Here, you’ll find perhaps the easiest, least time consuming thing you can do to a tomato, other than pop it directly into your mouth.  All you need is some olive oil, herbs, a clove of garlic and your little prides of joy.  Don’t grow?  Pick some of these beauts up at the Co-Op or Farmers Market. You can do anything with these once they’re roasted: pop ‘em in your pasta sauces for some added flavor, add them in your pan chicken dishes or grilled veggie sandwiches, eat ‘em as a snack or side dish, or do what Joe did and use them for homemade pizza sauce and pizza toppings for a meatless Monday dinner (thanks, babe!). No matter how you eat them, you’ll love them. I promise.


Slow Roasted Heirloom Tomatoes

This is a recipe that you can adapt to your own taste. Want more garlic? Add it! Have some basil you want to use? Go for it! I use thyme and rosemary I have in my “garden” (man, I can’t wait to have a house and a yard again).  I also want to suggest that you use meatier heirlooms, like Cherokee Purples, but that’s just my personal preference. Smaller and juicer slicer tomatoes tend to drown in their own liquid and shrink down to a shriveled up skin the end (so, so disappointing). The meaty fellas hold their own in the oven. Cherry tomatoes, like Sungolds, work well too! Just monitor them because they tend to burn if you choose to roast at a higher temperature for a shorter amount of time (like I did for the above photos. I was impatient and didn't want to wait eight hours, so I speed roasted them, so to speak, at 350 degrees for three hours. The result was fine, but I recommend you be a big kid, keep your panties on and just wait the eight hours as I wrote out below. Sooooo worth it).

Side note: I know turning your oven on for 6-8 hours in mid-July sounds like an insanely hellacious idea, but TRUST ME! The oven is on at such a low temperature you’ll hardly notice. And if you do, you can curse me and turn the AC on.

4-6 medium to large heirloom tomatoes, halved
A couple springs of fresh rosemary
A couple springs of fresh thyme
1 clove of garlic, thinly sliced
2-3 tablespoons of olive oil (the better the quality, the happier you’ll be

Preheat your oven to 225 degrees.  Drizzle one to two tablespoons of olive oil on a baking sheet.  Scatter the sliced garlic on the sheet.  Place the tomatoes cut side up in two rows on the baking sheet and drizzle the remaining olive oil over the top of the tomatoes.  Sometimes, I'll use a pastry brush to make sure I get olive oil on all of them.  Sprinkle rosemary and thyme leaves on the top of each tomato.  Only a few leaves are needed, don’t overdo it or you’ll overpower the tomato’s natural flavor.  Place the baking sheet in the oven and let them roast for 6-8 hours and enjoy how amazing your kitchen smells.  When time is up, remove them from the oven and let them set for about 10 minutes.  Transfer to a large plate, tray, Tupperware or plastic Ziploc bag.  The roasted tomatoes can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days or frozen for later use for up to three months.  Enjoy!

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