Some mystery animal has been eating our tomatoes and it’s driving John nuts. Rightfully so, since we broke our backs hauling every last gigantic pot from our old back yard to our new back yard. And just as we’ve been starting to enjoy the fruits of our transplanted crop, a thief came in the night, leaving a half eaten tomato, its juices pooling in the dirt, as evidence in the moring. And almost every night since then, another ripe tomato has fallen pray to this little creature. John now spends most mornings obsessively inspecting the reminants of his precious fruits and has surmised the following about the suspect so far:
1. It has small teeth
2. It is tall enough to reach about 3-4 feet off the ground, or it can climb.
3. It has very good taste in tomatoes, preferring heirlooms like the brandy vines over your run-of-the mill ripe red tomato. (This last fact is, as you can imagine, especially irksome.)
And me? Sure I’m curious what hungry little animal is chomping away at the heirlooms. (I imagine a family of raccoons with their checkered picnic cloth and bottle of olive oil enjoying a midnight meal in the back yard.) But, maybe because of my generally overly sympathetic view towards animals, it doesn’t kill me like it kills John. I figure whatever little critter it is is just hungry. John, on the other hand, has been busy making plans to net the plants and rig up a video surveillance in the yard.
And meanwhile, since our own tomato crop has been well, shared, John’s been bringing home bags and bags of “seconds” from work; cracked or bruised but otherwise perfectly delicious ripe tomatoes and piling them on our kitchen counter along with those tomatoes we’ve salvaged from the back yard. The pile grew to a mountain, and this morning, tomatoes literally started avalanching onto the floor. I took it as sign that a tomato intervention needed to happen pronto.
So, stuck at home waiting for the Comcast guy to come, I turned on the oven, boiled the biggest pot of water I could, and got to work blanching, peeling, dicing, and roasting. Expect a lot of tomato recipes going forward.
To get you started, here’s a simple little recipe for my favorite slow roasted tomatoes. A great way to use up romas or cherry tomatoes, this requires practically no effort and leaves you with the sweetest most fragrantly delicious tomatoes you will ever taste. To me, they are tomatoes intensified, and there isn’t anything they don’t make more delicious – stir them into pasta and top with parmesan cheese; eat them on toast with a smear of goat cheese or ricotta; bake them into a quiche; eat them on a poached egg; use them in salad with a splash of balsamic, some fresh mozzarella, and torn basil leaves; put them on a pizza!; bake them into cornbread; spoon them over grilled salmon or lamb…you get the idea. Because of the aforementioned tomato mountain, this recipe makes quite a lot of roasted tomatoes and can easily be halved to accommodate a more reasonable quantity of tomatoes.
For the Roasted Tomatoes
2 quarts small roma or cherry tomatoes, rinsed and cut in half lengthwise
½ cup good olive oil
10 sprigs fresh thyme
6 sprigs fresh oregano
1 head garlic, divided into cloves, skin on
Generous sea salt and cracked black pepper
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Smash the garlic cloves with the back of a knife. (I don’t bother peeling the garlic because I find the smashed cloves impart enough flavor in the oil and tomatoes without disintegrating, but if you want your tomatoes more garlicky, by all means peel them. You can always peel a few of the roasted cloves once the tomatoes are cooked and mix in the roasted garlic with the tomatoes.) Toss together all the ingredients in a large bowl and then spread evenly on two baking trays. Bake 1 ½ hours and then increase the temperature to 350 degrees and bake an additional 30 minutes.*
* I call these slow(ish) roasted tomatoes because though they are certainly slow – 2 hours or so in a low oven – they aren’t as slow as some slow roast tomato recipes I’ve seen that require 4 or even 6 hours in the oven, something which seems just wrong in mid-August.