By Cyndy Crist
With the local tomato season winding down, I decided last weekend to buy more than the usual quantities of both plum and beefsteak tomatoes and prepare them to freeze for later use. My initial plan for the plums was to freeze them whole, but careless storage for a couple of days after bringing them home left me with too many that had bad spots needing to be removed to make that feasible. So instead I tried two approaches to roasting them (I’ll post soon about the beefsteaks).
I started by searching on Epicurious and several other sites using the terms “roasted tomatoes” and “baked tomatoes,” thinking that my preferred approaches with the plum tomatoes would fall under the “roasted” heading and of the beefsteaks under the “baked” heading. What I found was little apparent consistency regarding the use of those two terms. Generally, the term “roasted” seems to imply higher temperatures and more oven time. However, some baked tomato recipes called for higher oven temps than did some of the roasted recipes, and the amount of time suggested varied as well. I guess the difference is in the eye (or taste buds) of the beholder.
Given the wide array of approaches, I decided to select two that varied in several respects. These included whether to roast the tomatoes with the cut sides up or down; whether or not to remove the seeds and membranes; and how to season them. The points of consistency were that both called for olive oil, garlic, and salt; both specified an oven temperature of 375 degrees; and both suggested a total oven time of about 60 minutes.
The first recipe I followed directed me to line a baking sheet with parchment paper, toss one and a half pounds of tomatoes with one tablespoon of olive oil, ¾ tablespoon of oregano, and salt; put 1-2 unpeeled garlic cloves on the baking sheet; and place the tomatoes, cut side down, on the parchment paper, drizzling over any oil, juices, and seasoning remaining in the bowl. Per the recipe, I roasted them for 30 minutes, then removed the garlic cloves and turned the tomatoes over, and roasted them further (the directions suggested another 30 minutes, but I removed them after about 15 because the oil and parchment paper were both beginning to burn). I found it very difficult to turn the tomatoes over after 30 minutes of roasting and wondered, based on my experience and the approximate number of tomatoes suggested for the recommended weight, if the problems was that my tomatoes were smaller than those envisioned by the recipe.
The second recipe I used directed me to remove the seeds and membranes from the tomatoes and let them drain, cut side down, for 15 minutes; then toss them with olive oil (3 tablespoons for about a pound of tomatoes), salt, pepper, rosemary, and one minced garlic clove and let them marinate for 15 minutes; and place them, cut side up, on an oiled baking sheet. To ensure more even roasting, I turned the sheet around after 30 minutes, and as with the first recipe, ended up removing it 15 minutes early because the oil was beginning to burn, putting the tomatoes in danger or burning as well.
I engaged my husband in a taste test and we both liked the results of the second recipe better because of more intense flavor and a firmer, meatier texture. I think the presence of garlic scattered across these tomatoes helped their flavor as well, but in fairness I had neglected to do anything with the whole roasted garlic cloves in the first recipe before we tasted them.
A few additional observations: recipe two gave me tomatoes that more closely fit my idea of what roasted tomatoes should be like in terms of both flavor and texture. The unseeded tomatoes, though, had a plumper texture that I think will work well in dishes in which more moisture will be a benefit (sauces and soups especially come to mind). Herbs could obviously be varied in many ways for the tomatoes depending on anticipated future uses, or could be omitted to increase the options for later incorporation into dishes.
I’m also interested in trying the full recipes from which I drew these two approaches to roasted plum tomatoes, both found on Epicurious. The unseeded version was included in a recipe for a roasted tomato and almond pesto tossed with pasta. The moister tomatoes that resulted from this approach would be perfect for the dense sauce that would result, and I’ll bet it would be as good made with walnuts or pine nuts as almonds. The seeded version called for topping the warm tomatoes with crumbled Stilton cheese and then tucking in watercress between the tomatoes before serving. I think this would make a lovely first course and can imagine substituting Parmesan cheese and arugula, or goat cheese and baby spinach, with equally good results.
Ultimately, since flavor is key and the time required to seed the tomatoes minimal, I’m more likely to use the second recipe in the future. But I’m glad to be able to compare and contrast the results of these two approaches. And who knows, come winter, when I thaw and use my frozen roasted tomatoes, I may find myself liking the plumper, juicier version just as well. In any case, I think I’ll be glad to have a choice.