Roasting Plum Tomatoes: Comparing Two Approaches

By Cyndy Crist

Tomatoes #1 first out of oven (by Cyndy Crist)
Tomatoes #1 first out of oven (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.

Roasting tomatoes on parchment paper (by Cyndy Crist)
Tomatoes #1 ready for oven (by Cyndy Crist)

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.

Oven ready tomatoes #2 (by Cyndy Crist)
Oven ready tomatoes #2 (by Cyndy Crist)

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.

Tomatoes #1 done (by Cyndy Crist)
Tomatoes #1 done (by Cyndy Crist)

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.

Tomatoes #2 done (by Cyndy Crist)
Tomatoes #2 done (by Cyndy Crist)

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.

Creative Recipes using Roasted Tomatoes – Tasting Table’s Bloody Mary Tomatoes

Bloody Mary Tomatoes (Roasted)
Bloody Mary Tomatoes (Roasted)

Bloody Mary Roasted Tomatoes:  A Treat to Awaken Your Tastebuds

By Cyndy Crist

As tomato season gets closer, I’m becoming increasingly impatient for the appearance of the first locally grown delights at the farmers’ market.  Our unusually early spring offers the promise of an equally early tomato harvest, but as I write this, that’s still weeks away at best.

In the meantime, I continue to look for ways to turn plum or Roma tomatoes into something tasty, since this variety seems to offer a more acceptable “off season” substitute for locally grown fruits of the larger, juicier types.  I found a great new recipe in a Tasting Table post from a few weeks back that I was eager to try and when I did, I got great results.

If you don’t know Tasting Table, you’ll want to check them out.  They send out daily posts targeted to national and selected “big city” audiences, as well as several weekly posts that focus on the restaurants and foods of specific cities, new foodie treats and kitchen products, and recipes from chefs and sous chefs, mixologists, the producers of commercially available products, and their own staff.

The recipe that caught my fancy, Bloody Mary Tomatoes, was created by TT editor Rebekah Peppler, with the idea of enhancing the deep, rich flavor of tomatoes with something from her liquor cabinet.  These Bloody Mary tomatoes were the result.

Prepping Bloody Mary Tomatoes
Prepping Bloody Mary Tomatoes

On a cool spring day, I assembled my ingredients, got the oven pre-heating, and set about making a batch.  I stayed true to the recipe’s ingredients with one small exception explained below, but I varied the process just a bit.  While Peppler calls for tossing the tomatoes in the spice/horseradish mixture, I decided instead to spoon and spread it on the cut side of each tomato.  I did try tossing them, but the thick, paste-like mixture didn’t really adhere to the smooth tomato skin, and I also thought more of the flavor might get into the tomatoes if it was all applied to the cut surface.

The only ingredient called for that can be challenging to find is fresh horseradish. I found some nice, firm pieces of fresh root on my second grocery store stop and am really glad I was able to use it, since it added such a lovely, bright pungency to the tomatoes.   I suspect, though, that a decent, prepared horseradish would be fine as long as it wasn’t horseradish sauce (the kind that mixes horseradish into something creamy). The other ingredients include lemon zest, celery salt, cayenne pepper, sugar, grape seed or canola oil, plum tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper.  I discovered that I had celery seed but not celery salt, so I used a little more salt than called for and about half the suggested amount of celery seed.  That worked just fine.

Cleary, finding the fresh horseradish root was the hardest part of the whole process.  The topping mixture was easily assembled and the whole thing was ready for the oven in minutes.  I used a fork, rather than my fingers, to do the mixing, which worked jut fine (in this case, I’m not sure what the advantage of a hands-on approach would be).  I also used only eight tomatoes and the topping seemed just sufficient for that number, but perhaps I was slightly generous with it. Finally, I was concerned that the amount of roasting time called for seemed excessive, so I watched the tomatoes closely, but the recipe worked well as written. Since test kitchens are generally pretty rigorous in their testing and perfecting of recipes before they’re published, I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I guess a little caution never hurts!

We’ve mostly eaten these to date as a kind of side dish or condiment with meals – they were delicious served alongside grilled Porterhouse steaks, for example, and tossed into scrambled eggs.  Recently, I decided to try them in two combinations inspired in part by up the ubiquitous Buffalo chicken wings of which my husband is so fond.  For one version, I made a kind of thick dip in which I mixed some of the diced tomatoes with our favorite blue cheese yogurt dressing and a little additional crumbled Gorgonzola and served them with stalks of celery. For the other, I mixed diced tomatoes with cream cheese and a little Greek yogurt and spread them on the celery stalks.  I preferred the latter, since I felt the tomatoes were complimented by, rather than competing with, the other ingredients.  I think my husband will prefer the more robust tomato-blue cheese combo.

However you use them, these tomatoes offer a real flavor punch that’s not for the faint of heart but which definitely wakes up your taste buds.  And if you find them a bit too spicy, the amount of cayenne could be reduced. I will definitely be making these again and letting them inspire new ideas for good flavor companions.  In fact, the mental sparks are already flying!

Spreads with Bloody Mary Tomatoes
Spreads with Bloody Mary Tomatoes

Bloody Mary Tomatoes
From The Tasting Table Test Kitchen

1 tablespoon of finely grated fresh horseradish
1 teaspoon of finely grated lemon zest,
½ teaspoon celery salt,
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Grape seed or canola oil
10 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375°. In a medium bowl, use your fingers to rub the horseradish, lemon zest, celery salt and cayenne pepper into the sugar. Add the tomatoes and Worcestershire and toss to coat.
Lightly grease a rimmed baking sheet with oil and place the tomatoes, cut-side up, in the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Roast until the tomatoes are tender and shriveled, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cool to room temperature and serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 5 days.

A Few Easy Recipe Ideas to Satisfy Those Tomato Cravings in the Middle of Winter

By Cyndy  Crist    

For those of us who love good tomatoes, not the kind that look pretty but have no taste, winters can be pretty frustrating.  Although canned or frozen tomatoes can be used in pretty much any cooked dish, they don’t give you that great, earthy taste of summer.  I have found a few ways to get pretty good tomato flavor, even on the coldest, snowiest day, using fresh cherry tomatoes, preferably organic.  Perhaps because of the smaller size, they simply don’t seem to be as lacking in either flavor or texture as their “full-sized” cousins.  And it may just be my imagination, but it seems to me that grape tomatoes are the best choice of those available in the winter.

Here are three of my favorite ways to enjoy fresh cherry tomatoes in the dead of winter (or any time of year when good, fresh, local tomatoes aren’t an option).

Oven-roasted cherry tomatoes. 

Roasting is one of the easiest and most delicious ways to prepare tomatoes with great, deep flavor, and there are lots of variations to try.  Start with a pint or two of tomatoes, some decent olive oil, some good salt (I like Maldon for a little crunch), and pepper tossed together in a roasting pan or tray.  Then choose an oven temperature and use a little creativity to get the results you want.  Here are a few options:

  • For something similar to sun-dried tomatoes, slow-roast them at 225 degrees for up to 3 hours.   You’ll find a great description of this approach and ideas about how to use slow-roasted tomatoes in Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan, one of my favorite recent cookbooks.  Although many know Greenspan primarily for her baking cookbooks, this volume leaves no doubt that her skills aren’t limited to the oven.
  • For tomatoes that retain more shape and moisture, roast them at a higher temperature for a shorter period of time.  Roasting at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes will give you lots of deep flavor, while roasting at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or more will yield a “gentler” but still tasty result.
  • Vary the flavor with your choice of herbs or seasoning. Whole sprigs of fresh rosemary or thyme work well, while dried oregano or torn or shredded leaves of basil tossed with the tomatoes will give you a more traditional Italian flavor.  Garlic can add great flavor, but you’ll need to take care that it doesn’t burn.  To enhance caramelization, toss in a little sugar.

Tomatoes roasted at a higher temperature for a shorter time are great as a side dish, while any variation is great with eggs (stirred into a scramble or folded into an omelet or frittata) or served with roasted meat or chicken.

Cook’s Note: Don’t waste your best extra virgin olive oil in this recipe.  The high heat will diminish the great flavor for which you’ve paid a premium, so use your best EVOO in salad dressings and to drizzle on finished dishes and keep a less expensive one on hand for roasting.  

Tomato-basil salad   

This one is as easy as it comes.   Toss the tomatoes, whole or halved, with thin strips (chiffonade) of fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. If you want, you can add a splash of good vinegar (preferably red wine or balsamic) or some fresh lemon zest for a little brightness.  If basil is too pricey this time of year or unavailable, many other green herbs are fine substitutes.   Another option is to toss the tomatoes with pesto and/or with some fresh mozzarella.

For best flavor, let your tomatoes sit on the counter for an hour or so before eating.  These are great as a snack or side dish or tossed in a salad.

Cook’s Note: Because refrigerating tomatoes destroys their flavor and texture, make only enough of this salad to consume the day it is made.  Also, make a mental note now to take advantage of the glut of late summer basil at farmers’ market to turn into pesto to freeze for cold, winter days when a sunny taste of summer is especially welcome.  My favorite recipe is in Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking; she tells you specifically how to get the best results if you’re going to freeze your pesto

Sauteed tomatoes 

While roasting cherry tomatoes deepens their flavor, sautéeing them in a pan is quick and easy and retains fresh taste.  You can use butter or olive oil for this one, or a combination of the two.  Any number of herbs work well in this dish.  Oregano and basil are most traditional, but dill, l’herbes de Provence, savory, or marjoram are also good.  For a “south of the border” flavor try adding a little chile and cumin.

For more complexity of  flavor, sauté chopped onions, shallots, and/or garlic in the oil before adding the tomatoes, or stir in a little cream at the end of the cooking time for richness.  These are great spooned on top of chicken, steaks, pork chops, or fish, tossed with pasta, or used in just about any dish that calls for canned tomatoes.

Cook’s Note:  The last time I made these, I used smoked olive oil, a product I’d never tried before, and I was blown away by the flavor it added.  I bought mine at Williams-Sonoma and have seen it offered by Amazon and Open Sky, but it’s also available on-line directly from the producers, The Smoked Olive.