Monday, June 8, 2009

You'll Be Fine

Are you sitting down? Good. Because what you're going to make this week requires lots of sitting down. Specifically with a glass of wine and maybe a few friends, but only if you're willing to share. And you might not be after you taste these tomatoes.

Several months ago I found a book called The Improvisational Cook at the library. The author Sally Schneider has a creative approach to cooking in that she does not use recipes. That's right, she just cooks on the fly. Which is how a real chef works, I suppose. You learn about foods and flavors and cooking techniques and when you have all these tools collected and polished and lined up, you can start inventing dishes of your own. For example, she'll tell you how to infuse oil with zest and garlic and chilis and then you can make a variety of oils to drizzle over salads or fish or fresh mozzarella.

Her idea for tomatoes was simple - roasting. I'm a huge proponent of roasting, and if I haven't told you about roasted broccoli yet then you haven't been talking to me enough because I talk about roasted broccoli the way some people talk about their children or their 401K plans. Roasting brings out the best in all vegetables. Tomatoes look like they're too weak and tender to stand up to roasting but you just have to know how to treat them.

You can roast any size tomatoes. I tried large beefsteak tomatoes (which are perfect for pureeing into soup, just roast some garlic alongside and blend it all together, then let it sit overnight to meld the flavors) and cherry tomatoes. The cherry tomatoes were much faster and naturally have more sugar to caramelize and create flavor. Here's what you need to do.

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and line them cut side up in a baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake for about an hour and a half. While you wait, you can sit around drinking your wine and telling your friends how good they have it to know you. But don't forget about the tomatoes. You know they're done when they are dark but not black, with a little sizzle and easily smashed. You can scoop them out into a bowl, but make sure to pour all that flavorful oil into the bowl too. The tomatoes become something like a chutney or compote which you can then put on pizza, pasta, or as I did - on bread spread with goat cheese.

It's not a recipe. It's just guidelines. If the oven temperature isn't exactly right, you'll be fine. If the timing isn't exactly right, you'll be fine. If you don't serve it the same way I did, you'll find another way, maybe even a better way. Let me know what it is.