Those heady days of summer — and in Seattle, that’s September, mostly — there are so many tomatoes around that we take them for granted. Every table at every farmers’ market bursts with bright red tomatoes, fire on white, warmth where there had been cold for months before. We eat gazpacho, tomato sandwiches, tomato soup, caprese salads. We gorge on tomatoes. We live in tomatoes. We love tomatoes, even if the love is so deep that we’re eating them and ignoring them at the same time. In the middle of September, nothing has to be said. We just eat tomatoes.
Now, however, it’s December. And there are no more locally grown, ripe tomatoes.
Sure, there are canned tomatoes. We’re fond of San Marzano tomatoes, which are a particularly rich fat tomato grown in Italy. If they’re preserved the right way, they make the dark days of winter a little brighter. There are sun-dried tomatoes, both the ones we dried ourselves in the summer and the packages we grab at the store to make lasagna or pizza. Some studies suggest that canned and dried tomatoes might be higher in lycopene, which possess antioxidant properties. So there’s nothing wrong with a winter stew made with canned tomatoes.
However, sometimes during the winter, I wish for the bite of a fresh tomato, the sweet juiciness, the overwhelming sensation of tomato that stops everything else for awhile.
Those days, I slow roast tomatoes in the oven.
We choose our tomatoes carefully. We like organic tomatoes, grown in a hothouse. It’s a little precious but it’s only because those tomatoes actually have taste. The ones grown in Florida or Mexico during the winter just taste mealy to me. No amount of roasting helps them.
Luckily, the roasting doesn’t require much thought. Simply quarter the tomatoes, drizzle on olive oil, and crunch some salt and pepper on top. Sometimes I like a spice, like basil or coriander. Mostly, I just like the taste of roasted tomatoes themselves.
Put them on a sheet tray and slide it into an oven, preheated to 350. If you want a fast roast, try 500°. If you want a super-slow roast, so the tomatoes come out like little pieces of candy, try 250°. I like a warm oven and not much time. (Maybe 30 minutes?) I want the juices released, the sweetness enhanced, and the tomatoes just slightly withered. But I want them to still look like tomatoes, like the ones above.
And then, we eat them. We throw them into pasta. They make a great roasted tomato soup without much effort. We eat them as snacks, with a bit more olive oil drizzled on.
For a few moments, in December, it feels like summer all over again.