How can you coax some flavour out of even the dullest, most lack-lustre tomatoes?
Simple ... by oven-roasting them.
And before you tell me that you don't do that kind of thing; that it's too much like hard work; that life is too short etc - let me tell you that it's ridiculously easy. You'd think I was a weirdo of the highest order if I tried to convince you that it would change your life, but put it this way, I feel sure you won't just do it once.
So what are we trying to achieve in terms of flavour?
So here's the thing ... you know for sure when you've eaten a beautiful, tasty, sweet, intensely flavoured, perfectly ripe tomato - but how often does that actually happen? More often than not 'watery' and 'insipid' is what springs to mind.
By chance I had two tomato experiences yesterday which were at either end of the flavour spectrum. The first was eating a couple of locally grown, organic, cherry tomatoes from those wonderful Dubai purveyors of all things fresh, local and 'grown with love' RIPE. They looked as sensational as they tasted and were mini explosions of flavour.
By contrast, in the evening, we were at a Greek restaurant for a family dinner. It was a lovely place with a great-looking menu. I ordered a greek salad (it would be rude not to) - plenty of feta, some nice olives, but those tomatoes ... oh dear.
It's true that over the last 10 years or so, the quality of tomatoes available to us wherever we live has improved immeasurably. They are now grown for flavour and the variety on the shelves is often extensive. But they do come at a price and certainly, I don't always want to splash out to that degree on something that is a staple in our weekly shop. And to be honest, tomatoes also over-promise and under-deliver and this is a way to avoid waste. And disappointment.
I would say that hardly a week goes by without me roasting some tomatoes - they are so very tasty and always a useful taste flavour bomb in a meal.
So here's everything I've learned about the wonder that is roasting tomatoes -
- The most important thing is that it's easy - Easy with a capital E. No skill required, just some tomatoes in need of some TLC, a low oven, some oil and your choice of flavourings. What could go wrong?
- You can transform a bunch of the dullest tomatoes into a joyful dinner or side dish - Even those that are ever so slightly underripe.
- You can also transform those tragically sad tomatoes that you bought and forgot and then found in the bottom of the fridge - even those that look wrinkly and depressing beyond belief. Roast ... blitz ... use. Trust me, I did this just yesterday. Wish I'd taken a 'before' photo now.
- It's a great way to concentrate flavour, but also to supplement with extra flavours - garlic (keep the slices chunky so that they survive the roasting process), thyme, rosemary, basil, oregano ... whatever you fancy or whatever you have to hand. Just throw it in.
- The juices from the tomatoes really are as good as the tomatoes themselves - so don't skimp on the olive oil - particularly when you're cooking large tomatoes. And don't be mean with the seasoning either.
- Because tomatoes come in all shapes and sizes, there isn't one set of cooking instructions that fits all - but this is not precision cooking. In summary, your tomatoes need time to laze around in the oven, so don't make it too hot in there. Larger tomatoes may need as long as 2 hours at around 150°C/130°C/Fan 300°F (gas mark 2). Cherry tomatoes will be quicker, around an hour at 140°C/120°C Fan/275°F (gas mark 1). But do keep an eye on them - you'll be able to see when they're ready to come out.
- I always cut my tomatoes in half - except when I plan to roast them on the vine.
- These roasted tomatoes are a great thing to make in bulk - They may take a while, but there's no need to interfere with them while they're doing their thing so you can be truly multi-tasking. But even if you are roasting these in bulk, don't crowd them in your tray or dish - they need space so that the moisture can escape. That's what we're trying to achieve after all.
- This is a good thing to be getting on with while something else is cooking in the oven - And if the oven temperature is too high for your tomatoes of choice, put them in anyway, then turn the oven off and let them mooch along in the cooling oven towards the finish line.
And here are 10 ways to use these delicious oven roasted tomatoes -
- Roasted cherry tomatoes are great for tossing through couscous or even a regular green salad - I tend to roast them so that they are fairly dried out - that way they keep their shape better when I'm mixing them through other things.
- They work well mixed with fresh tomatoes in a salad - like this Roasted Tomato, Feta and Olive Salad. Looks fab - tastes fabber. And with the salty feta and those black olives ... sensational. It's a dish that will keep well in the fridge too but do return it to room temperature before serving.
- Tomatoes on the vine (small or large) make a great, easy, warm side dish - Drizzle with olive oil, season and roast until a little wrinkled and piping hot. A scattering of fresh herbs for the finale is all they need.
- Large roasted tomatoes make a great, simple pasta sauce - infinitely lighter and fresher than out of a jar. Just roast them enough that the flavour is intensified and then either chop them up or blitz them in a blender.
- And that pasta sauce (see above) also works brilliantly as a tomato base on a pizza.
- And while we're on pizzas, roasted cherry tomatoes do make a great pizza topping.
- As well as a fantastic, flavoursome garnish on pasta - full disclosure; I didn't make a feature of the tomatoes in this photo (I was focussed on the Harissa Dressing, to be honest) but you can JUST see them bottom left. Will try harder next time.
- They are fab on toast - definitely pour the juices over.
- And perfect served rustic style, warm from the oven - sprinkled with crumbly goat's or feta cheese and with good, crusty bread for dunking in those juices.
- And as a bonus, it's also a great way to preserve tomatoes if you have more than you can use or if they are going cheap - They'll keep for 4 or 5 days in the fridge or can be frozen for up to 6 months.
Go on, grab those wishy-washy tomatoes and get roasting. It won't necessarily change your life but this could be the start of a beautiful new relationship. Ready, steady, roast …