August, we will forever get along, no matter how hot and sticky you get, no matter what you throw my way, for what you bring with you is quite possibly my favorite summer thing – a tomato. And for that, I will always welcome you with open arms. No hot house tomato, no matter what kind, will ever approach the taste, texture, and fragrance of the real deal that arrives to farmers’ markets right about now and stays with us until late September.
To grasp a ripe summer tomato, heavy and warmed by the sun, to me, is the zenith of quotidian joys. The tomatoes I speak of are fragrant and are full of promise of a knee-weakening meal, sliced on a tomato sandwich, turned into a tomato crudo sauce, or slow-roasted and turned into myriad things.
Tomato season is what I wait for, longingly, for ten months out of the year. The wait, the anticipation – are so worth it. This time of year, no trip to the farmers’ market is ever free of lugging several pounds of tomatoes home. I’m ever so careful with them – ripe tomatoes are delicate; they bruise and burst easily, and need to be handled with care. Tomatoes are always my last purchase, and they go on top of all the other produce – I’d rather have slightly dented lettuce leaves than a damaged tomato on my hands.
If they were sturdier, or I were a creative engineering type who could build a rack-like wheeled basket, you can be rest assured that many more pounds would come home with me. But be as it may – I have only but two arms and so I do what I can with my tomato addiction, trying to collect as many different kinds each week to display on our tiny kitchen counters.
This time of year, few meals go by with out something tomato-like on our plates. Last night, it was pasta with a simple lettuce and heirloom tomato salad dressed with a delicate moscato vinegar dressing. This afternoon, for lunch, I fixed myself an open faced hummus tartine, dressed with slow-roasted golden cherry tomatoes. If you’ve never slow-roasted tomatoes, be prepared to have a gastronomic epiphany – you won’t forget it.
I know that asking someone to turn on their oven, in this heat, for a prolonged period of time, is tantamount to picking a fight. Who wants to make their hot environment even hotter? On days when even the mere mention of the word kitchen makes me break out in sweat, turning up that oven dial is the last thing on my mind. And yet, for slow-roasted tomatoes, I make an exception.
Something quite amazing happens in the oven, when the heat low but persistent. Somehow, the heat slowly persuades the tomato to slump just a little bit, to mellow out, and to get more, dare I say, tomato-y. It’s kind of like tomato graduation – reaching a higher purpose, a new direction. Slow-roasted the tomatoes remain every bit as summery and sweet, but more intensely so. That expected tomato acidity – it doesn’t so much as disappear as grows into deep, satisfying tang. It’s an instant meal maker – ladled on top of a crostino, tossed with pasta, or subbed in a caprese salad. Or you can just stick your fingers in the jar, fish them out, one by one, and eat them solo.
Happiness is a ripe summer tomato, or a slow-roasted one – trust me and see for yourself.
Slow Roasted Tomatoes
1 pint golden cherry tomatoes, halved
3 fat garlic cloves still in their peels
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
A few pinches of fine sea salt
1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees with the rack positioned in the middle. Line a jelly roll sheet (16 3/4×12-inch) with parchment paper.
2. Arrange the tomatoes cut side up on the baking sheet. Scatter the garlic cloves around, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with a few pinches of salt. Roast for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, until the tomatoes have wrinkled (not shriveled) and reduced in size.
3. Place in a jar, cover with olive oil and eat within a week.