Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Roasting Cherry Tomatoes

For me, there is no such thing as too many tomatoes. There can be, however, enough tomatoes. That is, enough of eating them raw to take advantage of their exceptional seasonal specialness. Enough salads, gazpacho, and eating them out of hand like apples, or in the case of cherry tomatoes, berries or, um, cherries. When that enough stage has been reached, it is okay to cook some of those tomatoes. Really. It is.

This is just what I did recently with my bumper crop of porch-grown, container-bound cherry tomatoes. (I also had a few from the CSA, but I’ve been getting more from my own eager vines.) I followed the advice of Sally Schneider in her fabulous book The Improvisational Cook (currently in transition between hardcover and paperback editions) on how to roast them and it turned out to be easy as pie. Actually, it was even easier than pie, so I also made them into a pie.

Roasting my cherry tomatoes simply involved cutting them in half and arranging them on a lined baking sheet, sprinkling them lightly with coarse salt, black pepper, and just a bit of sugar, then letting them go in the oven at 350 F for about an hour. That’s it. That’s all there is to it. And boy, oh, boy were the results delicious! The flavors of the slightly caramelized tomatoes became so concentrated I found it hard to believe all those tastes were packed into that little fruit in the first place. I was genuinely surprised by how good these were: a little bit of caramel, a lot of sweetness, and such concentrated tomato flavor that it felt like eating more than one at a time would knock me right down.

I paired my roasted tomatoes with kalamata olives and wrapped them all in a garlic-infused olive oil and a simple pie pastry. You could use any single-crust pastry recipe you like (or half of the whole wheat version in this post), or a store-bought pie crust, but I offered a simple crust recipe below as well.

I was worried that the olives would overwhelm the tomatoes in this galette, but such was not the case. The tomatoes seem to be too super-flavorful to be overwhelmed by anything. And roasting them seems to be the key to avoiding a soggy pie, since this free-form tart was crisp enough to be picked up and eaten without a fork. I served it as a main dish, but I think that it could also be a nice appetizer if cut into smaller pieces, especially since it is good at room temperature as well as warm from the oven.

I neglected to make note of the exact volume or mass of cherry tomatoes I roasted and then used in the galette, but I think it was about three cups. They shrink down quite a bit as they cook and I think I had about 1 ½ to 2 cups of roasted tomatoes in the end. You can use the roasted tomatoes for dishes other than this rustic tart. I think they would be good over pasta or on bruschetta and I recently roasted some more that I put in a wheat berry salad with mozzarella and herbs using a method and a vinaigrette very similar to the recipe in this post. Now that the weather charts are promising cooler days, and I really love this simple galette, I think I may just be firing up to oven to roast as many cherry tomatoes as I can get my hands on!

Basic Pie Crust Dough
The water for this recipe should be very cold. I usually put a measuring cup with ice and water in the freezer while I prepare the rest of the ingredients.

1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
4-5 tablespoons ice water

1. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add the butter and shortening and cut into the flour mixture using a pastry blender, knives or your hands until the mixture is very crumbly and all the butter and shortening is in small, flour-coated pieces.

2. Add 4 tablespoons water and gently toss it with the flour mixture until all the flour is moistened. If the mixture is still dry, add the remaining tablespoon of water (or more if necessary). Continue mixing gently until the entire mixture can be pressed together to form a ball.

3. Shape the dough into a disk, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 15 minutes and up to one day before rolling out. If you wish to hold it longer than one day, wrap it well and freeze it. Allow the dough to thaw completely in the refrigerator before using.

Makes enough pastry for 1 pie crust.

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
Adapted from The Improvisational Cook by Sally Schneider.

I think any variety of cherry or grape tomato will work here. I’ve been using Sungold and Yellow Pear.

The measurements for these do not have to be exact, but about 2 ½ to 3 cups of cherry tomatoes will fill a large baking sheet and will yield enough for one Roasted Tomato and Olive Tart.

2 ½ to 3 cups cherry tomatoes
Black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Cut the tomatoes in half and lay them in a single layer on a lined or oiled baking sheet (I use a silicone baking mat), cut side up.

2. Very lightly sprinkle the tomatoes with just a pinch each of salt, pepper and sugar. Roast at 350F for about 1 hour, or until the tomatoes are shriveled and beginning to brown. Begin checking them at 45 minutes. If the tomatoes are getting too dark, remove them from the oven. If some are getting dark faster than others, remove them from the pan.

3. Allow to cool on the pan until easy to handle and remove them with a spatula. Use in recipes immediately or refrigerate until ready to use.

Makes about 1 ½ cups roasted tomatoes, or enough for one Roasted Tomato and Olive Tart.

Roasted Tomato and Olive Galette
Once again, the measurements do not need to be precise. The pastry and the roasted tomatoes can be made at least a day ahead. The garlic-infused oil can be made up to a few hours ahead.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
1/3 cup pitted and chopped kalamata olives
1 recipe Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
1 recipe Basic Pie Crust Dough, chilled
Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water or milk), optional
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Combine the olive oil and garlic in a small saucepan. Heat over low heat for about 10 minutes. The garlic should just sizzle a little bit. If the garlic begins to brown, remove it from the heat. Set aside and cool.

2. Preheat the oven to 400 F. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the olives and Roasted Cherry Tomatoes. Add the garlic and oil and stir to coat well. Set aside.

3. Roll out the Basic Pie Crust Dough into roughly a 12-inch circle. Carefully transfer to a baking sheet. Spread the tomato and olive mixture over the pastry circle, leaving at least a 2-inch border. Fold the border up over the tomato mixture

4. Brush the pastry with egg wash if desired. Sprinkle the tart with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

5. Bake at 400 F for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the crust is crispy and golden brown. Serve hot, warm or cooled to room temperature.

Makes about 4 light main dish servings.

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