Roasted Tomatoes with Herb Oil

October 17, 2009


Dinner, Fall, Local Eating, Lunch, Recipes, Seasons, Side Dishes, Spring, Summer, Winter

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Where I come from, the weather is pretty cool and the seasons are rarely vague. The transition from spring to summer to autumn to winter and back again is tidy, without a lot of fuzziness in between—except for those May days still plagued by freezing rain or the all-too fleeting Indian summer afternoons that sometimes grace the Northeast this time of year. Generally speaking, though, once it starts getting cold, it stays cold—and the garden follows suit, turning out its heartier crops and going dormant for five icy months.

Houston, Texas is another story. If you’ve ever gardened this far south, you know that the summer lasts a lot longer—and that ‘winter’ isn’t the same arctic affair as it may be up in places where snow and hail put the soil to sleep. When I gardened in Connecticut, it never crossed my mind to put anything in the ground as late as or November, but here I am, seeding lettuce near Halloween.


But beets, radishes and recently planted broccoli aside, this lack of cold does bring with it certain small tragedies—namely the pulling up of crops that don’t seem ready to go. It’s hard for me to believe, but I’ve actually had to unearth a tomato plant while fruit still dangled from its branches. It’s tempting to want to keep it in the ground, one of moments of defiance against inevitability, which I so often have while watching great, tragic films: maybe, just maybe, I think to myself, the director changed this particular DVD and made it a happy ending.

I’ve gone through it enough to know that there are certain things that simply must happen: Rosebud will burn and the tomatoes will inevitably tumble to the ground, leaving a dry, brown bush in their wake. I’d never thought of gardening as a violent sport, but this month it is: you have to know when to make room for the next crop, even if it means the jig is up for some of summer’s favorites.

This may fall on deaf ears for Yankees, (who I hear have been wearing winter coats for the last few days) but here in Houston, where the 90 degree weather just broke, it’s hard to imagine willfully ending the life of my favorite culinary fruit. But even the farmers don’t have them anymore: markets have moved on to string beans, mushrooms, garlic. And so this post is an ode to an old friend: a plant that gave me so much this summer—I roast to you.

These photos are from a few weeks back, but the tomatoes were just spectacular, ripe, red, gorgeous. They came from a place called Waldingfield Farm, where I once spent a summer twining unruly toms and learning to love the bitter, yellow chalk that graces the hands of any tomato plant handler. The tomatoes were soft and sweet, though their undersides had a slight crunch from caramelized sugar and their skins slipped off invitingly. Their insides were smooth, warm and a perfect mix of tangy and sweet.


I made these to serve on a bed of buttery orzo, flecked with parsley and pine nuts. Alongside was some roasted salmon, whose rich flakes were a nice compliment to the flavor of the tomatoes. And here’s the really wonderful thing: if you’re absolutely dying for the flavor of tomatoes, but you know all you can look forward to until next June or July are whitish, grainy things from the supermarket, fear not. Even mealy, tasteless tomatoes can be roasted into something good—enough time, heat, sugar, salt and herb oil will surely make you feel like summer graced your plate.

On that note, if you have a toaster and are making a small batch, definitely use it. Your small oven will heat much more quickly than its larger brethren, and will use up a lot less energy in the process.

Roasted Tomatoes with Herb Oil

For 4
Adapted from Gourmet

1 lb of tomatoes, halved lengthwise (use whatever variety you like best—even a medley
is nice here)
1 1/4 teaspoons turbinado or brown sugar
¾ tsp Kosher salt, divided
½ tsp black pepper, divided
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
10-12 fresh basil leaves
12 whole, fresh oregano leaves plus 3 tablespoons finely chopped
2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice


Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 250°F.

Toss tomatoes with sugar, half of salt and half of pepper and nestle together, cut sides down in a snug, shallow baking pan.

Heat oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat until hot but not smoking.

Cook garlic, stirring constantly, until golden. (About 2 minutes)

Add in basil and whole oregano leaves, and heat briefly.

Pour oil over tomatoes and roast 2-2 ½ hours until soft, but intact.

You can then transfer tomatoes to your serving dish and pour oil over them as is, or strain the oil first—I don’t mind a few sautéed herbs in my orzo, so I left them in.

Otherwise, pour oil through a fine-mesh sieve into a small bowl or measuring cup, discarding solids.

Stir in chopped oregano, zest, juice, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper, pour over tomatoes, and serve immediately.

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