Roasting sweet tomatoes

I wrote a column recently for Kansas Country Living magazine about summers from my childhood that were virtually a real-life version of the “attack of the killer tomatoes.” In essence, there was an overabundance of these juicy red fruits, to put it mildly. Dozens of tomato plants were cultivated in my parents’ garden each season, and they produced with a vengeance. Tomatoes on the tables, the freezer tops, the window sills, in buckets and bags. Giving them away barely put a dent in them; putting them up — by canning, freezing, juicing was an endless and sweaty process even my mom’s ardor could not maintain. We ate them with every meal, and my parents didn’t even wait for them to make it to the table, carrying salt shakers into the jungles of plants to feast straight from the vine.

My early tomato trauma made my life nothing less than a long, slow very gradual warm-up to liking them. On my own. I’ve learned to love tomatoes in a more modest way after the over-immersion of my early years. I even keep a couple of tomato plants every summer, just enough to take advantage of that unbeatable fresh tomato taste. I still can’t eat a ton of them raw, but will enjoy an occasional slice on a BLT or in a good Caprese salad. I don’t dive into the huge, meaty juiciness of beefsteak tomatoes nor snack on bowls of cherry or grape tomatoes bursting acid in my mouth. My preferred tomatoes, Romas, find their way into much of my cooking, whether salsa or Italian sauces. Their firm structure, minimal seeds and sweet taste make them versatile and, to me, ideal.

So when I recently saw a recipe for roasted Romas, I was set on making them. I love roasted anything. This cooking method brings everything to its full flavor actualization. even kale tastes like something different — and so much better — when it’s given a hot turn on a sheet pan.

This roasted tomato recipe couldn’t be easier. Simply slice fresh Roma tomatoes lengthwise, and use a spoon to scoop out any center flesh/membranes and seeds.

Place tomatoes on a large sheet pan lined with foil. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with a little sugar, salt and pepper and minced garlic. Splash a bit of balsamic vinegar (my favorite) on each tomato.

After baking in the oven at 425 to 450 degrees for about 30 minutes, the tomatoes emerge from the oven something else, something heavenly. Their firm flesh has withered to a melt-in-your-mouth consistency, and their sweetness, caramelized by the heat, has been amplified. They are like a more delicate version of a sun-dried tomato. Perfect on their own, sprinkled with a sheds of chopped fresh basil (I have even topped mine with some crunchy bread croutons), they would also make a great addition to a salad or scattered on top of some freshly cooked angel hair pasta.

Roasted Tomatoes
Adapted from a recipe by Ina Garten (www.foodnetwork.com)
Makes 4 to 5 servings

12 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise, cores and seeds removed
4 tablespoons good olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Arrange the tomatoes on a sheet pan, cut sides up, in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle the garlic, sugar, salt, and pepper over the tomatoes. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, until the tomatoes are concentrated and beginning to caramelize. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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