Just when it looked like we were heading into the lamb part of March (is the expression March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb universal? or at least known in the northern hemisphere, where March is a winter/spring month?), along comes real snow and with it pokey traffic. By the time we got up to Connecticut the other night, it was past serving time at all our favorite places and we were left to scavenge dinner, using whatever was in the pantry and the bag of leftovers I'd scooped up in New York and tossed into the car. It was a little like Iron Chef ... but not.
With half a container of grape tomatoes and a red bell pepper in the canvas bag, Parmesan cheese in the fridge and good olive oil (always on hand) and a box of quinoa pasta, something I bought but hadn't tried, in the pantry, dinner, albeit a plain one, seemed to organize itself.
It took just 10 minutes to finely dice the pepper, cut the tomatoes, grate the cheese and cook the pasta and then, when I was reaching into the refrigerator to see if there were any herbs hidden away somewhere, I saw the container of oven-roasted tomatoes and dinner immediately got ten times better.
The way I think about them, slow-roasted tomatoes, or tomates confites, are somewhere between fresh tomatoes and sun-dried tomatoes and the best thing you can do with any tomato that isn't as flavorful as you'd like it to be. By drizzling the tomatoes with oil and roasting them long and slow, you concentrate and deepen the flavor - it's a mini magic trick. Then, if you don't use them right away, you can cover them with oil and get a bonus: tomato-infused olive oil.
So here's what I did with the pasta: I diced the grape tomatoes and bell pepper and put them in the bottom of the pasta bowl with some extra-virgin olive oil, sea salt, freshly ground white pepper and a pinch of hot pepper flakes. I cooked the pasta, drained it, tossed it with the tomatoes and pepper and then added the slow-roasted tomatoes, grated Parmesan cheese and just enough of the tomato oil to bring up the flavors. With a glass of wine, it was a pretty good made-in-10-minutes-welcome-home dinner.
Here's a recipe for the tomatoes:
Slow-Roasted Tomatoes/Basic Tomates Confites
1 pint cherry (or grape) tomatoes
Pinch of fleur de sel or fine sea salt
Pinch of freshly ground white pepper
1 or 2 sprigs fresh rosemary or thyme, optional
1 or 2 cloves garlic, unpeeled and smashed, optional
About 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 225 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or use a silicone baking mat.
Cut the tomatoes in half - I cut cherry tomatoes horizontally (around their waists) and grape tomatoes from top to bottom - and place them cut-side up on the lined baking sheet. Sprinkle over the salt and pepper and drizzle with the olive oil. There's no need to use a lot of oil - just enough so that the tomato tops glisten.
Slide the baking sheet into the oven and roast the tomatoes for about 3 hours. When they're done, the tomatoes will be shriveled and a little dry looking, but press them gently and you'll see that they've still got some juice.
Use the tomatoes immediately or cool them on the baking sheet. If you don't need them now, pack them in a jar along with the garlic and herbs, if you've used them, and cover them with good olive oil. Topped with oil, the tomatoes will keep in the refrigerator for a few weeks.
In addition to pulling the tomatoes into service to give pasta a little more punch, I put them and a little of their oil over chicken, salmon or tuna, steamed vegetables and anything else that needs a little color and an extra hit of flavor. I'm sure once you have a stash of these tomatoes, you'll find lots of uses for them.