There are heaps of inarguably perfect ways to eat a ripe tomato—on plain-jane sandwich bread with a cushy swipe of mayo, blistered hot and fast in a skillet till the skins peel back and the oil swirls with juice, cherry babies squished behind your sealed lips.
But the one way to make a tomato taste its most tomatoey, to become a fully actualized, out-loud version of itself, is to very verrrry slowly remove that which isn’t tomato. And the part that isn’t pulling its weight as tomato is the 94% of it that’s water.
To quietly Hoover away that water and reveal tomatoes at their fullest potential (without overdoing it and turning them to sauce), do what Molly Wizenberg was doing a good twelve years ago on Orangette—which isn’t much: Simply halve your tomatoes, brush them with oil, dust them with salt and citrusy-spicy ground coriander, then leave them in a 200° F oven for many hours—a good four to six. (Don’t worry, this won’t noticeably warm your kitchen, and asks only that you not completely forget them in the oven.)
In that time, two-thirds of their water weight will have floated into the ether, leaving behind baby-soft curls of tomato skin, cradling a condensed, jammy, electric-tomato core. They won't have gone so far as chewy, raisin-like sun-dried tomatoes—they're very much still fresh and alive, a pulpy pulse still pounding.
They’re best and most outrageous when made with ripe Romas or other meaty types, but as Wizenberg points out, slow-roasting will bring out the tomato in even the pale and off-season, if you feel the need.
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Make a lot. They keep for a week in the fridge, and are just fine in the freezer. Here are a few ideas for what I would do with them, but I want to know—what will you?
Eat them straight, warm from the oven. Try not to eat them all at once. I know, this one’s a freebie!
Slice and stir into your egg/chicken/tuna/potato/other mayo-based salad for extra pep.
Inspired by all the time I spent at Cafe Panini in Berkeley in the 1990s: Broil with pesto and fresh mozzarella till bubbling on skinny baguette boats or other toast of choice, top with slivers of fresh basil or chives plus crunchy salt.
Tuck into your BLT or burger or grilled cheese for something that’s somewhere between fresh tomato and ketchup.
Blend into any sauce—vinaigrette, aioli, tartar, romesco—to make it scream tomato! without also screaming tomato water! and throwing the balance out of whack.
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I'm an ex-economist, ex-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."