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Fall Tomatoes

September 22, 2011

Fall doesn’t abide by a date. It’s fall. It gets here when it gets here, and I challenge anyone to tell me that it’s not fall until tomorrow. Young Master Fussy would gladly take up that challenge. Like his mother, he’s into rules and order.

But dammit, the days are cooler, the nights have been actually chilly. Sweaters have been worn, leaves are turning and dropping, and people are picking apples and eating cider donuts. Which reminds me, don’t forget about October 1, when we will conduct the second annual Tour de (cider) Donut.

All the same, we are still getting plenty of tomatoes from our CSA. Despite the two floods and all the ruined crops, it’s amazing how much food they are still able to put into our shares every week. Last week we got two big containers filled with two types of tomatoes. But fall tomatoes aren’t like summer tomatoes.

The panzanellas of August are done. No longer are we simply buttering toast and topping it with a big thick slice of a ripe tomato and a sprinkling of coarse sea salt. And regrettably, the BLT of my dreams never materialized.

Fall menus are out, and remarkably the Café Capriccio restaurant week menu for October includes a tomato and mozzarella salad. I may get a chance to try it out. However, I really think it’s time for fresh tomatoes to be coming off menus.

They are just not that good anymore.

Which isn’t to say that can’t be made good, because they can. This is the magic of cooking. Seriously. Great ingredients don’t need to be cooked, nor do they need to be sauced. It’s one of the reasons why I always bristle at sushi rolls bedecked in all manner of fanciful sauces.

It’s when ingredients aren’t at their best that they need to be transformed into something magical in the kitchen.

The fall tomatoes just aren’t that sweet and juicy. They are plump and deeply red. But they are hard, and they stay hard. Cutting into one can sometimes feel remarkably similar to cutting into an apple.

But we are lucky that just when the tomatoes require cooking, the weather cools down and makes turning on the oven a lot less onerous. Which is a good thing, because my favorite thing to do with fall tomatoes is oven intensive.

I like to slow roast them.

This takes no skill, but plenty of time. The tomatoes are halved, crammed into an oven-safe dish (cut sides up), drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil, and sprinkled with a bit of dried oregano and about half as much marjoram. The whole pan is put into a 170-degree oven for at least eight hours, but up to fourteen.

When you remove the pan, those hard and not so flavorful tomatoes have been transformed into something soft, unctuous, and decidedly sweeter. The flavors have been concentrated, and they are ready to be used in a variety of preparations.

I wrote a while back about the escalivada that Mrs. Fussy made. But these could be served warm on a toasted baguette with some fresh goat cheese. They could be a delightful and colorful side dish to just about any meal. Last night, I pureed a whole batch of them, and used it as a sauce for another savory bread pudding.

When life gives you lemons, you make a Tom Collins.
When life gives you fall tomatoes, you slow roast them.

The trick is to make the most of what you’ve got.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Ellen Whitby permalink
    September 22, 2011 5:31 pm

    I respectfully disagree, Profusser. The tomatoes I’ve been harvesting are still summer tomatoes – juicy, sweet, and both hard and soft enough. They still taste like nectar for the gods and they are just as delicious to bite into now as they were when I harvested the first ones. I’d be happy to share if you’d like. I have more than I can use.

    As for your slow-roasted tomatoes, you should know that Alton Brown took your idea and published it in his book. He didn’t even give you credit. When I first made them, I did it overnight. When I woke up there was a wonderfully pleasant tomato smell throughout the house. And when I make them with my newly-harvested tomatoes, I can also use rosemary, oregano and garlic that are also homegrown.

    • Ellen Whitby permalink
      September 22, 2011 11:06 pm

      And by the way, as long as there are still hungry mosquitoes out there, it’s still summer.

  2. Mirdreams permalink
    September 22, 2011 11:26 pm

    This was like a poem to fall and it made me happy. :)

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