We had rain on Sunday, so I got serious about harvesting cherry tomatoes. Rain always makes them split, and I knew there were a lot of them out there. Due to a gardening mix-up this spring, I ended up planting twice as many cherry tomato plants as intended, but that's another story. The upshot though, was that I brought in about six pounds of ripe cherry tomatoes. I'd had this bee in my bonnet about oven drying some of them. But I couldn't exactly remember the recipe I'd seen somewhere.
This happens to me a lot. I read tons of recipes, remember certain key details and lose others. Then I forget whose recipe it was in the first place, which makes it tough to track down. In this case, the details I remembered were that the cherry tomatoes get laid out on a sheet tray and placed in a very hot oven, which is then immediately turned off. Leave the tomatoes in there overnight and enjoy them the next day. After a few minutes with google, I figured out that these were Nigella Lawson's "Moonblush" Tomatoes.
In her cookbook, Nigella Express, she calls this recipe "effortless." Well, that may be nearly true with a pint basket of pre-washed cherry tomatoes, but when you've got six pounds of those suckers, effortless it ain't. It took a while to wash them all, pull off the stems, cut each one in half and then prepare them two pounds at a time. Ms. Lawson called for dried thyme to be mixed with the cherry tomatoes before cooking. I didn't have any dried thyme, but I did have dried oregano, as well fresh thyme and basil growing in the garden. So I mixed three different batches and cooked each batch on separate half-sheet pans.
Nigella was right, this simple cooking trick transformed a nice, fresh, wholesome garden product into something that's better than candy. It was very hard not to just gobble these little gems compulsively. I thought the ones with the fresh basil tasted the best. But they all tasted pretty darn good. Even the ones that got a little charred on top. Some of these tomatoes went into two quiches that I made on Monday. I snacked on them too as I worked through that long-haul day of baking and food prep. The rest got used up quickly in pasta, salad, and sandwiches. Six pounds of cherry tomatoes can disappear fast when they undergo this alchemy.
Next time you have a spare pound of cherry tomatoes, try this in the evening:
Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil for easier cleanup. Arrange a rack in the middle of your oven and preheat it to its maximum temperature, at least 500 degrees. Rinse and drain the tomatoes and remove any stems. Cut each tomato in half and put the halves in a mixing bowl. Add two tablespoons of good olive oil, a teaspoon of table salt, a teaspoon of sugar, and then either 1 teaspoon of dried herb OR 1 tablespoon of finely minced fresh herb. (Oregano, parsley, thyme and basil are all good candidates.) Toss the tomatoes and seasonings gently with your fingers. Pour the tomatoes out onto the baking pan and arrange them all cut side up. Put the pan in the oven, close the door quickly, and immediately turn off the heat. Leave the door closed for 10-12 hours, preferably overnight.
In the morning you'll have a special homemade treat that just begs you to get creative with it in the kitchen. That is, assuming you don't just graze them out of existence.
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