When my pantry was just a baby, it could hold everything I knew about cooking in a very small cupboard, on a single shelf.
In those days, before I discovered Asian condiments and imported pasta and sea salts and dried chile peppers and online spice merchants, the most adventurous thing in my pantry was a jar of sun-dried tomatoes, a gift from a friend who'd been to Italy -- or maybe just to Boston's most Italian neighborhood, the North End. I had no idea what to do with those shriveled-up tomatoes, but they looked exotic sitting in the jar, next to the more mundane black pepper and baking soda and dried oregano. It was many months before I began tossing one in here and there, in sauces and sautés.
It's been two years since I've had any sun-dried tomatoes in The Perfect Pantry, two years since I discovered something even more perfect: slow-roasted tomatoes, made in my very own oven, with herbs and garlic from my very own garden and meaty plum tomatoes from a farm up the road. I season my tomatoes with thyme, which is my all-purpose favorite herb, along with sea salt, pepper, garlic, and a lovely olive oil.
They're easy to make, easy to freeze, and easy to share with friends (nobody has ever turned down my gift of slow-roasted tomatoes!). The real gift, though, is to your cooking, especially in mid-winter when you can savor the burst of summer flavor while your garden is covered in snow. You can add some of these rich tomatoes, with their concentrated flavor, to hummus, pasta, savory tarts, salad dressing or soup.
A half-sheet pan (jelly-roll pan) holds five pounds of plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise. It sounds like a lot, but I'll make two or three pans each summer. And one of the best things about slow-roasted tomatoes is that, with five minutes of prep, you can create a pantry staple that will carry you through from one tomato season to the next.
Slow-roasted tomato bruschetta
Too easy, and too delicious, here's what I'm bringing to La Festa al Fresco, a celebration of fresh foods of the season, hosted by Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice and Lis of La Mia Cucina. Serves 6-8 (makes 24 pieces).
1 baguette, sliced thinly on an angle (approx. 24 pieces)
1 large clove garlic, peeled but left whole
8 slow-roasted tomato halves
12 oz fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced into 24 pieces
24 small basil leaves
Very good balsamic vinegar, for drizzling
Coarse ground black pepper
Preheat broiler. Place bread slices on a sheet pan, and toast under the broiler for 1-2 minutes on each side (depending on the heat of your broiler -- in my infrared, it's a short minute from raw to charred), until lightly browned. Remove from the oven, and rub the bread on the top side with the garlic clove.
Chop the tomatoes coarsely, and spread evenly over the 24 pieces of bread. Top each with a slice of cheese, a basil leaf, a drizzling of balsamic vinegar, and some black pepper.
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