The Winter Tomatoes Cure
With gray skies overhead and a constant chill in the air, it is easy to long for the fresh taste of sun-ripened tomatoes. Unfortunately, at this time of year, the tomatoes available at farmers markets or supermarkets lack the rich acidic-sweetness of their full-bodied summer cousins.
In California and some southern states, tomatoes continue to be cultivated outdoors throughout the year. In the rest of the country, buffeted with ice and snow, tomatoes can only be grown locally in greenhouses. In either case, the resulting tomatoes suffer from sun deprivation, tending to grow thicker skins as if, like us when we are cold, they have put on heavy coats to ward off the chill.
Lacking sustained exposure to the summer sun and frequently pockmarked, these off-season tomatoes have anemic flavors. No matter the kind of tomato — roma, heirloom or beefsteak — when used in salads, chopped for salsas or sliced for a tomato-mozzarella appetizer, their qualities pale by comparison with their warm-season counterparts.
Some would say winter tomatoes are not worth the trouble. Tomatoes like watermelons, these purists maintain, need the strong heat of the sun to reach their deep, rich sweetness. But that is not the case. Winter tomatoes require a bit of coaxing before they give up the tomato-wonderfulness locked deep within. Roasting helps these less-than-perfect creatures reveal their sweet, hidden glory.
Perfectly wonderful as a side dish, roasted tomatoes can also be used to create an easy-to-make, hot and flavorful pasta sauce, a delight to ward off the chill in cold weather.
Roasted Tomato Pasta Sauce
Sauce from the roasted tomatoes can be extracted using either a food mill or by pushing the tomatoes through a mesh strainer.
The finished sauce can be refrigerated for several days or kept frozen in an air-tight container for up to a month for later use. If frozen, before defrosting, wash off any accumulated crystallized ice before reheating.
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- Place the tomatoes on a baking sheet covered with either a Silpat sheet or piece of parchment paper. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the tomatoes. Season with sea salt and pepper.
- Roast for 60 minutes. Remove from the oven.
- Reserve two of the roasted tomatoes.
- Use a rubber spatula to transfer into a mixing bowl all the seasoned olive oil and clear tomato liquid off the baking sheet. Using a food mill or a mesh strainer and a large spoon, extract the juice from the remaining tomatoes. Discard the seeds and skin.
- Peel off the skin from the two reserved tomatoes. Tear apart or use scissors to make tablespoon-sized pieces. Add to the sauce.
- Lightly brown the garlic in the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Add the sauce and tomato pieces. Simmer and reduce by one third. Taste and adjust seasoning with sweet butter (optional), sea salt and black pepper.
- Add the kosher salt to a gallon of water, bring to a boil, add the pasta, stir well every 2-3 minutes and cook about 10 minutes or until al dente.
- Strain the pasta and add to the sauce, mixing well.
- Serve with a large bowl of freshly grated Romano or Parmesan cheese.
- With the garlic, sauté 1 tablespoon finely chopped oregano or basil leaves.
- With the garlic, sauté ¼ cup Italian parsley leaves, finely chopped.
- For heat, add ½ teaspoon pepper flakes to the sauce.
- Add 2 cups of a protein to the sauce or serve on the side:
Zester Daily contributor David Latt is a television writer/producer with a passion for food. His new book, “10 Delicious Holiday Recipes” is available from Amazon. In addition to writing about food for his own site, Men Who Like to Cook, he has contributed to Mark Bittman’s New York Times food blog, Bitten, One for the Table and Traveling Mom. He continues to develop for television but recently has taken his passion for food on the road and is now a contributor to Peter Greenberg’s travel site and the New York Daily News online.