I told you all I was holding on to my last tomatoes from the farmer's market with white knuckled panic. Well, I wasn't kidding. Every morning, I'd wake up and pad into the kitchen, caress their soft little skins, cradle them in my cupped palm and sniff their herbal, earthy selves. It pained me to use them up, so I did so sparingly - one tomato here, another one there. But I'd bought six pounds and after two weeks I realized that I was headed towards a mound of ruined rot if I didn't accept the fact that cooking and eating my little friends was their God-given fate.
But what to make? Canned tomatoes, tomato jam, conserva, roasted tomatoes - I needed 30 pounds, not six! In the end, Molly won out - I saw a little corner of an empty plate with seasoned oil in one of her photos and when she told me that tomatoes had once swum in that oil, I was sorta, kinda hooked. I'm easy that way, you know.
So last week I set about sacrificing those last tomatoes of 2008, cutting them in half, ridding them carefully of their seeds, nestling them in a pan of olive oil and seasoning them with my Sicilian oregano, salt and a bit of sugar. Into a slow oven they went, and what torture that was. I'm not ashamed to admit that clock watching ensued. I've got a one-track mind when it comes to tomatoes.
Instead of serving the tomatoes with toasted baguette and Bucheron, I boiled a box of pasta and tossed half the tomatoes, gently chopped, with the hot pasta - the warmth opening up the flavor of the raw garlic and parsley. I normally am not a fan of raw garlic, but here it sharpened and brightened the softer, rounded flavors of the tomatoes that concentrated in the slow heat of the oven, gave a little edge to the sweetness. It was delicious.
The benefit of this preparation was that I had half the tomatoes left over, to be plopped on bread with some cheese for lunch, or served with fried eggs for dinner. Or, and this was really the best, to be popped in my mouth while I stood at the counter, thinking about the seasons changing and the things I have to look forward to as fall comes in. Letting go can be pretty simple when you've got roasted tomatoes to ease the way.
And, bless her heart, Molly says this works pretty well with canned tomatoes, too. What a relief!
Roasted Tomato Pasta
Serves 4 to 6
1 cups (or more) olive oil, divided
2 pounds plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise, seeded
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon sugar (I used less sugar, a little less than 1/2 teaspoon)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 to 2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons minced fresh Italian parsley
1 pound penne
Parmigiano, for serving
1. Preheat oven to 250°F. Pour 1/2 cup oil into 13x9x2-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. Arrange tomatoes in dish, cut side up. Drizzle with remaining 1/2 cup oil. Sprinkle with oregano, sugar, and salt. Bake 1 hour. Using tongs, turn tomatoes over. Bake 1 hour longer. Turn tomatoes over again. Bake until deep red and very tender, transferring tomatoes to plate when soft (time will vary, depending on ripeness of tomatoes), about 15 to 45 minutes longer.
2. When the tomatoes have cooled somewhat, gently pull off their peels. Transfer half of the tomatoes and some of the oil to a serving bowl and gently chop with a dull knife in the bowl. Add the garlic and parsley to the tomatoes and mix. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the penne until al dente. Drain, reserving some of the starchy, salted pasta water. Add the pasta to the tomatoes in the serving dish and add pasta water, as needed, to loosen the sauce. Grate some Parmigiano on top and serve immediately. Refrigerate the rest of the tomatoes in the oil for up to 5 days.