Nary a year passes in which I don’t slow-roast at least a few tomatoes to stash away in the freezer. In the bleak month of February, their bright, concentrated flavors serve as a reminder of happier days past, and to come. Before I had a backyard garden, my standard operating procedure was to prowl the produce stands in peak tomato season, hunting for boxes of split or bruised tomatoes that farmers were willing to unload on the cheap. I could usually find someone who’d sell me a half bushel of “seconds” for under a dollar a pound. For you need not have perfect tomatoes to employ this technique. Whatever meat that’s left after you cut away the unusable parts will roast up perfectly. As Tom Colicchio points out in his masterful Think Like a Chef, this is also a handy method for intensifying and improving the flavor of out-of-season tomatoes. Start by preheating your oven to 350. Wash and remove the cores from 10 tomatoes:
Slice them in half along their length.
Place the halves in a large bowl. Drizzle them with about 1/4 cup olive oil…
…and about two teaspoons of kosher salt (the salt will draw out a good deal of their moisture).
Give them a stir to coat…
…and lay them out on parchment-lined sheet pans. Don’t skip the parchment — that part’s important. Why? Because most sheet pans are made from al-yoo-minee-um, and as you likely know, prolonged exposure to aluminum ruins the flavor of tomatoes.
Scatter some thyme sprigs and a full head of un-peeled garlic cloves among the tomatoes.
Roast them in the 350 oven for about 45 minutes, until the skins loosen and crack.
Then simply remove them with a fork.
You’ll note quite a bit of liquid in the pan. What to do about it? Apply another sheet pan — gently — to the top…
…and holding the pans with towels or oven mits, pour the liquid into a bowl. This stuff is gold all by itself. Strained, it’s perfect for use in light sauces or mixed into risotto broth.
Reduce the oven to 275 and continue to roast for another 3-4 hours, until the tomatoes look like so:
By that time the garlic will be perfectly roasted as well. Use it or store it in the freezer (triple-bagged in freezer bags so as not to let the odor ruin your ice cream) for later use. Pour off any remaining liquid and let the tomatoes cool completely on the pan. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week, or freeze them. If you can fit the whole sheet pan in your freezer, that’s ideal. If not, gently transfer them to a plate or small cutting board and put the whole works in the freezer for a couple of hours. Once frozen, simply put the tomato halves in bags in the freezer, where they’ll keep for 6-8 months.
I should note that if you wish to dry the tomatoes further, you can, but stop when the edges start to caramelize. Beyond that point, they’ll reduce to not much more than tomato paste.