Did September swoosh past anyone else? It seems like just yesterday we were chasing the ice cream truck and agonizing over First Day of School outfits, and now we’re cracking open the candy corn and planning Halloween costumes.
Well – the month is almost over, and with it comes the end of one of the best tomato seasons in recent years here in the Garden State. (Or at least in our garden, and this is a nice consolation since I’m sorry to report that the zucchini plants never fully recovered from their vine borer surgery.) Needless to say, we’ve been eating a lot of tomatoes lately, and some of us are happier about this than others. . .
While I’ve made several batches of my Aunt Jeanne’s Baked Stuffed Tomatoes (hoping the ground beef/onions/tomato dish would help wean me off a recently-acquired addiction to SmashBurgers), no one else in the family was crazy about the texture and/or concept of a baked tomato.
We’ve maxed out on Caprese salads with mozzarella and basil, tomato and corn salsa and tomatoes with sherry vinegar and sea salt. So, with tomatoes multiplying on our counter and their time running out, I’ve ramped up production of one of my secret cooking ingredients: Tomato Caramel.
Cooked at high heat with a little olive oil, salt and flavorings such as garlic cloves or fresh thyme sprigs, the tomatoes ooze and burst and caramelize right on the baking sheet. Scrape up the tomatoes and all the browned bits from the pan and voilà – Tomato Caramel.
More than just a simple way to preserve tomatoes, Tomato Caramel is also the world’s easiest tomato sauce, a tasty topper for ricotta or goat cheese-smeared baguette slices, and great way to add flavor and complexity to spaghetti sauce (jarred or homemade), taco filling, soups, chili, lasagna, etc. I freeze the “caramel” in little packets, and add them to any dish that needs “a little something”.
- Approximately 4-5 cups tomatoes , with large tomatoes sliced or cut into chunks
- 3-5 whole (unpeeled) cloves of garlic
- A sprig or two of fresh thyme (optional but recommended)
- 2-3 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 – 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
Heat oven to 425ºF. Scatter tomatoes on a large baking sheet. Toss on the garlic cloves and sprigs of fresh thyme, if using. Drizzle with olive oil and stir around or toss with your hands to coat. Sprinkle with sugar, salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Cook for about 20-30 minutes, or until the tomatoes are soft, oozing and starting to caramelize. Remove from oven and scrape tomatoes and browned bits into a heap on the baking sheet. (The hot liquid from the tomatoes will help loosen the darker, caramelized bits – like deglazing a pan.)
Discard thyme sprigs and fish out the garlic cloves – they should slip right out of their skins and be soft like butter. Return the skinned cloves to the tomato caramel or reserve for spreading on bread. (Yum!) Make Angel Hair Pasta with Tomato Caramel (below), and/or prepare several smaller packets for freezing and store in a freezer bag. (Learn from my mistakes: be sure to label the freezer bag! Right now I have at least 4 unidentified, ice crystal-obscured bags of stuff in the freezer. Stuff I was SURE I’d remember, or at least be able to identify. Nope.)
Angel Hair Pasta with Tomato Caramel
- ½ box (8 oz) angel hair or vermicelli pasta, cooked in salted water according to package directions (Note that though this is the portion size indicated on the box, it may look on the skimpy side. Cook the whole box if you like; leftovers make a great lunch the next day.)
- One pan of Tomato Caramel (or as much as you think looks good/right)
- Freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
Toss hot pasta with Tomato Caramel. Top with grated cheese. Dinner! (If only there were some crispy onions or bacon to go on top . . .)