Sunday, October 16, 2016

Tomatoes and a New Year

This month we celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and it gave me a chance to pause and think.

We have a simple custom on Rosh Hashanah called tashlich where we cast pieces of bread, symbolizing our sins of the past year, into a moving body of water. I love it. Tossing the bread into the river and watching it lazily float away clears my mind in such a tangible way. The past year drifts away and I’m left feeling calm and ready to just be in the moment and appreciate something simple. Like a tomato.

It’s mid-October already, but we still have tomatoes at the market alongside apples and squash. We’re in that glorious time of overlapping seasons. Our neighbors had an abundance of tomatoes from their garden and generously shared them.  I love neighbors.

While standing over the sink with a salt shaker in one hand and a juicy red tomato dripping in the other, I thought about what elaborate soup or sauce I could make with them. But then I tasted their sweetness. Rosh Hashanah is about sweetness, whether in food, family, friendships or new beginnings. Tomatoes are not your classic food for Rosh Hashanah (we traditionally dip apples in honey) but they are certainly sweet and become even more so when slow roasted.

Really, when roasted they’re like candy and I gobble them up. And they couldn’t be simpler to make. Slice the tomatoes, lay them on a sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil, pop them in a low oven and wait for the magic.

The long, slow heat coaxes a rich, caramelized taste from the tomatoes and intensifies their tomato-ey flavor, filling your house with a heavenly scent. You can pull them from the oven when they’re still a little juicy and plump, or let them keep on roasting until quite dry and crinkly. You really can’t go wrong.

If you don’t eat them all off the baking pan (believe me, easy to do), these little gems freeze well for nibbling in January or keep in olive oil in the fridge. So if you’re lucky enough to still have some tomatoes left I recommend turning your oven on.

So simple it is. I guess I’m ready to say I’ve let go of summer and am well into fall, with its stunning blue sky, vibrant explosions of yellow and gold leaves and frosty nights (and snow in the mountains!). No great insights. Just a tomato. But the beginning of the year 5777 has been lovely, filled with sweetness and promise and I can truly say I’m content.

Slow Roasted Tomatoes

3 1/2 pounds Roma tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise (or enough halves to fit on a rimmed baking sheet)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt to taste

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees. Place the tomato halves in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, cut side up. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.

Roast the tomatoes for about 6 hours and up to 8, depending upon how juicy or dry you prefer them. They will shrink and start to crinkle around the edges. I like both the juicy and drier ones and will often remove some of the tomatoes after 6 hours and continue roasting the rest for another couple. The tomato flavor concentrates and sweetens and is just delicious.

Cool tomatoes and begin eating! Roasted tomatoes will keep well in olive oil in the fridge or can be frozen.