What to Do With a Box of Romas? Slow Roast'em

I was at the farmers' market, but I felt like I was at Bingo night with a winning card or at a half-price shoe sale. SCORE!

It was Sunday morning, and Mister MA and I had rolled out of bed for our weekly ritual at Columbia Pike farm market. While he sipped on coffee and chatted with the farmers, I filled our bags with chard, celeriac, lamb chops, a loaf of bread and mustardy greens.

My tomato bounty. (Kim O'Donnel)

As I walked past the Toigo Orchards stand, I noticed something different from the usual set up of apples, pears and peaches. Perched behind the two guys working the stand was a huge box of Roma tomatoes, its inside lid functioning as a sign, which read: "10$ the box."

My heart began to race. Oh man, the things I could do with that many tomatoes, I thought. I motioned to Mister MA what I was doing, and he yelled, "What in the world are you going to do with them all?"

At that very moment, I imagined this is how my mother felt when she'd bring home one of her flea market finds and be confronted by my father, who often stubbed his toe over my mother's collection of artifacts.

I ignore Mister MA's concern and queue up instead, eager to get a closer look at this fantasy come true.

"How much does the box of tomatoes weigh?" I ask the Toigo guy.

"Eighteen pounds," he says, eyeballing the scale reading. "That's more than I thought."

I fork over my 10 bucks, and in exchange, am handed my tomato loot, quite pleased, like a kid about to ride a new bicycle.

Six hours and 200 degrees turn tomatoes into intensely flavored morsels. (Kim O'Donnel)

I won't lie, the four-block walk home felt like a mile, and I wished I had learned the art of carrying heavy loads on my head when I had the chance in Africa.

A day goes by, and the box is still sitting on the dining room table, waiting for me and my big ideas. Canning was the first thought that came to mind, but this was one week that would not permit time-consuming projects. For ideas, I begin to pore through cookbooks and forage the food blogosphere, and sure enough, I come up with a plan:slow-roasted tomatoes.

Inspired by the slow-roasted tomatering endeavors in Orangette, the blog space of Seattle-based food writer Molly Wizenberg, I clear the counter and start slicing Romas.

The process couldn't be simpler: Oil the skins, place the tomato halves juicy side up on a baking sheet, squeezed together like sardines, sprinkle with salt and any other seasoning that you like. And that's it. The oven, set on a low 200 degrees, does the rest of the work.

Six hours later, the sun had turned in for the night, and my Roma halves had transformed into succulent little pouches of tomato pudding, intense in aroma (the whole house smelled like pepperoni pizza) and flavor, like a raisin or a glass of sun-saturated red Zinfandel.

We nibbled on a few with dinner to see how the tomatoes would pair up with salads and bread and sauces and things, and they were getting high marks. Mister MA asked what I might do with 30-some slow-roasted tomatoes, and it got me thinking about sauce and pizza toppings, sandwich fillers, pesto, omelet companions, rice toppers. The uses are endless and inspire creativity, like an artist's palette or a carpenter's belt.

The only problem: I still have half of an 18-pound box of tomatoes. What's next?

Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

At least 20 ripe Roma tomatoes (Amount is approximate; given the time involved in roasting, it seems a waste to roast fewer than 2 trays' worth of tomato halves)
At least 2 tablespoons olive oil
At least 1 teaspoon coarse salt
Black pepper to taste

Optional add-ons:
1-2 teaspoons dried oregano, mint, lavender, fennel seed , ground coriander, herbes de Provence, whatever savory topping floats your boat

Preheat oven to 200 degrees.

Slice tomatoes in half, lengthwise. Pour oil into a small bowl, and with a pastry or silicone brush, apply oil to the skin side of the tomatoes.

Line tomatoes on a baking sheet (it's okay to have them snug), SKIN SIDE DOWN. Sprinkle salt and herbs and spices of your choice, using 1-2 teaspoons for an entire tray.

Place tray in oven and roast 4-6 hours, or until the tomatoes have shrunk by at least 1/3, maybe 1/2 their original size. They will look a little crinkly but should retain some juiciness.

Remove tray from oven and allow to cool. Store in an airtight container in the fridge; tomatoes will keep for at least a week.

By Kim ODonnel |  October 3, 2007; 11:23 AM ET Farmers Markets , Seasonal Produce
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some gazpacho and then with the rest, make sauce and freeze.

Posted by: db | October 3, 2007 12:11 PM

I usually slow roast tomatoes and garlic cloves for about half the time, puree with a little chicken stock and then have the most delicious roasted tomato soup. Drizzle in some really fantastic balsalmic vinegar and a side of rosemary/fennel crackers and you're set!

Posted by: Ann | October 3, 2007 12:31 PM

Tomato chutneys always a good bet--uses a ton of tomatoes, lasts for a long time, and adds a little something to almost any dish.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 3, 2007 12:40 PM


Posted by: MARY SUSAN | October 3, 2007 1:39 PM

Is there a way to store roasted tomatoes for longer periods of time? Is it safe to store them in oil (similar to store-bought sun-dried tomatoes)in the fridge without going through the whole canning process?

Posted by: Allison | October 3, 2007 2:32 PM

I love a roasted tomatoe recipe that I got from the Post several years ago - slice them in half, put in an oiled pan and drizzle more olive oil over them, with a pinch or two of salt and sugar. Roast at 375 for about 30 minutes. Then turn the heat down to 350 and roast for about 45 minutes more, until the centers are squishy. 15 minutes after you turn the heat down, sprinkle on herbs, capers, whatever - I use a mix of parsley, thyme, minced garlic and minced capers. Baste the tomatoes with the oil from the pan once in a while.

these are wonderful with anything grilled - fish, meat, etc. Also good as a topping for toasted baguettes or italian bread. They keep in the refrigerator for about 2-2 1/2 weeks.

Posted by: annapolitan | October 3, 2007 4:08 PM

I bought a box myself a few weeks ago. I oven-roasted some, whizzed them in the food processor and froze in quart sized freezer bags. I made marinara sauce and froze as well. I made gazpacho, tomato soup, salsa, and added tomatoes to everything I cooked for almost 2 weeks. Amazingly I managed to use almost all before any went bad.

Posted by: Camille | October 3, 2007 5:55 PM

I suspect that preheating the oven to 200 degrees for a six hour roast is not really necessary.

Posted by: GeeBee | October 3, 2007 11:48 PM

Toss those slow roasted tomatoes with some penne, feta, leftover spinach, kalamata olives, and baby spinach.

A similar dish on epicurious.com is chicken and mashed potatoes with herb-roasted tomatoes and olive broth...I had something similar at Clyde's once, made with fish instead of chicken...it was delish.

Can you freeze those tomatoes??

Posted by: Vienna | October 4, 2007 12:56 AM

Unrelated -- veggie pot pie...needs something hearty...root veggies (maybe even roasted to bring out flavor and sweetness) and portobello mushroom.

Posted by: VegRoaster | October 4, 2007 1:11 AM

Wondering about storing these for the longer term ... will they freeze well? On their own or in some olive oil? Thanks!

Posted by: Alexandria, VA | October 4, 2007 9:59 AM

I used to make an appetizer out of slow roasted tomatoes. Just top a crostini slice with the tomato and a mozzarella boncini. Garnish with your favorite herb, olive oil, and/or balsamic vinegar. To really take it over the top, skewer with a spring of rosemary!

Posted by: Sean | October 4, 2007 1:34 PM

What about a sofrito?

saute onions, peppers, garlic and tomatoes until they are soft almost like a chunky sauce, S&P and a little cummin and some cilantro. It freezes pretty well in cubes

Add it to beans, rice, beef..delish with farmers cheese...

Posted by: M | October 4, 2007 1:51 PM

I'm wondering, can one make tomato paste at home (which could then be frozen)?

Posted by: Reine de Saba | October 4, 2007 11:46 PM

Throw some of those roasted tomatoes onto a olive-oil-brushed pie crust with some sliced onions or shallots and fold the edges over to make a free-form tart. sprinkle with fresh basil and goat cheese. Makes for a really light main!

Posted by: One of my favorites | October 9, 2007 9:53 AM

I have been slow roasting romas for 20 years - They do all the things everybody suggests and make a killer baked potato topping. I chop garlic on them and like to use cayenne. I have frozen them with no problem. They keep for weeks in fridge.
I grow tons of romas just for this, but you can buy them out of season when they are orange, put them in a bag with an apple for 3-4 days and they flavor up great.

Posted by: madelyn | October 11, 2007 10:50 AM

Here's how I make homemade tomato paste when tomatoes are in season. Wash, core and cut tomatoes in half to look for bad places on the inside. Fill a large pot and slowly heat to boiling. Then simmer until tomatoes are soft. Put thru food mill and then put the thick liquid in a crock pot. Let it simmer until as thick as you desire, overnight or longer. Then I can it in half pint jars. This doesn't get quite as thick as "real" tomato paste, but doesn't burn and works fine for me. You can also freeze after the crock pot, or I have even dried it in a dehydrator to make tomato paste leather.

Posted by: Lisa | October 11, 2007 11:04 AM

Take a slice of toasted whole wheat bread spread with hummus. Top with roasted romas. A perfect breakfast.

Posted by: Rose | October 25, 2007 7:17 AM

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