I don’t eat “fresh” tomatoes in winter. I just don’t. I much prefer to hold out for the very first heirlooms from these guys, as a signal that summer is in full swing and all is right with the world. Winter tomatoes are merely holograms of their summer selves, and hardly worth the time or effort. But this week my CSA included them in my delivery, and I had to make the best of it.
I have been playing around with gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches at home, to my husband’s delight. I have used rosemary bread and potato bread and pain au levain; muenster cheese, chevre, roquefort and gruyere. I love to vary the ingredients, and have found that both of us prefer a vegetarian version, with grilled onions, avocado, and any kind of cheese or bread.
When the tomatoes arrived, I decided they would best be put to use slow-roasted to increase the flavor that I knew would be lacking this time of year. And it turned out to be a great idea, especially added to a grilled cheese sandwich! I also roasted some balsamic onions for a tart punch, and paired it all with a sheep’s milk cheese from Spain. I am pretty sure that if there is a Heaven, everyone there is eating this sandwich.
From Daniel Bouloud’s Tomato Confit recipe
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
3 cloves garlic, peeled, split, germ removed and finely sliced
10 basil leaves, torn
4 sprigs thyme, leaves only
2 bay leaves, broken
20 ripe plum tomatoes, peeled
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon sugar
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil and pour about 2 tablespoons olive oil evenly over the pan. Sprinkle the oil with salt and pepper. Strew a little of the garlic, basil, thyme, and bay leaves over the oil.
Cut each tomato lengthwise in half and carefully, with your fingers or a tiny spoon, remove the seeds. Lay the tomato halves cut side down in the pan, wiggling the tomatoes around if necessary so that each tomato has a floss of oil on its cut side. Using a pastry brush, give the tops of the tomatoes a light coat of olive oil.
Season the tops of the tomatoes with salt and pepper and a little sugar, and scatter over the rest of the garlic, basil, thyme, and bay leaves. Slide the pan into the oven and bake the tomatoes for 2 1/2 hours, or until they are very tender but still able to hold their shape; turn the tomatoes over at half-time and open the oven for just a second every 30 minutes or so to get rid of the moisture that will build up in the oven.
Cool the tomatoes to room temperature on their pan. When the tomatoes are cool, transfer them to a jar, stacking them neatly. Pour whatever oil remains in the pan over the tomatoes and then, if you plan to keep the tomatoes longer than 1 or 2 days, pour in enough olive oil to cover and refrigerate.