This piece was written for the March edition of Dominical Days.
TOMATOES; ALL YEAR. WHO KNEW?
Tomatoes! Ripe tomatoes everyday!
Yes, good quality ripe tomatoes are available year round here right near us and they’re cheap, cheap, cheap. You don’t have to settle for those rock hard, chalky, pale imitations being sold at our local mercados. If you are like me and unwilling to accept (or just not include in your menu) mediocre tomatoes until the “season” arrives, this is heaven.
Any regular visitor to the Feria in San Isidro can find “Tomato Nirvana”, seemingly year round. There are a number of vendors taking advantage of the amazing growing climate here to keep rotating crops in order to keep luscious flavorful ripe tomatoes on their stands weekly.
There are numerous stalls around the Feria that sell tomatoes at wonderful prices, but the one I frequent has mountains of tomatoes separated by size and price. It is run by one family and while Madre takes the cash, Papa and the sons keep piling more and more tomatoes onto their red mountain.
The cheapest tomatoes are the smallest and least cosmetically perfect. For these I pay the princely sum of 350 colones/kilo*, and roast for sauces and soups. The middle size is a perfectly decent tomato, great for sandwiches, salads and dozens more uses. The price for these skies up to 450 colones/kilo*. And finally, the largest of the three, great for featuring sliced as a salad command an outrageous (!) 500 colones/kilo*.
Yes, it’s true you will have to pick through the tomatoes to find the ones you like, but this allows you to vary ripenesses and plan your week of tomatoes. At La Cusinga I ripen them on shelves and have them arranged so that I always serve the ripest first. I NEVER REFRIGERATE TOMATOES. EVER. I look forward each Thursday to shouldering into the crowd, grabbing my three or four bags and pawing through the perfect and imperfect beauties so I can have ripe tomatoes every day of the week.
*For those of you reading this in the US, these prices translate at from $.32 to about$.48 per pound
Roasting and Roasted Tomatoes
A perfectly ripe tomato is one of nature’s treasures and shouldn’t be altered (except perhaps with a little sea salt, some fresh cracked pepper and a droplet of olive oil), an even better way to intensify tomato flavor is by oven roasting them. I first started oven roasting tomatoes in the US in an effort to coax flavor out of cottony, out of season imposters.
It seemed to me that if I was able to wring flavor out of nasty juiceless specimens, just think what would happen if I roasted ripe tomatoes. I did, they were great and they have become a fixture in my kitchen. No more long cooking tomatoes for sauce, and better yet, no more canned tomatoes. I make rich-flavored tomato sauces and soups with inexpensive fresh roasted tomatoes. And you can freeze these in ziplocs and thaw with no loss of flavor. Dollop them on fish, add them to pan-roasted chicken; add capers, basil or citrus zest. You’ve got the basics, now have fun.
Heat oven to 450;
Pour enough olive oil on a cookie sheet to coat it, thickly;
Core 20 small ripe tomatoes and cut in half;
Lay the tomatoes cut side down on the oiled sheet;
Slice 2 large yellow onions into ½” (1.27 cms); break into rings;
Arrange the rings around and over the tomato halves;
Sprinkle 12-15 whole peeled garlic cloves over all, and;
Pour another good drizzle of olive oil over the top.
Salt and pepper liberally.
Roast the tomatoes about 35-40 minutes until the tops start to turn brown.
Remove from oven and let cool.
For an amazing tomato soup, hot or cold, puree the tomatoes and all the juice in a blender.
For a great no stovetop tomato sauce hand chop the room-temp tomatoes, mix in a little basil and hand toss with pasta. So good.