Earlier in the year, sometime in spring, I was in the local garden centre and spied little tomato plants. I remembered how excited the grandsons were last year when I grew some: Freddie (now 7½) loves to eat them; Ben (4¾) doesn’t like tomatoes but said he was excited to watch them grow. So I picked out three plants – they were only about 12cm high. Back home, I emptied the big pot I’d used last year and filled it with new, peat-free organic compost. The little plants were gently transferred to their new home. Love came in weekly feedings of organic tomato feed, regular watering, standing in one of the sunniest, south-facing spots in the garden, and the boys’ – not to mention Nonna’s – excitement at watching the plants grow. And they grew … Jack and his beanstalk have nothing on Nonna’s tomato plants! Just look at them.
Unfortunately, the timing of their ripeness has not gone so well. They started ripening in the last couple of weeks of the summer term and on the two afternoons when I regularly pick up Freddie from school and 18-month Alex from the childminder, they’d rush into my garden and pick the little tomatoes and pop them straight in their mouths. More! More! Alex would shout when I decided he’d probably had enough. Freddie wanted to try an unripe one and spat it out, agreeing with Nonna that it wasn’t good for eating. But great to see him interested and trying. I filled small tubs to give some to the neighbours; I gave the family a big tub to take away on their holiday to Cornwall. But still the tomatoes keep coming … neighbours have gone away too … what was I going to do with all these tomatoes?
Slow-roast them, I decided. And pack them in jars in extra virgin olive oil.
They are very small tomatoes. I have some larger ones coming along now, but this first batch are tiny – just perfect for little mouths! And gloriously sweet and tasty. It was, however, quite a job cutting them in half ready for roasting. Would they roast well or were they too small? Only a couple of hours in the oven would tell. I looked at a number of recipes and finally followed Skye Gyngell’s instructions in her My Favourite Things. She uses San Marzano tomatoes – which come from Naples and are said to be an essential ingredient for an authentic Pizza Napoletana – or other plum tomatoes. Thus quite big tomatoes; not tiny ones like mine. So, the following is more a list of what’s needed than a recipe:
- 6-8 large plum tomatoes; or a bowl of very small cherry tomatoes! Basically enough to cover in one layer a roasting dish (about 24 x 30cm)
- 10g caster sugar
- 10g sea salt
- 10g freshly ground black pepper
- extra virgin olive oil
I cut the tomatoes in half and lay them, cut-side up, in a large roasting dish.
I didn’t weigh the other dry ingredients but put a heaped teaspoonful of caster sugar, sea salt and black pepper in a small bowl. Then mixed it together. Then I sprinkled the mix over the tomatoes.
I put the tomatoes in a 100C/Fan 90/Gas ¼ oven. Skye says leave them undisturbed for 3-4 hours until they’ve shrivelled up. I didn’t think my tiny tomatoes would need nearly such a long time, though in the end I left them in the oven for just over a couple of hours. I think all you can do, depending on the type and size of tomato you are slow-roasting, is keep an eye on them and take them out when they look cooked – dried! – enough.
I left them to cool completely and sterilised a couple of small (150ml) jars. In the end, I only needed one jar. I packed the tomatoes into the jar and then poured over enough extra virgin olive oil to cover.
Then I put a label on but really, they just aren’t going to last long enough to need a label!
I didn’t try them immediately, but left in the fridge overnight and decided I’d use them to make a bruschetta for today’s lunch.
I had a lovely sourdough loaf that I bought in Gail’s a couple of days’ ago. I cut a thick slice and toasted it. I cut it in half and drizzled a little of the oil from the jar over the top. Then I cut thick slices of a soft goats’ cheese and spread it on the toast. Next, I topped that with spoonfuls of the tomatoes – and put some fresh basil leaves on top to make it look pretty (because I was going to photograph it for this post!).
It looked very lovely but how was it going to taste? Had slow-roasting those little tomatoes worked? Well, yes it had. Very well. They’re gorgeous! Such an intense sweet tomato taste. This seems a perfect way to enjoy them, but of course you could add some to a pasta sauce, a salad; serve with meats and cheeses. Or you could spoon them straight from the jar as an indulgent snack!
The tomatoes are still coming and I’m looking forward to some of the larger ones (though still a cherry variety) ripening. Of course, I shall be eat some straight from the plants just like my grandsons, but I’d like to preserve more in oil for when they’re back from their travels. And if I had enough, the jars would make great gifts.
You can roast the tomatoes like this for use without putting them in oil but either use straight away or within a few days if kept in the fridge. In the oil, they’ll keep in the fridge for about a month. Also, don’t throw the oil away but use it in cooking, dressings or drizzled over toast. It carries the wonderful roast tomato flavour and is definitely to be enjoyed.