Super sneaky salads: A salad of baked tomatoes will bring summer to your mouth.
I know Christmas is right around the corner, the time of the year were food-bloggers all over the world post pictures of stripped down, glazed and golden-brown birds, which have been locked away for too long in an incy-wincy oven in their NYC-apartment. And I know that I should probably tune in and present an equally spectacular piece of poultry, claiming how easy it was to make and how good it goes with pomegranate seeds or something equally fancy. Come to think of it, I might just do exactly that next year – but for this year, I will go for something more light. More fresh. And decidedly more bird-friendly. I have been having this salad quite a lot lately, because on a cold winter-day (and believe me Groningen does get quite cold these days) I sometimes just crave a little bit of summer. Some soft and warm tomatoes straight from the oven, a bit of cooling mozzarella, some spicy rocket-salad, a few capers and a hand full of toasted pine-nuts, that’s all it takes to bring summer back. At least to your mouth.
Before I start I need to stress that this is not only a salad to bring back summer when it’s gone, but also to celebrate it while is lasts. In fact I would argue that it is at its best when you are using summer-tomatoes to make it. Granted, this is probably not the best point in time to come forward with such a proposition, given that it is very much winter and good local produce quite far out of reach. However, the lovely thing about this way of preparing the tomatoes is that you will not need them to be of the highest quality. Take the squishy ones, the ones that are too soft to eat, or the slightly pre-mature ones, that are a just bit too tight, just a bit too acidic and just a bit too flat in flavour, to enjoy them in a raw-salad – apply some heat, add some herbs and let the flavours unfold.
I think that what I said about tamoto-sauce holds true for all kinds of warm or heated tomatoes: their flavour is a function of heat and time. A lot of heat needs less time to achieve the desired flavour while low heat needs more time. I generally prefer to slow-cook my tomatoes as I made the experience that too much heat seems to destroy part of the flavour. When making these squishy and gloriously red gems the application of salt early in the cooking-process can boost the flavour quite a bit, the same – to some extent- goes for sugar. Most, though not all, tomatoes you can buy in super-markets, especially in this season, lack a bit of sweetness. However, it is the sugar in them that will caramelise, a lack of this sugar will leed to a lack of caramelisation and consequently to a lack of flavour, so sometimes it might be appropriate to add a hint of sugar to the tomatoes. As for the herbs, I prefer rosmary, oregano and a lot of garlic. But thyme, tarragon or fennel-seeds might be a nice addition too. Without further ado, let’s get to the crucial bits, shall we.
And before I forget it, Merry Christmas to all of you who get a chance at getting together with your loved ones. Enjoy the food and the booze.
A salad of baked tomatoes
Rucola Tomatoes Garlic Oregeno Rosmary Salt Pepper Sugar Mozzarella Capers Scallions Dark Balsamic Vinegar Olive Oil
- Wash the tomatoes and cut them horizontally (stalk-ends up) in halfs. I prefer cutting them this way as opposed to vertically, as the cut-side, which goes through all of the fruit, is open so that little bits and pieces of herbs and liquids can find their way in as well as the tomato-juices their way out. The vertical cut-side is more sealed and won’t allow for as much transmission of flavour.
- Add to a small bowl your finely chopped herbs (in my case Oregano and Rosmary), finely minced garlic (I prefer lots and lots of it), quite some salt, freshly crushed pepper, a pinch of sugar, olive oil and a good splash of balsamic vinegar. The exact measurements are subject to individuals taste. However, for about 5-6 small tomatoes, I use about two cloves of garlic, 2-4 sprigs of rosmary, 2 heaped table-spoons of chopped orgeno, about 100 mls of olive oil and half as much vinegar, a pinch of sugar, salt and pepper to the taste. The more runny your mix is, the more of it you will be able to drizzle over your salad. Think of this marinade as the future dressing for your salad.
- Put the tomatoes on a baking tray, cut-side up, they may touch, but need to be in a single layer. Pour over the marinade and mix with your hands. The idea is to get as much of the herbs into the tomatoes as you possibly can, it is quite alright if some of them might break a bit, that will add to their beauty.
- Put into an oven at about 180-200°C for about 30-40 minutes. During the process the content of your tray will shrink considerably, they are about done once they lost a lot of their juice and the chambers containing the seed sunk in a bit. Have frequent taste after the first 30 to 35 minutes are over. And keep in mind, the longer they are in the oven the more flavour will be created. You might want to add some additonal salt at the end, just to bring out the last bit of flavour
- Let your tomatoes cool down a bit, while you are washing the rucola (about three nice hands full per person. Drain the capers, slice the scallion finely and tear the mozzarella. Arrange on a nice big plate.
- Give the pine-nuts a bit of colouring in a oil-less pan. Watch out they tend to burn easily.
- Transfer the tomatoes to the salad, and drizzle (I rather pour) over the cooking-juices. Scatter the nuts on top.
This is nice with a bit of fresh ciabatta or just plain on its own.
Create summer in your freezer:
Whenever you have a bunch of overdone tomatoes left, just give them a nice oven-treatment and freeze them, after they cooled down, in small portion. If you ever should crave some summer, like I often do, just take them out, give them a nice additional roast in the oven and dig in.
This is an especially clever thing to do in summer, when tomatoes are plenty and cheap.