Tomatoes in Winter

Tasty Morsels, hot from the oven

A tomato in winter is rarely inspiring.  Now, there was a time I would have said that a tomato outside of a pasta sauce or salsa was rarely inspiring, no matter what time of year it was, but things changed during a blistering, humid Minnesota summer, when, late one night after a a particularly sweaty soccer game in the persistent humidity that doesn't disappear even when the sun goes down, my friend and I stopped by her brother's house at around 10:30 PM for a short visit and snack.  His kids went to bed around 10 PM, I guess, so that's when he started to cook.  As he was warming up the pan to begin production of a different drool-inducing delicacy, he set before us a plate with giant slices of beefsteak tomatoes fresh from the garden (his), topped with light drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkling of salt, a splash of balsamic, and a few shredded basil leaves (later I would discover that adding fresh mozzarella to this ensemble is what Italians call Caprese, but I'm getting ahead of myself).  Now, I was a strictly non-tomato eater.  I would push them aside in salads, decline them on my tacos, and just didn't get the appeal of popping cherry tomatoes, one by one like grapes, into your mouth, raw, whole.

But there I was, attempting to be polite company, with a plate full of giant, admittedly beautiful, fresh Minnesota summer tomatoes staring back at me.  I tentatively speared a forkful, and put it in my mouth.  Wow!  Incredible!  The surprising sweetness of the tomato paired with the sharpness of the vinegar and the smoothness of the olive oil, enhanced by the slightly cinnamon flavor of the fresh basil and tempered by the salt danced around together in my mouth - I was having a glorious gastronomic moment.  I devoured the entire plate full as my friend, who well knew my disdain for fresh tomatoes, looked on in great surprise.
Not bad for winter tomatoes!

Beautiful color and stainless steel

I don't remember what else was served that night - maybe some fried Chicken of the Woods (mushrooms) or something along those lines, but I've never forgotten how good a fresh summer tomato can be.

Before Roasting

In the winter, though, no matter where I've been in the world, it's a bit hopeless.  No amount of doctoring or additives gets me excited about a raw tomato in the winter.  But, there is another way to fix them that creates the same burst of joy in the mouth as my friend's brother's tomatoes:  Oven roasted cherry tomatoes.  Serve them warm or cold, in sandwiches, salads or with eggs...if you can resist eating them all with your fingers as soon as they are cool enough to pick up.

Oven Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

1.5 cups (300 g) cherry tomatoes, any color or a mixture
3 Tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 Tablespoon of Italian seasoning
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400°F/205°C

Wash and halve the cherry tomotoes and place them in a bowl.  Add all remaining ingredients and stir until tomatoes are completely coated.

Arrange tomatoes, cut side up, on an oven proof baking dish.  Pour any liquid remaining in the bowl over the tomatoes.

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes.  Turn off heat and let sit in the oven for 20 minutes longer.

Serve warm or cold.

Grilled Halloumi, Oven Roasted Cherry Tomato and Basil Sandwiches

1 package of Halloumi cheese, sliced into 16 thin slices
8 slices of firm white bread (ciabatta and pugliese are great options)
1 recipe Oven Roasted Cherry Tomatoes, above
16 fresh basil leaves

Pan fry or grill the halloumi until both sides are golden brown and crispy.
Lightly toast the bread

Top each slice of bread with two slices of Halloumi, 5-6 tomato halves, and 2 leaves of basil.  Serve warm at room temperature.

Serves 8.

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