Local Ingredient: Plum tomatoes

Learn this easy kitchen technique to add flavor to your dishes.

Oven-roasted tomatoes are an easy way to speed preparation of dishes. —Catherine Walthers

There is a method for preserving excess tomatoes that gets little notice: roasting. With this technique — my fall favorite — tomatoes are cut in half, drizzled with a bit of olive oil, and popped into the oven until they soften. The skins easily slip off after coming out of the oven, and what’s left is a tray of concentrated tomato goodness, the flavor of summer intensified.

There are many pros to using this method. There’s no canning involved. It’s so simple and easy, no experience is necessary. You can roast a big batch of tomatoes, or just a few — any amount works.

I usually scoop the results into pint or half-pint containers and put them directly into the freezer, ready to use for pasta sauces, minestrone, cacciatore, fish, or any dish that calls for tomatoes. That summer flavor of fresh tomatoes shines through, and most any dish benefits from this boost of real flavor. You’ll have a secret weapon at your fingertips all fall and winter.

The only con? It works best with the plum tomato variety. Bred for sauce making, the oval-shaped plum or paste tomatoes come with thick, sturdy walls and lots of “meat.” They might appear under Italian-origin varieties such as San Marzano or Roma. Regular tomatoes have too much water and collapse into a watery mush if roasted.

Locally grown varieties offer the most flavor, as you might expect. I love the plum tomatoes from Morning Glory, Ghost Island, and Stannard Farms, but have had success roasting supermarket varieties from New Jersey or elsewhere.

To get started: Purchase or pick 12 to 15 plum tomatoes. (Fifteen plum tomatoes halved fit perfectly on a regular baking sheet with sides.) Preheat the oven to 325° or 350°; adding convection if you have it. Cut the tomatoes in half, and with your fingers, gently push out the seeds. There is no need to be fanatical in removing every single seed.

Lay a piece of parchment paper on your baking sheet. Place the tomatoes cut-side down, and drizzle with a bit of olive oil and a few pinches of salt. Depending on the size or variety, roasting time can take 45 to 55 minutes. You can press down with your finger, and if the tomatoes feel collapsed, they’re done. When cool, peel off the skins and discard.

You will have tomatoes and a bit of the olive oil–infused juices — keep it all. If you put containers into the freezer, label and use the batches with the most liquids for a soup, chili, or stew.

With this roasting method, if I decide to make a fresh tomato sauce, it’s practically done. I add some sautéed garlic and olive oil to the roasted tomatoes (chopped a little), a few fresh basil, oregano, or parsley leaves, and a pinch of salt and sugar. Finished.

Roasted Plum Tomatoes

Concentrated and delicious, use these roasted tomatoes in a pasta sauce, or in soups, chicken or fish dishes, or any recipe that calls for canned tomatoes.

14 plum tomatoes, rinsed
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 pinches of salt

Preheat the oven to 325°, using convection. Place a piece of parchment paper, if handy, in a baking sheet with sides. Cut the top off each plum tomato; then cut them in half. Using your finger, gently scrape out the seeds. It’s fine if you don’t get them all. Drizzle the olive oil and a few pinches of salt over the tomatoes and mix. Place them cut-side down on the parchment paper or directly onto the baking sheet. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the tomatoes are collapsed.

Cool slightly and peel off the skins. Use as is, or place in small containers for the freezer, with the liquid and all.