“Our tomatoes in Manila are terrible,” a chef once tells me. “They’re absolutely flavorless.” Up until last month, I agree with him, especially after tasting the orbs of divineness in Switzerland that they call tomatoes. Some years later, a recent meal at Pizzeria Mozza opens my eyes (and tastebuds!) to the glories of roasting them.
Tomatoes are a seasonal joy whose prime is in the summer, which the rest of the world is presently enjoying. But because our summer in Manila varies from everywhere else, I’m not sure if our native tomatoes are best at any one given time. Regardless, it’s almost always possible to find decent tomatoes in the market, especially those fiery-red, beefy ones called appropriately enough, beefsteak tomatoes. And roasting brings out the best in tomatoes, even the small, sour ones.
I’m all for equal opportunity, especially when it comes to the food I cook, and I’m unmoved by too-perfect fruit and veg. So at the market, I choose red and green tomatoes, some of which have bumps and blemishes. I’m also blessed to find a batch of cherry tomatoes, and still on the vine too.
Getting ready to slice tomatoes. But first, I take the time to admire them. Preparing my own food makes me more aware of how beautiful food really is; I don’t have to do much to make it taste good.
A dramatic shot of my cherry tomatoes still on the vine. My daughter takes one look at this photo and asks if these are fake tomatoes. I assure her – and you – that these are very real.
See how pretty green tomatoes are? Here, I arrange the sliced tomatoes in gradients, from kiwi-green to blushing pink.
Getting ready to roast. Tomatoes slaked in olive oil, sea salt, and some sugar for caramelization.
I roast larger tomatoes on a baking sheet and cherry tomatoes in a glass pan. This is because the tomatoes should fit snugly together while cooking.
Tomatoes, roasted just now, and gleaming.
My Bin adores the simplicity of tomatoes and basil and mozzarella di buffala (mozzarella made from the milk of water buffaloes). So for dinner, I make him my version of the Mozza Caprese we have in Singapore last month. I rub a garlic clove over slices of rustic bread and then drench each in a pool of good olive oil. Hissss! goes the oil as it hits the hot metal of my panini press. Each slice is then finished off with a slice of mozzarella di buffala, a cluster of roasted tomatoes now wrinkled and glistening in its warm juice, and finished with a trickle of olive oil. So simple and so sublime! I can never say again that Manila has lousy tomatoes.
Roasted Tomatoes & Garlic Too
- 500 grams medium-sized tomatoes, a mixture of greens and reds and every color in between, washed
- Whole heads of garlic, as many as you can manage
- Good quality olive oil (either regular or extra virgin)
- White sugar
- Rock or sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
- Slice the tomatoes lengthwise approximately a quarter of an inch thick. Keep the slices of even thickness so that the tomatoes will cook evenly.
- Arrange the tomatoes on the prepared baking pan in a single layer. See photos. Fit the heads of garlic in between the tomatoes. Drizzle the tomatoes and garlic with olive oil. Using a spoon or your fingers, sprinkle the sugar first and then the salt over the tomatoes. Finish it all off with several cracks of pepper. Roast for 30-45 minutes or until the tomatoes are wrinkled and dry, and their juices have begun pooling on the baking sheet. Do not let the tomatoes burn.
- Serve the tomatoes and garlic warm or at room temperature, eaten alone or spread over any edible vessel you please. They’re wonderful served on bread as illustrated above or tumbled into warm pasta. The cooled tomatoes are also good if scraped into a bowl and allowed to marinate in their juices for up to 8 hours at room temperature. Use as desired and chill leftovers.
- Of course you can use cherry tomatoes but I specify regular sized tomatoes because they’re more easily available. Save for the oven temperature and weight of tomatoes, this recipe is only intended to be a guide, thus I don’t specify amounts. Do try to be adventurous and use tomatoes of every color you can find. As for the garlic, I know it’s worth its weight in gold so just throw in as many heads as you can afford.