“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.