Roasting brings out more flavor in tomatoes

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Julia Newton has had lots of tomatoes this summer, and as the season winds down, she is coming up with new ways to prepare them.

“I have been trying desperately to use up my tomato harvest this year,” she said.

One of her most recent creations was inspired by a television show featuring Corsican caper pickers who prepared a lunch of tomatoes and pasta.

“They roasted whole tomatoes over a fire until blackened, crushed them with their hands, and that was it,” she said. “I found that when the tomatoes are roasted, they develop an amazing meaty flavor I’ve never tasted in other tomato dishes.”

After she roasted her tomatoes, Julia, a Wilson County Master Gardener, had to figure out what to do with them.

“We crushed some and had them over pasta, like the caper pickers, and it was delicious. My husband (not a spaghetti fan) pronounced it the best he’d ever had.

“We pureed it into a smooth sauce and had it over pasta with sausage and cheese, another winner. We also added garlic and buttermilk to the puree and made a delectable cream of tomato soup. Adding Mexican seasonings (cumin, chili, bay) transformed the puree into something else. The possibilities are endless.”

Julia planted two Mortgage Lifter tomato plants, two Amana Orange and one Chocolate Cherry this summer. “All from the Master Gardener plant sale in April,” she said.

She also has a “monster” volunteer cherry tomato in her grapevine that reseeds each year.

“Last year my tomato plants didn’t do very well, but this year we replaced our in-ground garden with four raised beds, and everything grew amazingly well,” she said. “I picked my first Mortgage Lifter in July, and it weighed over 2 pounds!”

Julia and her husband, Will, have enjoyed their tomatoes in a variety of ways this summer.

“We have had tomato-cucumber salad, tomato sandwiches on toast, all manner of sauces, and just plain sprinkled with salt and pepper. I love them that way when they are still warm from the sun. As the country song says, ‘There’s only two things that money can’t buy; that’s true love and homegrown tomatoes.’”

Last week, Julia roasted peppers for the community gardeners. She pointed out the recipe has few ingredients and is healthy with no salt or sugar and only a little healthy fat. “They loved it too,” she said. “Winner, winner, tomato dinner!”

Julia has been working with the Wilson Housing Authority community gardeners from Whitfield Homes and E.B. Jordan Homes.

The gardeners have been working together for three years. They meet and discuss gardening and preparing and eating the produce they grow.

“All the gardeners are already good cooks, but it’s fun to share different recipes from different cuisines with them,” Julia said. “I encourage them to grow lots of herbs as a healthy alternative to other seasonings like salt and fat.”

The growing season won’t end with summer.

“Next week we will be doing our fall planting at the community garden at Whitfield Homes, where we will prepare beds for collards, mustard, carrots, garlic and strawberries.”

If you’d like to learn more about gardening, check out Julia’s classes at Wilson Community College next month: All About Raised Bed Gardens is Sept. 8, Home Vegetable Gardening is Sept. 15, and Fall Gardening and Season Extension is Sept. 22. If you would like to register, call Lisa Shreve at 252-246-1233 or email lshreve@wilsoncc.edu.

Roasted Tomatoes

Olive oil

Fresh tomatoes, halved or quartered

Jalapenos, halved and seeded

Garlic cloves

Thyme branches

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees and turn on the fan.

Drizzle a sheet pan with olive oil. Place tomatoes on the pan skin side up. Add jalapenos (and/or other vegetables), garlic and thyme. Roast the tomatoes for 30 minutes, turn, and roast another 30 minutes. Tomatoes will become slightly blackened and will release a lot of juice.

Larger tomatoes take longer to roast; smaller tomatoes take less time to roast.

Remove skins and let cool.

To make sauce: Break up the roasted tomatoes with your hands or chop them with a knife. Remove the jalapenos and garlic cloves and chop. Add fresh basil, cooked sausage, Parmesan cheese, or whatever you like on your pasta.

Or, puree the tomatoes first for a smooth sauce.

To make tomato soup: Puree the roasted tomatoes. Heat gently in a small pan. Add a pinch of salt and a small clove of raw garlic, minced. For cream of tomato soup, add a swirl of milk, buttermilk or cream after the puree has been removed from the heat. Top with chopped basil (or other herbs) and pepper.