As we wait eagerly for tomato season to commence, or for our homegrown tomatoes to come in, we might find ourselves buying grocery store tomatoes out of desperation and then–inevitably- being disappointed.
Usually I try to avoid store-bought tomatoes all together, using canned when good fresh tomatoes are not available, but sometimes canned tomatoes just aren’t what you need, so you have to wait for summer… or suffer bad tomatoes. Now there’s a middle way. Grocery store tomatoes can be reformed.
I gleaned this trick out of the Ottolenghi cookbook, where it is part of a couscous recipe. All you have to do is cut the tomatoes into halves–or quarters if they are very large. Cut them all the same way, so the pieces are the same size–this way they’ll all be done at the same time. (If you’re working with variously sized tomatoes, sort them by size onto different sheets)
Lay them out, skin side down on a baking sheet or roasting pan. You could line the pan with parchment paper or foil to help with cleanup.
Drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil–using maybe a couple of tablespoons of oil per sheet. Next brighten them up with just a few drops of balsamic or red wine vinegar per piece. Finally, give the whole sheet a generous sprinkle with sugar–the sugar is important–and salt and pepper.
Put them in a low oven–around 300F- 325F. They’ll need to cook a long time, maybe two hours or so. The exact cooking time depends on the size and moisture content of the tomatoes. So this is something to do when you’ve got other things going on in the kitchen–like maybe a pot of beans simmering on the stove–so you will be around and remember to look in on them.
What you are trying to do is remove some of the liquid and concentrate the flavors. You’re not actually drying the tomatoes, but you’re heading that way. Keep a close eye on them to make sure they don’t burn. Check their undersides as you go, because those tend to burn first. I like the blackened bottoms myself–but it could go too far.
What you want to see is for the flesh to reduce, the skin to wrinkle and maybe just a little blackening along the edges. They will be juicy inside–you’ll find that out when you try to move them. Try to capture that juice and store it with them, because it is tasty and will help them keep moist.
Transfer to a covered container and store in the fridge.
These can stand in for fresh tomatoes in many recipes. They’re good as a side dish, on pasta or rice dishes, in hearty salads, soups, scrambles or alongside eggs in an English breakfast kind of scenario.