What to do with not-so-good tomatoes


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 theย 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.ย  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.

tomato after

Leave a comment


    • Oh, I think they’re like any other leftover–and I guess how far you’ll push that depends on your own preferences. A week, maybe? I haven’t tried freezing them yet.

  1. Hey, I just saw a related post on your blog regarding how to stake tomatoes…from April 2007! Have you be writing this blog for over 8 years? Wow! Congrats!

  2. What a great idea! I too am always at a loss for how to get decent tomatoes out of season, because, you know, canned tomatoes just doesn’t work in guacamole and neither does sun-dried. This just might do the trick.

  3. This is a great way to use a lot of tomatoes! They’ll be even better if roasted lower and slower– 250 for 3 hours or more ๐Ÿ™‚ I like freezing them after slow roasting since they’re more compact and full of big, rich flavor.

    • Sounds right! I’ll try lower temp/longer roast next time. Or maybe this summer when we have the bread oven in action again, I can put some in it overnight to make use of its dissipating heat.

  4. This is what I do in late summer to reduce the size of the crop for freezing in vacuum bags. Add fresh herbs, chopped homegrown garlic and lots of freshly ground pepper and slow roast, like around 275, for hours. Pretty much the same concept and it saves freezer space as well as providing excellent “processed” food for winter and spring.

  5. A sun oven is perfect for long-cooking projects like this — no fossil fuels required. (I just wish they made bigger sun ovens to fit a regular sized oven pan).

  6. I made this recipe today, but instead of sugar, with a very light drizzle of honey, and wow, it turned the most boring old supermarket tomatoes into lalala swoonsie! I also added them to a BLT. Totally OMG. All of which is to say, thank you kindly for posting this.

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