Tomato candy

August 13, 2012

It is the worst of times. It is the best of times. (With apologies to Mr. Dickens.)

I refer, of course, to August. It is hotter than the hinges of Hell. It’s dry; this year, in the grips of a Grapes-of-Wrath-ish drought, it’s so dry the mountainsides look like October. Starched, pressed blouses and shirts are limp and bedraggled by 11 a.m., and forget trying to look nice for an afternoon appointment.

T’maters. August on a cookie sheet.

On the other hand — tomatos. Hordes of tomatos. Big ones, little ones. Red ones, yellow ones, purple ones, green ones. The early European explorers didn’t call ’em “love apples” for nothin’. A first-of-the-summer tomato is one thing, its bright, tomatoey, acidic flavor bursting on your tongue and snapping your eyelids open with a WOW factor that chases away in one bite every memory of a frigid, damp winter.

A late summer tomato is a different animal. It’s rich. Sensuous. Silky. Smooth. Sumptuous with flavor. Concentrated summer, wallowing voluptuously on your tongue, making you not care that it’s 102 outside and your utility bill is going to be higher than your house note and the grass in your yard crunches when you walk across it.

Trust me. You will crave this feeling when the temp is hovering at freezing and the precipitation is trying to decide whether it’s going to be liquid or solid as it dribbles down the back of your neck.

And here’s how you get it.

Your local farmers’ market or produce market should have, these days, copious quantities of small tomatos at reasonable prices. In my case, it was a 2 1/2 pound clamshell of baby Romas from Arkansas Natural Produce, which is one of the Wonders of the Civilized World. I think it cost me about five bucks.

I covered my biggest baking sheet in foil, and I sliced in half as many of those babies as I could fit onto it in half and spread them out, cut-side up. I drizzled mine with white truffle infused olive oil, but any good extra-virgin olive oil would do just fine. Then I sprinkled them with sea salt, and I plunked them in a 200-degree oven and forgot them for four or five hours.

Concentrated summer flavor nuggets. Eat with caution.

They came out a little bit dehydrated, and a whole lot flavor concentrated. These are so powerful it’s almost painful to eat them. Well, maybe that had to do with the fact that when I bit into one, it was right after I’d pulled it out of the oven and it was, well, hot. But, essentially, what happens is that all the tomato flavor gets concentrated into a little more than half the space.

This is good stuff.

From here, there are a bunch of things you can do with these little pieces of heaven, other than, of course, eating them out of hand. You can stick them in a plastic bag and in the fridge, and use them in sauces, or salads with fresh mozzarella. Or you can sprinkle them on a pizza with some pesto and some mozzarella and some parmigiano and whatever else strikes your fancy.

Or you can do this, for which you will thank me in February. You can stick the cookie sheet, after it cools, in the freezer and freeze those little flavor nuggets solid. Then you can take them out, package them all up into a plastic bag, and put them back in the freezer. Then you can take them out in February, and you can thaw them and warm them and eat them like popcorn, or put them in a salad with mozzarella, or on a pizza, and for a minute, the sun of August will shine on your face and your shoulders and you will forget it is miserably cold and damp and unhappy in your world because you have tasted a bit of summer.

You and y’mama ‘n ’em do this. You will thank me in February. I promise.

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