Roasted Tomato Salsa

5 05 2011

Roasted Tomato Salsa with tortilla chips

May 5th is Cinco de Mayo, which is a great excuse to enjoy Mexican-inspired food and drinks. A simple roasted tomato salsa makes a delicious accompaniment to many dishes, from quesadillas to tacos. Or, just enjoy it with some tortilla chips and a margarita or Mexican beer.

Tomatoes are not in season right now but high quality greenhouse-grown cherry tomatoes are available in the produce section of most grocery stores. I usually use Canadian-grown Savoura brand cherry tomatoes but any kind will do as long as they’re ripe. A quick roast in the oven enhances their sweetness and adds a bit of delicious char. You can add additional jalapenos and hot sauce for a hotter salsa.

Serving Suggestion: Why not make some Crispy Fish Tacos and Mango Margaritas?

Roasted Tomato Salsa

Makes about 1 cup

(VEGETARIAN)

For the roasted tomatoes and onions:

  • 2 cups (400 grams/ 14 oz.) cherry tomatoes, stems removed
  • 1/2 small red onion, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 1 Tablespoon neutral oil such as canola or safflower
  • A generous sprinkling of salt
  • Parchment paper

To finish the salsa:

  • 1 to 2 teaspoons finely chopped pickled jalapeno peppers (or to taste)
  • 1 large clove garlic, very finely minced
  • 1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon (or more, to taste) finely chopped fresh cilantro (optional – a lot of people don’t like it so you can omit it if desired)
  • Salt, to taste
  • Extra hot sauce, to taste (optional)

To roast the tomatoes and onion:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. In a large bowl, add the tomatoes and onion chunks. Toss with the oil and a generous pinch of salt until they are coated.
  3. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Make sure the paper goes up the sides of the rim so it catches any juices from the tomatoes.
  4. Roast the vegetables for 25 minutes or until they are softened and slightly charred. Carefully lift the parchment paper and pour the contents into a large bowl. Let cool completely.

To finish the salsa:

  1. Use a spoon to break up the tomatoes and their skins, leaving the sauce slightly chunky.
  2. Add the chopped jalapenos, garlic, lime juice, cilantro (if using) and salt to taste. Stir together until smooth. Add additional hot sauce if desired.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

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Copyright Trish Coleman. Please contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

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The Search for a Perfect Tomato – Part 2

22 09 2010

Tomatoes from Pelee Island, Ontario, September 2010

Last summer you may recall that I was on the hunt for great tomatoes. A few times over the years I’ve encountered the odd one that was bursting with flavour and had the proper texture but they are surprisingly rare. Unfortunately, Summer 2009 was cool and wet in Southern Ontario so it probably wasn’t the best time to embark upon such a quest.  However, this year we had a much better summer, with near ideal growing conditions. It was time to start my search anew.

Tomatoes ripening on the vine in Southern Ontario

As tomatoes came into season by August, I started checking out farmer’s markets and roadsides stands.  I searched during my travels to Eastern Ontario and Quebec and dutifully sampled everything from cherry tomatoes to heirlooms.  The overall quality this year was far superior to last summer’s waterlogged specimens but something was still lacking.  Where was that elusive deep and sweet flavour that I’ve been craving?

And then I found them: red, ripe, flavourful Tomatoes.

I was spending the last weekend of summer on Pelee Island with my brother-in-law Dan and his wife Jenn.  Located in the middle of Lake Erie, Pelee Island is the southernmost populated point in Canada (at 41 degrees, it shares the same latitude as Barcelona, Spain and Rome, Italy).  The island has a temperate climate that is favourable for grape growing and it is located just south of Leamington, Ontario which is known as the Tomato Capital of Canada.  Clearly, this would be a promising place to find good tomatoes.

A roadside stand on Pelee Island

We happened upon a roadside stand that was selling locally grown garlic and tomatoes, most likely picked from someone’s garden that morning.  Like many roadside stands in rural Canada, it was on the honour system – you put your money in the tin provided and make change from it if necessary.  We deposited the requisite amount and were on our way with fresh tomatoes and a few heads of garlic.  When I got home, I sliced into them and they were just about perfect: uniformly deep red throughout, juicy and sweet.

Tomatoes that are uniformly red throughout usually taste the best

I am a firm believer that when produce is at its best, preparation should be minimal. I decided to use my precious few tomatoes in classic preparations.  I ate one plain, sliced into wedges with a dash of salt and pepper.  Next, I made a BLT: combine crisp bacon, lightly toasted bread, crunchy lettuce, thickly sliced tomatoes and a little bit of mayo and you have a lunchtime masterpiece.  Later that night, I made some bruschetta to accompany dinner (see recipe below).  Finally, the next day I made a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich (they were getting a little soft so this was a good way to use the last of them).  As summer draws to a close, I’m already dreaming of next year’s tomatoes…

A grilled cheese sandwich with tomato slices pairs well with a bit of grainy mustard and pickles

Bruschetta

(VEGETARIAN)

This is more of a guideline than a detailed recipe – amounts will vary depending on how many tomatoes you have.

  • Ripe tomatoes
  • Fresh basil or oregano
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • White bread (baguette, ciabatta, etc), cut into slices about 1″ thick
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled
  1. Cut tomatoes into a small dice.  Add to a small bowl.  Finely chop some fresh basil or oregano and add to the tomatoes. Drizzle with a small amount of olive oil and season with salt to taste.
  2. On a grill or under the broiler, toast one side of the bread until golden.  Rub the garlic clove over the toasted surface of each bread slice.
  3. Spoon some of the tomato/herb mixture onto each toast.  Drizzle each piece with more olive oil if desired.

Bruschetta is an easy and delicious way to showcase perfect tomatoes

For more great tomato ideas, visit the Tomato archives.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!





Roasted Cherry Tomato Spaghetti

18 08 2010

Cherry tomatoes on the vine

It’s mid-August and we’re just coming into tomato season in Southern Ontario. It’s been a great year for tomatoes because we’ve had hot and dry weather for most of the spring and summer.  Some of the tastiest tomatoes that can be found at grocery stores and farmer’s markets are cherry tomatoes (bonus: they’re grown in greenhouses during the winter so high quality cherry tomatoes are usually available year-round).  They can be used in salads, pasta dishes sandwiches, roasted or just eaten on their own.

Roasting cherry tomatoes concentrates their flavour

This pasta dish is one of my most popular recipes on Suite 101.com.  It’s easy, delicious and only requires a few ingredients.  The sauce coats the noodles lightly but it’s very flavourful so a little goes a long way.  The spaghetti is delicious served with a green salad and a glass of wine.

Roasted Cherry Tomato Spaghetti

Makes approximately 6 main dish servings

(VEGETARIAN)

To roast tomatoes:

  • 4 cups cherry or grape tomatoes (about 40 tomatoes)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • Parchment paper

To finish sauce:

  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil + more to finish, if desired
  • 2 cloves chopped fresh garlic
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Freshly grated parmesan cheese, to garnish
  • 1 lb. / 500 g dried spaghetti
  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. In a large bowl, add cherry tomatoes, olive oil, salt and sugar and toss to coat all of the tomatoes. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit.
  3. Pour tomatoes onto the baking sheet and roast for 25 to 35 minutes or until they collapse and their skin begins to char.
  4. Remove tomatoes from the oven and let cool slightly. Carefully lift the parchment paper and pour the tomatoes and all their roasting juices into a large bowl. Set aside. (Tomatoes can be roasted in advance and refrigerated until ready to use).

To finish sauce:

  1. In a large skillet or enameled cast iron pot, heat olive oil on medium heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté for about 1 minute. Add the roasted tomatoes with their juices and oregano. Use a spoon to break up the cherry tomatoes and cook until heated through.
  2. Cook pasta according to package instructions (for al dente results, it’s usually cooked for 9 to 11 minutes). Reserve 2 Tablespoons of the pasta cooking water and drain spaghetti.
  3. Add pasta and 1 Tablespoon of the pasta waster to the tomato sauce. Stir to thoroughly coat the spaghetti. If it seems a bit dry, add the remaining tablespoon of pasta water and drizzle with a bit more olive oil.
  4. Season with salt and pepper to taste and garnish with a grating of fresh parmesan to serve.

Roasted Cherry Tomato Spaghetti

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

This article first appeared on Suite 101.com.





The Search for a Perfect Tomato

23 09 2009

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Once upon a time there was a garden that grew each summer and produced red juicy Tomatoes that were sweet and flavourful.  I can still remember going out to the garden to pick those Tomatoes as my mom was preparing salad to go with dinner. They were warm from the sun and smelled of vines.  Those Tomatoes were good enough to eat plain with just a sprinkle of salt and dash of pepper.  After eating far too many mediocre, mealy and flavourless tomatoes in the intervening years, I sometimes ask myself: Were those Tomatoes for real?  Or did they only exist in my imagination?

A basket of tomatoes, September 2009

A basket of tomatoes, September 2009

I’ve had fleeting encounters with Tomatoes again from time to time (as opposed to small ‘t’ tomatoes, the mediocre tasteless fruit of which I’ve had too many).  A trip to Napa, California in 1999 led us to Michael Chiarello’s restaurant, Tra Vigne.  It was early September and tomatoes were at their peak.  The menu featured them heavily so we ordered a simple caprese salad and an heirloom tomato mini pizza.  A good caprese salad is all about the ingredients so everything has to be top notch: high quality mozzarella, fresh basil leaves, good olive oil, sea salt and of course, the very best Tomatoes you can find.  The Tra Vigne caprese was flawless.  The restaurant made their own olive oil and mozzarella and the Tomatoes had the advantage of California’s climate to ripen them to perfection.

Now and again I would encounter a Tomato again but was particularly hopeful that a trip to Italy would provide a cornucopia of perfect Tomatoes.  After all, don’t Tomatoes and Italy go hand in hand?  Aside from the fact that tomatoes actually came to Italy from the New World, we were traveling in the Tuscan region which isn’t the epicenter of tomato based Italian cooking.  However, one day in Florence, I ordered a simple bruschetta with lunch.  On two pieces of toasted Tuscan bread were chopped ripe tomatoes and a drizzle of local olive.  I took a bite and there it was: that elusive fresh Tomato flavour that I had been seeking for so long.

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Bushels of tomatoes at a roadside stand in the Niagara region

Upon my return to Canada, I visited farmer’s markets and roadside stands in my quest to find delicious Tomatoes.  I was always hopeful but all too often even red, ripe specimens yielded no flavour and even worse texture. Occasionally I would find ones that were pretty good and they weren’t always the ones you’d think.  Just because a tomato has an odd shape or strange colour doesn’t mean it has no flavour.  Likewise, perfect looking tomatoes can be awful. Luckily, heirloom tomato varieties have seen a surge in popularity over the past few years and the quality is often remarkably high.  Heirlooms are tomatoes that have been grown from seeds passed down through generations.  I have tried to grow my own but due to lack of space, a shady property and devilish raccoons that foil all attempts at growing anything edible, I’ve given up and now rely on the farmer’s markets.

Roasted cherry tomatoes

Roasted cherry tomatoes

Admittedly, 2009 was a poor year to embark on a quest to find the perfect Tomato. The weather in Eastern Canada was unseasonably cold and wet for most of the summer which is not the ideal environment for tomato growing.  Most tomato varieties require hot, dry weather and lots of sun so clearly this wasn’t going to be a banner year. However, I held out hope of finding something more acceptable than tasteless watery tomatoes that are no better than what’s available in January supermarkets. I visited farmer’s markets and asked farmers their opinions about which ones tasted the best.  I bought heirlooms in various colours, cherry, grape and plum tomatoes, basic field tomatoes and strange looking cluster tomatoes.  Then I cut them up, sprinkled them with a bit of salt and subjected my poor husband to a blind tasting.  The results were as follows (I’ve used somewhat generic terms to describe the types of tomatoes I tasted – there are hundreds of specific cultivars):

From left: coloured heirloom tomatoes, cluster tomato, Campari cocktail tomato, plum tomato, field tomato

From left: coloured heirloom tomatoes, cluster tomato, Campari cocktail tomato, plum tomato, field tomato

Field Tomatoes – Generally pretty poor overall, with pale colour, little taste and mealy texture.

Plum (Roma) Tomatoes – Plum or Roma tomatoes are typically a bit drier than field tomatoes but I also found them lacking in flavour.  However, cooked into sauce and seasoned they were still pretty good.  Roasting will also enhance their sweetness.

Heirlooms – These come in a variety of colours and even patterns such as green and yellow zebra stripes.  Overall they were pretty good – sweet and flavourful and with tender, moist flesh.

Cluster Tomatoes – These were some of the best I found.  They were bright red, meaty and full of flavour.  When I returned to the market the following week, I mentioned to the farmer how much I enjoyed them and he threw in a couple for free which was very nice of him.

A cluster tomato

A cluster tomato

Cherry Tomatoes – These were also quite good.  Small and sweet, they were my tomato of choice this summer.  When roasted, they get even sweeter as their juices concentrate.  They’re also great for salads because you don’t have to fuss – just toss them in whole or simply cut them in half.

Greenhouse Grown Cocktail Tomatoes – For comparative purposes, I threw some Campari cocktail tomatoes that were greenhouse-grown into the mix.  To my surprise, they compared very favourably to the summer varieties.  This is good news for the 10 months of the year when fresh field grown tomatoes aren’t available where I live.

Colourful heirloom tomatoes at the farmer's market

Colourful heirloom tomatoes at the farmer's market

So overall, it was a bit of a mixed bag and I didn’t find the elusive Tomato of my youth but I will continue my search next year. Cherry tomatoes and heirlooms were the most consistent overall and the cluster tomatoes were also pretty good (although they can be a bit harder to find). Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a ton of tomatoes to deal with so I’m off to make sauce….

UPDATE: Will I ever find a ‘perfect’ tomato? Visit Part 2 of my search to find out!

Check out some of my tomato recipes, including a few for roasted and cooked tomatoes which can be made year round:

Tomato Recipes

Crab and Avocado Stuffed Tomatoes
Roasted Cherry Tomato Pasta
Winter Caprese Salad
Bucatini All’Amatriciana
Heirloom Tomato Salad with Goat Cheese and Sherry Vinaigrette
Slow Roasted Tomatoes
How to Peel Tomatoes
Tomato Tart with Herbed Ricotta
Caprese Salad 101
Corn and Tomato Salad with Basil Vinaigrette

A cocktail tomato stuffed with fresh mozzarella and a basil leaf

A cocktail tomato stuffed with fresh mozzarella and a basil leaf