Plump, fist-size tomatoes may be the stars of BLTs and Caprese salads, sauces and soups. But their wee cousins can be a cook's best friend as well.
Whether they're Sun Golds or Tumbling Toms or heirlooms named yellow pear or black plum, cherry tomatoes can play multiple roles beyond the salad bowl. Stuff with herbed goat cheese for a quick appetiser. Saute with garlic and herbs in a sizzling skillet until their skins pop, then toss with pasta.
To take them up a notch, slow-roast them.
Chris Nugent, executive chef at Chicago's Goosefoot, roasts heirlooms before turning them into a richly flavoured soup.
Chef and cookbook author Antony Worrall Thompson tosses roasted cherry tomatoes with pasta and pairs them with fish.
"Sacrifice some time in the name of simplicity," he writes in The Essential Low Fat Cookbook: Good Healthy Eating for Every Day, "because the roasting process really intensifies the tomato flavour".
That concentrated and caramelised flavour is one reason editors at Fine Cooking magazine suggest slow-roasting tomatoes in their book Fine Cooking In Season: Your Guide to Choosing and Preparing the Season's Best.
"(It) is so easy and yields such delicious results that you'll soon add it to your repertoire."
Calling them "a secret ingredient", they add them to pastas, sandwiches and salads or serve them alongside grilled meats. They suggest storing roasted tomatoes for a week in the refrigerator; longer in the freezer. And if there's any extra roasting oil, drizzle it on grilled vegetables or crusty bread.
Need more ideas? Here are a couple to get you started.
If you don't have cherry tomatoes, roast plum tomatoes with this recipe adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine's Fine Cooking In Season.
Roasted plum tomatoes:
1. Halve through the stem end and seed tomatoes. Heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Line a 30-43cm rimmed baking sheet with foil (then baking paper if you have it). Coat pan with three tablespoons olive oil.
2. Arrange halves, cut side up, turning to coat bottoms with some oil. Sprinkle sparingly with kosher salt, sugar and scant 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar. Thinly slice 3 to 4 garlic cloves; arrange slices over tomatoes. Sprinkle with fresh thyme. Pour 1 cup olive oil over all.
3. Roast in centre of oven until tomatoes are dark reddish brown, with deep browning on edges.
4. Cool. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store in refrigerator up to a week or in a freezer bag up to a month.
ROASTED HEIRLOOM CHERRY TOMATO SOUP
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 1 hour
Servings: 6 (2 cups each)
Note: Adapted from a recipe by Chris Nugent, executive chef at Goosefoot restaurant in Chicago. Nugent suggests passing the blended soup through a fine strainer; we omitted that step because we enjoyed the pureed texture. Nugent calls for a total of 1 cup olive oil in the recipe; we've cut that amount back considerably. For roasting, drizzle the vegetables with more olive oil if you like.
cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 Spanish onions, peeled, halved
2kg ripe heirloom cherry tomatoes
6 cloves garlic
teaspoon coarse salt
freshly ground pepper
cup fresh basil leaves
8 cups chicken or vegetable stock
170g goat cheese
30g aged balsamic vinegar
1. Heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Place onion halves cut-side down in skillet; cook until caramelised, 4 minutes on each side. Set aside a cup of tomatoes for garnish. Place remaining tomatoes, the caramelised onions and garlic on 2 rimmed baking sheets; drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, or more as needed. Season with teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Roast in the oven, 30 minutes.
2. Place roasted tomatoes, onions, garlic, basil and chicken or vegetable stock in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan; simmer, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes. Puree soup in a blender, in batches if necessary. Season with remaining teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Cut reserved cherry tomatoes in half. Serve in warm soup bowls garnished with goat cheese, halved cherry tomatoes and a balsamic vinegar drizzle.
RED SNAPPER WITH ROAST CHERRY TOMATOES, GARLIC AND BASIL
Note: Adapted from Antony Worrall Thompson's The Essential Low Fat Cookbook.
1. Heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Put 250g each of red cherry tomatoes and yellow cherry tomatoes in a bowl with 12 peeled garlic cloves and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper; toss to coat. Turn seasoned tomatoes into a roasting pan, place in oven and roast 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2. Cut 4 skinless snapper fillets into 2cm dice. Add fish pieces to tomatoes; season lightly. Roast another 10 to 12 minutes.
3. Add 1 tablespoon drained tiny capers, 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar and 16 fresh basil leaves, torn. Toss very gently to combine and wilt basil leaves; take care not to break up the fish. Serve immediately. Makes: 4 servings.
Cherry tomatoes can play multiple roles beyond the salad bowl.