I first had these slow roasted tomatoes at Vios, the Greek restaurant around the corner from my house. It’s just the right kind of neighborhood restaurant – with couples, old people, teenagers and families all mixed up. The owner is Greek, his eyes twinkle when he talks and he often sits down to chat at your table. He makes this chicken souvlaki plate that I just love so I had to try to make all the parts at home. Nestled on a small oval plate are little skewers of chicken flecked with thyme, the creamiest tzatziki shot with green olive oil, warm triangles of pita (crisp on the outside, moist on the inside!), a tangle of flat-leaf parsley leaves and thin ribbons of red onion dressed in olive oil. You take all the parts and combine them as you wish – my favorite kind of eating.
The best part though, and the part I had the most difficult time figuring out, are the slow roasted tomatoes. The tomatoes are key. I had this idea of eating under the grape vine trellis in my back yard surrounded by big platters of grilled chicken, salads, hummus and tzatziki, in the heat of a warm summer night: my very own home a Greek taverna! Most of the pieces of the menu are so easy but those darn tomatoes had me stumped. I couldn’t figure out how to match their melting caramelized savory-sweetness.
I actually called the restaurant to see if they would give me the recipe. The person I spoke to was polite and friendly but rather vague, some might say cagey. She said, “Well, you just cut the tomatoes up, put a tiny bit of sugar on them, a pinch of salt and cook them for a really long time in a low oven.” Hmmm. “How low?!” I asked. “Uhhh, well, I really couldn’t say. A low oven. For a long time.” She laughed. “How much sugar?!” I whined. She laughed again but wouldn’t tell me anything else. I was on my own.
After several tries I am happy to say I think I’ve nailed it. I made them last week with the last tomatoes from the garden. We had these dense paste tomatoes hanging from the vines and they were just right for the job. Big heirloom tomatoes are too juicy for this recipe. The cool thing is that even those dreadful wintertime Roma tomatoes actually work pretty well slow roasted. So even if summer is long gone and there is no chance at all of recreating your very own Greek taverna in the backyard, you can still pretend in your dining room. That’s what I do.
Slow Roasted Tomatoes
and I mean slow – 2-3 hours
- a dozen Roma tomatoes or similarly meaty tomato
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/4 tsp of sea salt
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 2-3 3″ sprigs of fresh thyme
Heat the oven to 250.
Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise and using a teaspoon or your smallest finger, push the seeds out and discard them. In a large bowl toss the tomatoes with the salt, sugar and thyme.
On a large rimmed sheet pan arrange the tomatoes cut side up.
Bake until they are somewhat shriveled and browned at the edges – this could take 2-3 hours. Be sure to save all the juices from the pan to drip over the tomatoes and keep them moist.
There are many ways to serve these slow roasted tomatoes if you aren’t up for a massive Greek feast. Try them tossed with hot pasta and goat cheese and some torn basil leaves. Slip them into a sandwich like this one. Or if you’re flagging in the late afternoon, pull a few out of the refrigerator and eat them with more goat cheese on rye crisp crackers. You’ll be happy you did.