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 appetizer. 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 flavored soup.
Chef and cookbook author Antony Worrall Thompson tosses roasted cherry tomatoes with pasta and he 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" (Kyle Books, $35), "because the roasting process really intensifies the tomato flavor."
That concentrated and caramelized flavor 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
Halve through the stem end and seed 4 1/2 to 5 pounds plum tomatoes. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-by-17-inch rimmed baking sheet with foil (then parchment if you have it). Coat pan with 3 tablespoons olive oil. 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. Roast in center of oven until tomatoes are dark reddish brown, with deep browning on edges. 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.
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 Spanish onions, peeled, halved
4 pounds ripe heirloom cherry tomatoes, about 6 ½ pints
6 cloves garlic
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
8 cups chicken or vegetable stock
6 ounces goat cheese
1 ounce aged balsamic vinegar
1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Place onion halves cut-side down in skillet; cook until caramelized, 4 minutes on each side. Set aside 1/4 pound tomatoes (about 3/4 cup) for garnish. Place remaining tomatoes, the caramelized onions and garlic on 2 rimmed baking sheets; drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, or more as needed. Season with 1/2 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 1/4 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.
Per serving: 376 calories, 22 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 32 mg cholesterol, 30 g carbohydrates, 17 g protein, 862 mg sodium, 5 g fiber.