It’s difficult to imagine life without the plump perfection of tomatoes. “A world without tomatoes is like a string quartet without violins,” Laurie Colwin wrote in her 1988 memoir “Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen.”
For lots of us, fresh tomatoes are inseparable from summer. I remember helping my mom with our backyard vines when I was a kid, watching seedlings sprout and grow tall in the humid Chicago sunshine, counting the fruits, weighing them in my small palms, waiting for them to turn bright red. We’d often eat them in BLTs, packed with crunchy iceberg lettuce and crisp bacon, a thick smear of mayonnaise catching the fruit’s sweet and grassy juices.
These days, after stuffing my face with fresh tomatoes in every form from August through October, I start longing for them again in February when, of course, they’re months away from being ready. Greenhouse tomatoes are ever-present – they’re a tease, often watery and dull. But there’s a way to make them shine.
To make BLTs in the winter, I pick up a pint of cherry or grape tomatoes and roast them. It’s a trick adapted from a recipe Nigella Lawson wrote about in her book “Nigella Express” called Moonblush Tomatoes: For it, she cranks the oven up to 450 degrees, halves cherry tomatoes, lays them on a baking tray, dresses them in salt, sugar, thyme and olive oil, slides them in the oven and then turns it off. The tomatoes roast very gently, sighing in the residual, dying heat overnight. The result is concentrated tomato that’s bright, like it’s been kissed by an August moon.
For this recipe, I speed up the process by quick-roasting cherry or grape tomatoes whole with dashes of salt, pepper, olive oil and vinegar. They slump and crinkle and release some excess moisture, turning into jammy little nuggets. I line them up on a slice of toasted bread and then build the sandwich up from there with Boston lettuce and extra crispy bacon.
Avocado is nice here, in place of or in addition to the bacon. Speaking of which: Sometimes I skip the bacon entirely and use thin slices of eggplant, drizzled with soy sauce, roasted until crisp and then brushed lightly with honey. Two tablespoons of white miso mixed with a tablespoon of mustard, a tablespoon of honey and the juice of half a lemon makes a nice replacement for the mayo, as does a creamy balsamic dressing.
If you don’t have cherry tomatoes, larger tomatoes, cut into thick slices and dressed as instructed in the recipe, work just as well. Make this a salad by omitting the bread, doubling and chopping the lettuce, crumbling the bacon, mixing that with the roasted tomatoes and their juices and then tossing it all with a simple salad dressing.
1 pound grape or cherry tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (about 8 grinds)
12 ounces thinly sliced bacon
8 slices country loaf, white bread or bread of your choice
4 tablespoons mayonnaise, divided
8 leaves Boston, iceberg, romaine, or green or red lettuce
Position two racks so they are roughly in the center of the oven, with space between them, and preheat to 400 degrees.
Line two large, rimmed baking sheets with aluminum foil. Place the tomatoes on one sheet and drizzle them with the olive oil and vinegar, and season with salt and pepper. On the other sheet, lay the bacon in one evenly spaced layer. Transfer both sheets to the oven and roast for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the tomatoes have wilted and their juices have thickened, and the bacon is crisp or is done to your liking.
Remove the bacon and tomatoes from the oven and cool slightly. Drain the bacon on paper towels, if desired.
Meanwhile, toast the bread, if desired. Spread 1 tablespoon of the mayonnaise on 4 slices of bread. Lay a few roasted tomatoes on the remaining 4 slices of bread, followed by a few slices of bacon and lettuce. Top with the mayonnaise-covered slices and serve.
Yield: 4 servings
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