Saturday, May 13, 2017

Remembering Nanny, Mom, and Aunt Arpie - and - a recipe for Slow Roasted Tomatoes with Za'atar

(Left to Right): Uncle Vartan (Walter) Vartanesian, his wife Arpie; my mom, Mary Dabbakian; maternal grandparents, Yeranuhe and Oskan Vartanesian (Photo circa early 1950s)
1950's

When we were very young, my sister and I would accompany our mother, grandmother, and aunt to the farmer’s market in Paterson, NJ. When the NJ harvest was at its peak, farmers would exhibit their crops in bushels alongside the railroad track. Mom, Aunt Arpie, and Nanny would walk up and down, examining the produce in every stall until they found just the right vegetables – at the right price. We’d bring home baskets brimming with red peppers and tomatoes. Nanny would begin the process of making pastes out of the tomatoes and red peppers - cutting, cooking, sun-drying, grinding, and finally storing the end result in tightly sealed jars with a pool of olive oil on top of the pastes. She'd store them in the freezer so they would last until the next harvest.

Fast forward to 2017:

Since it’s still tomato growing season in my corner of the world, markets are offering locally grown tomatoes of every shape and size at very affordable prices. 

Unlike my mother, aunt, and grandmother, I don't buy produce by the basket or bushel, but I do tend to buy more than I need– especially grape or cherry tomatoes. They’re just so cute and sweet, I like to pop one (or more) in my mouth as an afternoon treat!

I overdid the grape tomato purchase, as I knew I would, so I decided to roast a tray-full because I know they’ll last longer, and can be used in a variety of recipes. (Oven-roasting is a lot easier and quicker than the exhausting method used by my grandmother back in her day.) 

Salt, pepper and olive oil are all that’s needed to boost the tomato’s flavor – and a sprinkle of za’atar provides that extra-special flair.
Slow Roasted Tomatoes with Za'atar
Slow Roasted Tomatoes with Za’atar

Ingredients:

1 (or 2) pint(s) grape tomatoes – or – cherry tomatoes
2 – 4 Tbsp. olive oil (depending on the amount of tomatoes used)
½ to 1 tsp. Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 to 4 Tbsp. za’atar, or to taste

NOTE: Za’atar is sold in Middle Eastern stores, or you can make your own!

Directions:
Washed tomatoes...
1. Rinse tomatoes; pat dry with paper towels.
Dried on paper towels...
Grape tomatoes cut in half lengthwise...
Seasoned...
2. Slice tomatoes in half and place in a medium to large mixing bowl, depending on the amount being made. Add olive oil, salt, pepper, and za’atar; toss gently to coat.
Ready to bake...
3. Line one or two baking pans with 1” sides with parchment paper. Evenly spread tomatoes in the pan(s), cut-side-up, in a single layer.
After 2 hours of baking at 275°F
3. If making one tray, set the oven rack to center position and turn oven to 275°F. (There’s no need to preheat the oven for this recipe.) Roast for 2 to 3 hours. Tomatoes are done when they’re soft, start to shrivel, and begin to caramelize.

NOTE: If roasting 2 pans of tomatoes at once, place the oven racks as close to the center of the oven as possible. Halfway way through baking, switch the top pan to the lower rack and the lower pan to the top rack.

Serving suggestions: Eat them as they are - warm from the oven or at room temperature, or as a topping for toasted bread, or grilled meat, fish or poultry; tossed in salad; added to sandwiches, soups or stews; topped with plain, thick yogurt; mashed into a paste and use as a spread; mixed with pasta – or whatever else you like!

To store: Place tomatoes in an airtight container, drizzled with olive oil. Cover and refrigerate. This should keep for about a week- if it lasts that long!




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