Dec 052014

Sheep's milk cheeses & slow-roasted tomatoes

This pairing all started with a dim memory of how I used to do these slow-roasted, oven-dried tomatoes all the time. And why didn’t I still do them? And when did I stop? What new obsession took their place?

Anyway. Imagine the most uninspiring Roma tomatos. You know, the ones that are available year-round and smell and taste like… nothing. Organic or no, they’re mostly blah, right? Now imagine that with about two minutes of prep, you can turn these into the most exquisite, delicious, concentrated, aromatic, mouthwatering, caramelized, slow-roasted tomatoey goodness. Trust me, you will be amazed at how intensely wonderful they will be. The only hard part is remembering to get them going early in the day, since they require 6-8 hours in a low oven. (Oh, did I mention that your kitchen will smell amazing all day long?)

These are more succulent and melt-in-your-mouth and fresher-tasting than the fully-dried commercial versions. After all that oven time, these beauties will be wrinkled and shrunken, with maybe a few dry edges, but moist and intense in the center.

Now that I’ve remembered about these, I suspect I will have a batch stashed in the fridge all winter. They can be used in all manner of ways — in pasta, sandwiches, on pizza, as a side or topping to whatever protein or grain dish you can imagine. And they are a terrific match for a selection of sheep’s-milk cheeses and compulsively nibbly Marcona almonds.

As an aside, I’m always sorta fascinated at how sheep’s milk cheeses can look so similar, but taste so very different. I did an assortment that totally illustrates the point: a 1-year Manchego, Ossau-Iraty (a personal favorite!), and a creamy, young Roncal.

Pairing: Rueda (and Madeira…)

The evening of this cheese pairing, I pulled a few very different wines to try with this cheese platter: a 100% Verdejo Rueda, a 2011 Bierzo, and the Blandy’s 5-Year Verdelho Madeira. And although I really liked the Bierzo itself, I thought the Rueda paired better with the cheeses and tomatoes. (I also loved the Madeira and the Manchego together, so I had to mention it here. A few slices of quince paste would have been welcome, too.)

Verderol 2013 Rueda ($22). Distinctive mineral aromas and flavors accent juicy, likeable, fruity, with a touch of richness and floral musk. Find it!

Blandy’s 5-Year Verdelho Madeira ($24). A lot of wine for the money! Nutty toffee, espresso bean, dried fruit, Christmas cake flavors, with a long, smooth finish, and bright, balancing citrus acidity. Find it!

Recipe: Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

6 firm, meaty Roma (plum) tomatoes (about 1 pound in total), halved lengthwise
1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence

Preheat oven to 250F. Put the tomatoes in a glass or ceramic baking dish. Drizzle with the olive oil, sprinkle with salt and dried herbs — crumbling the herbs between your fingers to enhance the flavors and aromas. Bake until tomatoes are very soft and wrinkled, shrunken, with some dried edges, but still moist, 6-8 hours. Set aside to cool.

These are best served at room temperature. Extras may be stashed in the fridge, but bring back to room temp before serving.

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