Each year I teach a week of cooking classes in southwest France geared toward American cooks of all skill levels. We shop at local markets and come back to the petite chateau that houses the school and guest quarters, fill our wine glasses and get cooking. Often I learn as much from my students as they do from me. I was inspired to create oven-roasted tomato catsup—starting with these oven-roasted tomatoes—by a class member who told me he wanted something “gourmet” to put on his steak haché when he got back to Texas.
While you can start with any sort of tomato from hothouse to cherry or plum, the very best taste will come from using locally grown, in-season tomatoes. You can use the tomatoes to make a catsup that will become a kitchen staple when you see how much punch and flavor it adds to soups, sauces, fish, poultry and meat. You can keep the roasted tomatoes in the refrigerator in a tightly covered container for several weeks. They also freeze beautifully in a tightly sealed container or freezer-strength re-closeable plastic bag.
4 large sprigs fresh thyme, or 2 t. dried thyme leaves
5 pounds tomatoes, rinsed and cut in quarters (plum tomatoes can be cut in half and cherry tomatoes can be left whole)
1/3 C olive oil
3 T balsamic or red wine vinegar
2 tsp. coarse salt
Pre-heat the oven to 350°F with the rack in the upper, but not the highest, position. Place the thyme on the bottom of a large roasting pan. Spread the tomatoes over the thyme, in one layer if possible. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with vinegar and salt. Bake for 45 minutes to one hour, using a spatula to press the tomatoes to release the juices halfway through the cooking. The tomatoes are done when they have browned (unevenly) and the juices have reduced and become slightly thickened and syrupy. Allow the tomatoes to cool in the pan. Remove the thyme sprigs and store the tomatoes in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator. Use to top sandwiches, hamburgers and salads, or use to make catsup. Yield: about 4 cups.