Friday, February 24, 2012

The Joy of Roasting

When I was growing up (in the 50's and 60's...OMG that was a long time ago!) "cooking" usually referred to food that was braised, sautéed, steamed, or broiled. Except for the occasional holiday turkey or well marbled slab of meat, not too many foods were cooked with dry heat, A.K.A. roasted. Lately, however, it seems, everyone is talking about roasting things other than meats....especially veggies. I tried roasting broccoli for the first time a couple of years ago and was astounded at the interesting and unusually complex favors that the dry heat imparted. The little browned, nay, burned, bits at the ends of the flowerettes are intense, caramelized, crunchy and really delicious! Roasted asparagus or cauliflower are, to me, much more interesting than the boring steamed versions. (To roast any veggie, arrange in a single layer in a shallow pan, drizzle with a bit of olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast at 475 degrees or so until it's cooked to your liking.) The thing about roasting foods is that it gets rid of much of the water, an undesirable result if you're roasting a slab of lean meat, but lovely in a vegetable, since it intensifies the favors. (Of course, if you hate the veggie in question, that may not be a good thing!!!)

Tomatoes are one of the most waterlogged vegetables out there, so roasting is a particularly nice way to prepare them. Below I've combined my new favorite way of cooking tomatoes with one of my all time favorite foods, pasta, to create a Roasted Tomato Sauce. The caramelized onions and the basil are flavorful garnishes, though the pasta with just the sauce is also great.

Roasted Tomato Sauce
Serves: 2

1 to 1-1/2 pints grape tomatoes
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced or grated
3 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 large or 2 medium onions
salt & pepper, to taste
6 oz. penne, or other short cut pasta
fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
Parmegiano or Romano cheese, optional

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Cut the tomatoes in half and arrange in a single layer in a shallow baking pan. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil, sprinkle with garlic, salt and pepper and roast, tossing occasionally, until tomatoes wilt and begin to brown, probably 15 minutes or so. While the tomatoes are roasting, thinly slice the onions and toss with remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper in another shallow baking pan. When the tomatoes are done, remove them from the oven and set the pan aside. Turn on the broiler, broil the onions 4 inches from the element and allow them to brown, tossing them every few minutes until all of them are soft and some of them are very brown, nearly burned. Just before the onions are done, put the tomatoes back into the oven on the lower rack for a minute or so just to warm them. Meanwhile, cook pasta and drain well, reserving about a half cup of the starchy pasta cooking liquid. Using blender, puree about 1/3 of the roasted tomatoes until they are almost completely smooth. If necessary, add some pasta cooking water a few tablespoons at a time to make the desired sauce consistency (you probably won't use it all). Toss the puréed tomatoes with the cooked pasta to coat everything with the sauce, divide into individual plates, top with the remaining roasted tomatoes, broiled onions and torn basil leaves and serve.

Notes & Pointers:
Parmegiano or Romano cheese is optional, but I prefer the delicate taste of the roasted tomatoes without it.

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