Molly’s Slow Roasted Tomatoes (Pomodori al Forno)

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A journey of a thousand miles may begin with one step, but a recipe of several steps begins with precisely 2,408 miles. Specifically: the distance from New York to Seattle.

It was on the plane from New York to Seattle that I read last month’s Bon Appetit magazine which featured our friend Molly Orangette’s recipe for slow roasted tomatoes. The recipe was adapted from the one at Cafe Lago, a restaurant Molly writes lovingly about in the accompanying article, and a restaurant that’s back-to-back with an apartment where Craig used to live with his friends Ryan and Kristen.

The story might’ve ended there, with me reading about Cafe Lago’s Pomodori al Forno on the plane, except the story–like those slow-cooked tomatoes–gets richer as it goes along.

Before I left for Seattle, I told Molly that I was pretty sure that though I’d be right near her neck of the woods, I’d be kidnapped to Craig’s magical island of Dungeness Crabs and that I probably wouldn’t be able to see her. She said that she understood and that if I had time to see her at the last minute, to give her a call.

Well I didn’t have time, not really. I spent almost my full time in Washington State up in Bellingham, having a fantastic time with Craig and his family on Eliza Island, and we only came back to Seattle the night before flying back to New York. Our first stop after the drive back was to, strangely enough, Ryan and Kristen’s apartment (strange because of the Cafe Lago connection, pay attention) where we returned the car that Ryan leant Craig for the journey to Bellingham and back. Did I mention that the car was a stick shift and that Craig doesn’t know how to drive a stick shift and that we almost died in 8,000 different ways? I didn’t? Ok, well I won’t–I don’t die and tell.

Here’s where the story, like my stomach in that car, twists and turns: it turns out that through my blog Molly and her husband Brandon have befriended Ryan and Kristen who live quite near them. Both couples have new dogs and, in addition to seeing each other socially, they’re all dogsitting for each other when the need arises. And it just so happened that Molly was over at Ryan and Kristen’s visiting their dog when Kristen got the call that we were on our way back to return the car.

So it all comes full circle: my journey, which began with me holding Molly in my lap on the plane (figuratively, not literally) ended with me falling right there into Molly’s lap (literally, not figuratively.) We were reunited, all five of us (Craig, Molly, Ryan, Kristen and myself–Brandon was busy!) and when the question came up as to where we’d go to dinner, I didn’t hesitate to say: “Cafe Lago!”

I said it because Molly’s article made such a strong case for Cafe Lago’s terrificness. Plus, I wanted to try those slow roasted tomatoes at the source. So there I was, a few moments later, sitting at a table with the article’s author eating the very thing that she authored in that article. How often does that happen?

Here’s the famed dish in person, Cafe Lago’s Pomodori al Forno:

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It’s a true masterpiece, a brilliant combination of tart, savory, sweet, salty, garlicky, and, with the accompanying goat cheese, creamy. That goat cheese, Molly informed me, was from Laura Chenel: America’s first producer of goat cheese. It was everything I’d want it to be.

Naturally, upon my return to New York, I wanted to recreate this dish. As I said at the top, a recipe of several steps begins with 2,408 miles. Those several steps are so slight and simple that the only thing you need to make this at home is a baking dish, plum tomatoes, sugar, salt and olive oil. (In case you missed the link above, the recipe is here.) Sure, you can also add the recommended oregano and infuse it with garlic and parsley at the end, but the chemical process that makes these tomatoes so sublime requires only the most minimal tools and steps.

You heat the oven to 250. You slice your plum tomatoes in half, you seed them, you pour 1/2 cup of olive oil into the baking dish, place the tomatoes on top cut-side up, pour on another 1/2 cup of olive oil, sprinkle everything with oregano, sugar and salt and bake for an hour.

An hour later, you take the pan out and turn the tomatoes over. You bake an hour longer, take ’em out one more time, flip ’em over one last time and cook until deep red: it took me only 15 minutes.

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That’s it. Then you put the tomatoes in a bowl with chopped garlic and parsley and the remaining oil from the baking pan. That’s it.

It lasts up to 5 days in the fridge, but who could wait that long?

As recommended, I toasted some bread, spread on some fresh goat cheese (I used Coach Farm) and laid a roasted tomato on top:

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In a single word: heaven. With these tomatoes, it’s a place on earth. And thanks to Molly and her generosity and good writing, you don’t have to travel 2,408 miles to get them; you can make them yourself right now, while tomatoes are still beautiful. Or even when they’re not beautiful–you can make them from a can.

And you will be oh so glad you did.

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