The Book Club

Brilliant Ideas About Roasted Tomatoes

Dear Marjorie,

I, too, would not be myself if I had no baby sitter on top of severe post-traumatic stress from the horrific experience of making and then eating apple ketchup. I had assumed, from glancing at the title of the recipe, that apple ketchup was some sort of apple compote with ketchuplike consistency and not, in fact, a foul combination of apples and actual ketchup out of a ketchup bottle. I hope you don’t feel insulted if I say that ketchup is not something you want to play around with, in terms of adding it to anything other than hamburgers and French fries. But according to his book, this concoction is a “Jean-Georges classic.” Why, I cannot say. Presumably, the shrimp portion of the recipe is fine, and the desperate chef who is riven with dismay can, in a pinch, just scrape the sauce away or rinse it off under the tap to eradicate traces of the ketchup glop.

I’m also sorry about your Christmas tree problems, though they weren’t quite as bad as those suffered by another friend of mine whose Christmas tree fell on top of her last week, leaving her pinned beneath the needles amid her shattered decorations. I suffer from a weird anthropomorphism when it comes to Christmas trees and always pick the smallest, saddest tree from the lot à la Charlie Brown. Last year, we bought a little tree in a pot, and it’s survived a whole year, and it’s going to be our Christmas tree again. That way I won’t have the heartbreak of having to toss it into the street with forlorn strands of tinsel hanging from it after the holiday is all finished. And it only takes about five minutes to decorate. 

The other news from London is that what was making me queasy last night after my Vongerichten feast was not the oven-baked zucchini but some kind of gruesome stomach bug that made me think, I am never going to cook or eat anything again. If anything passes my lips, it will be a tiny portion of water, maybe an ice chip or a small cherry LifeSaver, and not under any circumstances chicken with vinegar and its various accompaniments. But I’m all better now and ready to report on Meal No. 3: seared tuna with roasted tomato vinaigrette and fennel salad (Page 102) from my favorite of these three books, Tom Colicchio’s Think Like a Chef. Colicchio writes cleanly and clearly and persuasively and talks you through the steps, explaining how one recipe can combine with another to make a third completely different dish. He’s the very talented chef at the unpretentious Gramercy Tavern in New York, and he’s not one of those chefs that storms out and yells at you if, for some reason, you don’t eat everything on your plate. But that is not an option, anyway. The food is wonderful. 

Colicchio has brilliant ideas about roasted tomatoes. You take a bunch of tomatoes (they should be end-of-the-summer ones off the vine, ideally), cut them in half, toss them into a pan and let them roast with thyme and garlic for three to four hours, while doing something else entirely. You then get three separate components to save in the freezer for months afterward, til the next good set of tomatoes comes along: the roasted tomatoes, the tomato liquid, and the roasted garlic. It’s really a great idea and not too much trouble, and Colicchio puts forth a number of ways to use these tomatoes, including braised lamb shanks with roasted tomato, caramelized tomato tarts (which are made with onion confit and look yummy), and sea bass stuffed with roasted tomatoes. In the tuna dish, the tomatoes become both the bottom layer of the meal (you place the seared tuna over three or four tomato halves on each plate) and the basis for the vinaigrette that goes over the dish after you’ve laid your fennel-and-herb salad over the seared tuna. It’s quick and easy and delicious. The tomato vinaigrette was a revelation, and I saved some for another time.

My house smells like garlic, and there are a lot of pots to clean, but I think this has been great fun. And tomorrow night for dinner, I will have a baked potato.

Merry Christmas to you and your little ones, including Alice,