Spring is 28 days away. She stands beyond us like a cruel temptress. She is Keats’ La Belle Dame Sans Merci, a beautiful, unattainable tease. And then I dreamed of tomatoes, ripe, red… beautiful, unattainable.
My reserve has wavered; I buy more and more food from places far away, trying to please a homegrown palate. And so it was with tomatoes. I found them in the grocery store, six in a package, organic but pale and hard. I bought them anyway… weak… so weak.
Well, once home, I had to do something with them—they weren’t cheap! And, deep down I knew they weren’t very tasty either. Could I fix that? You know…. I could.
At least once during the winter, I give in to this need for a tomato, and while I can’t really have that fresh-off-the-vine flavor, I can have something pretty good—oven-dried tomatoes, a synch to make and a delightful surprise on the midwinter dinner table. Plus, your whole house will smell like an Italian kitchen.
My recipe comes from my best-loved Italian chef, Jack Bishop of America’s Test Kitchen fame. I first made these one Christmas to go on a plate with spinach pesto pasta—red and green, get it? But I had promised my husband scampi last week—his favorite shrimp dish. The best recipe I know for scampi comes from Joy of Cooking—simple, quick and classic. So I paired them up for a special little Saturday night dinner at home. And you can, too!
This dish is VERY rich. It can be extended to serve six if you add some angel hair pasta.
- 10 fresh, firm organic tomatoes (Firm is the least of your worries in winter, believe me. Try for large roma tomatoes, which work very well in this dish.)
- Sea Salt
- One and a half to two pounds large or extra-large shrimp, peeled and deveined
- One-half cup very high quality extra virgin olive oil (J of C warns you not to skimp on the quality of your oil for this dish; pay attention.)
- One tablespoon minced garlic (To be honest, I like at least four large cloves of garlic for this dish, so more than a tablespoon. I also don’t mince it up really fine because it cooks in the oil for quite a while and you do not want it to turn dark brown or burn.)
- One-quarter cup minced fresh parsley (also very important to the dish)
- A tablespoon or two fresh lemon juice (I usually use the juice of half a large lemon or all of a small one.)
- Begin your tomatoes in the morning because they will take at least six hours to bake. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.
- Set a large cross-woven rack (see photos at the end of the post) over a large baking sheet. Trim a thin slice from the stem end of each tomato to remove the core. Slice the tomatoes in half lengthwise. Place cut side up on the rack and sprinkle with salt.
- Place the baking sheet in the oven. Oven-dry the tomatoes until they are wrinkled and greatly reduced in size, six to seven hours. Do not dry them out completely; some moisture should remain (This means they will be moist instead of leathery and sweet instead of so salty, which is often the case with traditional sun-dried tomatoes.)
- Remove the baking sheet from the oven and cool the tomatoes completely. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate, if not serving immediately. Before you serve them, take them out of the frig in time to return them to room temperature. I like to top them with a little extra virgin olive oil and fresh herbs.
- To prepare the scampi, rinse your shelled and deveined shrimp, then pat dry.
- Combine the olive oil (the best you can afford) and the garlic in a very large, heavy duty skillet. (I always use my large Calphalon stainless steel chef’s skillet for this dish because I want to give my shrimp plenty of room to cook in a single layer.)
- Cook the garlic, stirring occasionally, over low heat until it is fragrant and golden, about 10 minutes. Do not rush this step. Allow that garlic to infuse the oil.
- Increase the heat to medium-high and add the shrimp, placing it in the skillet with tongs and cooking in a single layer. Cook until the shrimp turn pink on the bottom and turn them over.
- Add your parsley and more garlic, if you desire. Cook until the shrimp are firm and pink, only about five minutes total. Don’t overcook or you will end up with rubbery shrimp. A very watchful eye is needed, here.
- Remove from heat and add the fresh lemon juice and, perhaps, a bit more fresh parsley for garnish.
The prep/cook time refers to the scampi and includes the time you'd spend cleaning the shrimp--something of which I'm not particularly fond. Those tomatoes are an all-day affair. Worth it!
Well, that’s it. A truly elegant dish, that is very satisfying. By the way, my gluten-free daughter also loves this dish.
I’m good for a few more weeks now. I’m sure asparagus is just around the corner! Well… I can dream, can’t I?