Friday, February 24, 2012

Healthy Habits: Roasted Tomato Halves w/Basil & Mozzarella

I grew up on a buffalo ranch. Most of my uncles were farmers. While they grew a variety of crops, I always looked forward to the bushels of fresh, ripe, sweet tomatoes from Uncle Willis. As a kid, I would pick a perfect tomato from the basket and sit down outside and eat it like an apple. So sweet, so good!

I live in Phoenix now. Most of my "city friends" have never tasted tomatoes fresh from the vine, picked when ripe. The tomatoes we purchase in the stores are picked green so they can ripen in transit and not be rotten by the time they have been delivered, stocked, and let to sit for several days or a week, before they are purchased. Even then, they are quite often still green and hard when we purchase them. They are typically quite bland; not a lot of flavor.

The difference in the flavor of a tomato picked green (and set on the counter to ripen) and a tomato that ripens on the vine and is picked when red and juicy and ready to eat is, well, like two different fruits! (Yes, the tomato is a fruit.) Night and day. It's like taking a drink from a nice, cool glass of lemonade and finding it tastes like water. That's the reason you will find at least two tomato plants in our garden at any given time. 

Last week I got a case of tomatoes from Bountiful Baskets Produce Co-op. They were beautiful, large, ripe tomatoes. I get asked what in the world I'm gonna do with a case of tomatoes. (When I picked them up and saw the size of the case I wished I had ordered two).

Today I am sharing Roasted Tomato Halves with Basil & Mozzarella (otherwise known as Warm Caprese Salad). You might also like this recipe for Cold Caprese Salad. Both of these are a play on the traditional Caprese; a new twist on an old favorite is always well received. Check back early next week for Homemade Pasta Sauce with fresh roasted tomatoes as well as Homemade Stewed Tomatoes and Fresh Homemade Tomato Soup.

What you need:                                                    
Tomatoes - large round ones work best
Salt & Pepper
Fresh Basil Leaves
Mozzarella Cheese (slices or shredded

With a paring knife, cut the core out of the top of the tomatoes.
Cut a very thin slice off the bottom, just enough that it sits flat.
Turn each tomato on it's side and cut in half.
Lay the two halves out with the cut side up on baking sheet.
Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.

Put in a 400* (F) oven for approximately 20 minutes. (keep an eye on them, they may need a few minutes more or less depending on their size.
When tomatoes are warm, soft and bubbly, remove from oven.
Place fresh basil leaves on top of tomatoes, tearing them if needed to fit.
Lay a slice of mozzarella cheese on top of basil (or a small stack of shredded cheese).
Put the tomatoes back in the oven and turn it up to broil.
It will only take a couple of minutes for the cheese to get melty (is that a word?), bubbly and brown.
I bake a whole tray at one time and put some in the fridge for lunches.
Here's a picture of some I did with Feta cheese, just for fun. They tasted great, however, Feta does have a distinctly tangy flavor. When serving them to others, I am always safe using mozzarella.

This makes a great salad course when you are serving a multi-course meal. It also makes a great veggie dish along side roasted chicken or a steak.
If you like tomatoes as much as I do, or if you want to like tomatoes but just haven't really known what to do with them, check back for more tomato ideas.

Question: Have you had the opportunity to eat tomatoes fresh from the vine? Do you have a farmers market near you where you might purchase a tomato to taste the difference?

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