Thursday, April 03, 2008

Breaking Things: Oven Roasted Tomatoes with Blue Cheese

I have trouble with breakfast. All the things I like are either elaborate, not very portable, or reheat poorly in a microwave (or in some cases, all three). The things that I like that are both simple and portable get kind of old after awhile. English muffins with peanut butter, a hard boiled egg, yogurt. My ideal breakfast consists of something like toast made of thick sliced rustic bread, spread with ricotta cheese, topped with sautéed mushrooms and served with a little salad of baby arugula. You can see how that wouldn’t be the easiest thing to make at the office with the basic tools that are available there (in my case a microwave and a single-slice toaster).

However, I have found something that’s reasonably portable and downright tasty into the bargain. Oven roasted tomatoes with blue cheese melted in them. I know this sounds like an odd breakfast, but really, what is breakfast? I’m not a member of that camp that says, “Eat pizza or chicken noodle soup for breakfast! What’s important is to eat something!” necessarily, but I do have somewhat traditional (or call them hidebound) ideas of what breakfast is, and these are mere self-imposed boundaries. I need to break through my own boundaries and enter into a world where breakfast is what we make of it.

While I eat these tomatoes for breakfast, they also make a great side dish with a roast or chicken, which is how I made the recipe in the first place. I had a whole menu from Bon Appetit that I made for a Christmas dinner a few years back, and one of the side dishes was Roasted Tomatoes with Stilton. I made them and loved them, and in an iconoclastic moment, I decided to eat them for breakfast.

The tomatoes start out looking like any old tomato, but they roast for an eternity to turn into something slumpy, herby and wonderful. While the original recipe called for Stilton (it was a Christmas recipe, after all), I have since switched over to the most amazing, flavorful, incredible blue cheese on the planet. It’s a French cheese called St Augr, and my husband and I now consume it by the pound. It melts down into a pool of semi-soft cream, a little white puddle inside the red, red tomato flecked with herbs.

I roast up a batch of these on the weekend, and then take them for lunch all week long. I reheat them and melt the cheese in the microwave for about 45 seconds. Since the tomatoes have already been cooked to mush, there’s nothing more the microwave can do to them. They heat up, the cheese melts, and I ascend to heaven.

The original recipe calls for draining the tomatoes, then marinating them in the herb/olive oil mixture, and then roasting them. I skip the marinating step, because I haven’t noticed a significant difference in flavor one way or the other, but the draining step is key, especially if your tomatoes are on the watery side. I also go back and forth between including a couple of cloves of chopped garlic, and leaving it out because I’m too lazy to chop both garlic and rosemary. If you’re making these as a side dish for a dinner, I think the garlic is more important than if you’re planning to eat them for breakfast, as I do. Garlic is more of a lunch/dinner component. Breakfast, unless you’re troubled with vampire infestations, can be garlic-free without the sneaking feeling that what you’re eating needs “a little something more.”

There’s some flexibility here as well. You could change these up and make them more Italian in character—use chopped basil and oregano, and top them with fresh mozzarella. Or try fresh thyme and something like grated Gruyere. I haven’t gone this route—it’s the hidebound traditionalist in me, I guess—but you could.

These are a nice transitional dish for the Spring when really great tomatoes aren’t ready yet. Plum tomatoes are fairly reliable all year long, and roasting them turns them into something soft and comforting, while the blue cheese and rosemary add a little zing. With such a delightful set of contradictions, they’re a great way to end a day, or to begin one.

Oven Roasted Tomatoes with Blue Cheese
adapted from Bon Appetit, December 2006
serves 4 as a side dish, or one person four days in a row for breakfast

12 plum tomatoes, halved
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste
3-4 ounces soft blue cheese

Preheat oven to 425.

Using a teaspoon, scoop out insides of tomatoes and discard. Allow tomato halves to drain on a plate for approximately 30 minutes. Spray a large roasting pan with cooking spray, and set tomatoes cut side up in the pan.

Drizzle oil over tomato halves (you may want to use a little more olive oil—I really just pour right out of my olive oil bottle, but you want at least a half a teaspoon of oil drizzled over each half; if you’re a careful measuring type, use a half teaspoon measure to do this, then determine if more is needed. If you’re a carefree devil-may-care type, just drizzle away until the tomatoes look happily bathed in oil). Scatter tomatoes with rosemary, then sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Roast for about an hour, or until tomatoes slump and the juices start to brown up.

If serving immediately, remove from oven and tuck about a half an ounce of blue cheese into each tomato half. Return to oven for 5-10 minutes, or until cheese melts.

When taking them for breakfast, I cool the tomatoes to room temperature, store them in the refrigerator for three or four days, and take them in my lunch bag, along with a separate chunk of cheese. When I’m ready to eat them, I cut the cheese up into small pieces (about the size of a marble), and microwave tomatoes and cheese on plate for about 45 seconds.


Melissa said...

I, too, have discovered St. Augr blue cheese, and think it's phenomenal. The flavor and silken texture are out of this world!

TD said...

Melissa--I know! I just adore it! We're almost never without some in the fridge!