by Jeremy Meadows, former Cordata deli cook
The sweet and smoky tang of these tomatoes is the quintessence of summer, and one taste will remove you from the perpetual gloom of our Northwest winter right back into the halcyon days of summer.
The senses of taste and smell have an uncanny ability to produce in us powerful and vivid memories, an ability that is unrivaled by the other senses. Many of us have experienced a flurry of images and associations from our past life when encountering a certain flavor or aroma.
For instance, anytime I catch a whiff of Nag Champa incense I am immediately transported back to my adolescence with such intensity that I can almost hear the Beatles’ White Album wafting through the blacklight.
Indeed, the author Marcel Proust famously credited the experience of tasting a Madeleine—a cookie he had enjoyed as a child—with bringing on the flood of memories that inspired his opus, A Remembrance of Things Past.
The scent of an ex’s fragrance or the taste of your grandmother’s lasagna—they can make the past palpable.
I say it’s time we use the power of these senses to good effect.
Winter is coming, and before long we’ll be pining for sunshine and feeling the effects of vitamin D withdrawal. But thankfully, there is a remedy—smoked tomatoes. The sweet and smoky tang of these tomatoes is the quintessence of summer, and one taste will remove you from the perpetual gloom of our Northwest winter right back into the halcyon days of summer.
So go out and snatch up what remains of the local tomato harvest, fire up the barbecue one more time, and prepare your spirit for the dark days to come. Then, several months from now, pull this magical ingredient out of your freezer, stir it into your favorite winter stew or tomato sauce, and prepare to be transported.
These can replace (and will be much better than) canned tomatoes in any recipe that would benefit from a smoky fresh tomato flavor.
- tomatoes (as many as you’d like) sliced lengthwise in half
- black pepper
- sprigs of fresh herbs (I use a combination of thyme, rosemary, and oregano)
- olive oil
- 1 or 2 handfuls of fruitwood chips (I use applewood)
- Place the tomatoes cut side up on a grill-proof tray (e.g., an aluminum foil grill tray). Season each tomato with a large pinch of salt and pepper and an herb sprig. Let sit for 30 minutes or so.
- Meanwhile, fire up your charcoal grill with 3 or 4 handfuls of charcoal (or use another smoking apparatus if you prefer). Once the flame dies down add the wood chips directly to the hot coals and replace the grate. Drizzle a few drops of olive oil over each tomato, then place the tomato tray on the grill grate and close the lid. Adjust the dampers on your grill so that they are about 1/4 to 1/3 open.
- Cook the tomatoes over low heat for at least an hour, or until they shrink to a little more than half of their original size. Remove from the grill then pack tomatoes, including herb sprigs, into freezer-proof containers. Cover with olive oil and let cool to room temperature.
- Use immediately, refrigerate up to a month, or freeze for up to six months.