Cherry tomatoes add dynamic flavor when cooked in side dishes

·4 min read

Using cherry or grape tomatoes strictly in tossed salads is like driving a Corvette only in a school zone.

It looks cool, but there's so much more untapped cooking potential when miniature tomatoes are relegated only to the salad bowl.

The smaller ones tend to be sweeter and less acidic than the beefier varieties. Heat through cooking amplifies those qualities.

More: Baked smashed potatoes a crispy comfort food without deep frying

See for yourself in the following two recipes. One involves roasting the tomatoes with pitted olives and an orange bell pepper. The second is a sauté of the tomatoes with eggplant, red onions, artichokes and other seasonings.

The dishes bring a flattering pop of complex flavors to roast chicken, steak, meatloaf or fish. They also are enticing crostini toppers.

The flavors of both dishes lean Mediterranean and can be finished with tangy feta cheese before service for added zing. But, true to my sometimes "making do" cooking style, I recently substituted the salty, crumbly Mexican cheese queso fresco that I had on hand, and the flavors paired well.

I confess that I make these dishes with measurements that are more by sight and taste than cup and spoon. So, experiment, taste and adjust as your taste buds dictate.

A note about the olives: I like using a quality, marinated blend of pitted olives, usually located in the deli section. The marinade generally contains oil and can be used to coat the tomatoes and peppers for roasting on a baking sheet.

Local farmer's market

Cherry tomatoes – plus large ones – have been available recently in limited supply at the Abilene Farmers Market, which is open 7 a.m.-noon Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at the Frontier Texas! overflow parking lot, North First and Mesquite streets.

The recent heat and drought have cut back the vendors' usual bounty of tomatoes and other vegetables, but there is always something new. Additional options include a selection of meats, pecans, freeze dried foods, honey, baked goods and lotions and other body care products.

More: Reader's pozole recipe with nopales adds new trail to my food journey

Share your favorite recipes or food-related historical recollections by emailing Laura Gutschke at laura.gutschke@reporternews.com.

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes, Olives and Bell Pepper

Ingredients

About 1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved

1 orange bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

About 1 cup blend of marinated, pitted gourmet black and green olives

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Dried basil

About 1/4 cup crumbled Feta cheese (or substitute queso fresco cheese)

Directions

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Place the tomatoes and bell pepper on a baking sheet. Use a slotted spoon or fork to add the olives to bring some, but not all, of the marinade to the baking sheet. Season with a dash of salt, pepper and dried basil. Toss the ingredients until well coated. If necessary, add some of the reserved marinade.

3. Roast for about 20 minutes, tossing halfway through cooking. The tomatoes should be wilted and almost charred, and the bell pepper soft and pliable.

4. Remove tomato mixture from baking sheet to a bowl and sprinkle the cheese on top. Serve immediately. Yields about 4 servings.

Crostini option: Add a spoonful or two to the tops of sliced baguette, sourdough or other artisan bread on a baking sheet. Heat under a broiler until the bread starts to char on the edges. Remove from oven, top with feta or queso fresco and serve.

Sautéed Cherry Tomatoes, Eggplant and Artichoke Hearts

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 red onion, sliced thin

1 medium eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 2 cups)

1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon dried basil

1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

Salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/2 cup marinated artichoke hearts

2-3 tablespoons of the artichoke hearts liquid

1 tablespoon capers

Directions

1. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion and sauté about 3 minutes, until softened.

2. Add the eggplant and tomatoes and sauté for about 5-7 minutes, until they are softened. While the vegetables are cooking, season with the paprika, basil, garlic, oregano and dashes of salt and pepper and stir until blended.

3. Add the artichoke hearts and liquid and continue cooking until mixture is heated through, about 2-3 minutes.

4. Add the capers and cook 1-2 minutes. Serve immediately. Yields about 4 servings.

Crostini option: Add a spoonful or two to the tops of sliced baguette, sourdough or other artisan bread on a baking sheet. Heat under a broiler until the bread starts to char on the edges. Remove from oven, top with feta or queso fresco and serve.

Laura Gutschke is a general assignment reporter and food columnist and manages online content for the Reporter-News. If you appreciate locally driven news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.

This article originally appeared on Abilene Reporter-News: Small tomatoes shine in cooked side dishes and atop crostini