The Tom Colicchio Trio: Roasted Tomatoes Three Ways

by Jason Roth on June 17, 2009

The Tom Colicchio Trio sounds like what happens when a top chef decides to pull a Stephen King or a Kevin Bacon. (Attention Kevin: not everything is better with Bacon.) In this case, though, I’m not talking guitars, but roasted tomatoes.

Tomatoes prepped for roasting

Tomatoes prepped for roasting

I’ve been reading Colicchio’s 2000 book, Think Like a Chef, in which he walks the reader through the basic cooking techniques and, in the chapters focusing on ingredients, shows how a single ingredient can serve as inspiration for a variety of dishes. I picked roasted tomatoes, and over the course of a few days, tried out three recipes that could take advantage of the same batch of tomatoes.

Roasting the Tomatoes

The first step was to roast the tomatoes. I’ve done this before; for example, when making Eric Ripert’s tian (biyaldi of vegetables). The way Colicchio recommends it be done, for use in several recipes that follow, is to core and halve the tomatoes. After I did that, I mixed the tomato halves in a bowl with unpeeled garlic cloves, olive oil, salt, and pepper, and placed the tomatoes cut-side down on a pan covered with parchment paper. I scattered the garlic cloves on top, along with a few springs of fresh thyme. After 20 minutes in the oven, the tomato skins can come off, and then I put the tray back in the oven.

Note to self: read the whole goddamn recipe before starting it. I may have read that the temperature should be 275° F, but somehow the part about roasting the tomatoes “3 or 4 hours more” after taking the skins off escaped me. I think my wife is used to my meals being done 1-2 hours after my scheduled serving time, so this particular evening was no exception. (I realize now that when I had roasted vegetables previously, I had the temperature at least a hundred degrees higher.)

I halved the recipe for roasted tomatoes for the dish I was making this first evening, but still had a good amount left over. The cool thing is that this single recipe yields not just roasted tomatoes, but roasted tomato juice and roasted garlic cloves. (In terms of the taste of the garlic alone, I prefer garlic roasted at a higher-temperature, which is quicker and has a better roasted flavor. But in this recipe, the garlic is a nice byproduct, so who’s complaining?)

roasted tomatoes

Roasted tomatoes

The First Entrée: Manilla Clam Ragout with Pancetta, Roasted Tomatoes, and Arugula

I’m not sure if I’d ever made clams before, so this was a fun recipe to try. I’ve made mussels a bunch of times, and given how easy they are to make, I figured clams wouldn’t be tough, either. Fortunately, that proved to be the case.

I definitely hadn’t used Manilla clams before, and predicting how many clams would make a meal was a bit of a crap shoot. The recipe calls for 3 dozen for 4 people, which might have been good advice had I chosen to follow it. I thought I’d eyeball it at the fish store (fish monger I assume that I am), and went with about a dozen a person. It obviously depends on their size, but I think a full dozen is closer to what you’ll need. (I.e., I lucked out.)

Crisping the pancetta

Crisping the pancetta

I have, of course, eaten scallops wrapped in bacon (though was too busy taking photographs to taste the ones at my own wedding, dammit), but never realized that bacon and shellfish was a classic combination, as Colicchio points out. For this dish, I crisped up the pancetta, reserved the pancetta for later, and used the fat to cook the ingredients for the ragout: garlic, shallot, roasted tomatoes, and white wine.

...and with the tomatoes.

Garlic, shallots, roasted tomatoes, and pancetta fat. Did I mention pancetta fat?

I added the clams and, as usual, it seems, they were done before the 10 minutes estimated in the cookbook. (I must have my heat too high at times.) The other thing I worried about was that some of the clams were done (i.e., the shells opened) a few minutes before others. I wondered if some would be overcooked, but that didn’t seem to be the case.

The greens are added three minutes before you’re done. The recipe actually calls for mustard greens, but since the vegetable stand I went to (in Grand Central Station) didn’t have any, I went with the alternate suggestion, arugula. I’ve never cooked with arugula, so this was another new opportunity. The arugula wilts in no time, so not much cooking is required.

The clam ragout and the mushrooms

The clam ragout and the mushrooms

I sauteed a mixed variety mushrooms to serve with this dish. I also followed Colicchio’s recommendation here. What I have done before is to overcrowd the pan, which results in the pan temperature dropping and a pooling of the moisture which is released by the mushrooms. I also have had the tendency to keep mixing the mushrooms. This time, I cooked the mushrooms in batches, giving them space, and letting them sit untouched for a good two minutes before flipping. I also cooked them at his recommended temperature of medium-high, so they got nice and browned. After I flipped them, I cooked for about a minute, added some chopped garlic, and cooked for about a minute more. Throw in some chopped Italian parsley, squeeze in some lemon juice, and you’re done.

Both dishes came out quite well. The crispy pancetta is added at the end, and yes, I am sold on the idea of bacon with clams. Obviously (if you know me) I made nearly twice the amount of pancetta required by the recipe, which I consider my own twist on the recipe. (I wonder what celebrity chefs would think if I sold a collection of their recipes, identical to the originals but with twice the pancetta.) The broth, with the flavors of pancetta, clams, tomatoes, garlic, and wine, was delicious. This would be a good meal to cheat on carbs with. Meaning, you don’t need to cook any; just serve some nice, crusty bread and your done. And if you already have the tomatoes in your fridge or freezer, this would be a very fast dish to make.

Roasted Tomato Risotto

The next day for brunch, I made Colicchio’s risotto recipe, which used both the roasted tomatoes and roasted garlic I had made the previous evening. This was the second time I’ve ever made risotto, and the results were good. It’s an easy dish to make; my only advice would be to be careful if you need to keep it warm while finishing cooking something else. (The first time I made it, it had been al dente until I left it on the heat too long.) If you make this Colicchio recipe, I’d recommend adding a bit more roasted garlic then the recipe calls for, due to its too-mild flavor.

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Cooking the risotto

I served this risotto by itself, which really served to illustrate my general problem with risotto: I get bored by it. That is, when it’s served as a main course. Due to its texture (even when cooked al dente), and its one-dimensional flavor, in the sense of having the same flavors pervading every bite, I think risotto works much better as a side dish. This isn’t a problem with risotto, of course, just the way it’s often served. I would have the same problem with pork fried rice if someone served it to me as a whole meal.

The finished roasted tomato risotto

The finished roasted tomato risotto

Still, after throwing a little extra Parmigiano-Reggiano on top and hot pepper flakes, this wasn’t a bad Saturday brunch.

Sea Bass Stuffed with Roasted Tomatoes

As I alluded to earlier, this was a dish that scored major points with my wife, who requested I make it immediately the following night. Ironically, this dish looks both fancy and rustic at the same time. All you do is put a roasted tomato, bay leaf, and sprig of thyme between two pieces of sea bass, another bay leaf and thyme sprig on top, and tie the whole thing up (seasoning inside and out with salt and pepper).

Assembling the sea bass

Assembling the sea bass

Gotta love cooking something tied

Gotta love cooking something tied

The sauce is made by adding a little butter to some roasted tomato juice, and is simple but delicious. You’re supposed to serve the fish on a spoonful or two of sauce, but I goofed and spooned the sauce on top, which I realized immediately doesn’t allow the fish to stay as crispy.

Sea bass stuffed with roasted tomatoes

Sea bass stuffed with roasted tomatoes

Sea bass, mushrooms, and chickory

Sea bass, mushrooms, and chickory

On the second night, I tried switching from “sustainable” Chilean sea bass to a mystery variety. (One of the two fish stands in Grand Central advertise their sea bass as “sustainable”.) Maybe this was a factor, because it wasn’t quite as good. I think the main problem, though, was that I ran out of roasted tomato juice for the sauce, so blended up a roasted tomato instead. It didn’t have the same intensity, and lacked the olive oil contained in the juice, plus couldn’t really permeate the fish. The moral of the story: that roasted tomato juice plus butter is freakin’ amazing.

Day 2: Sea bass, mushrooms, and roasted asparagus

Day 2: Sea bass, mushrooms, and roasted asparagus

I know, a lot of mushrooms lately. They never worked for me in college, so maybe it’s an eternal search for a high. But the asparagus was great too: done completely in the toaster oven until they were nice and brown. The brown parts were amazing. Oh, and a little good balsamic vinegar poured on top.

Overall: roasted tomatoes and their resulting offspring are highly recommended. Next time, I might roast some, freeze ‘em, and bring them out when I want to fake a good recipe or two.

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