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Bargain Roasting 

An 18-pound box of tomatoes and no time

I hit the produce jackpot at my local farmers' market last week. So what if I didn't know what I'd do with an 18-pound box of tomatoes? I had just sleuthed a $10 bargain. It was like hanging out at the markdown rack at TJ Maxx, breathless over a two-piece bathing suit I'd never be caught dead in but must buy because it's only two bucks.

Mother Nature is having her own kind of end-of-season sale at the moment, with tomatoes leading the charge, as they're usually the last summer crop to hang on until the first frost.

Pleased with my purchase, I admired my newly acquired juicy jewels, but reality quickly set in: I had 18 pounds of Roma tomatoes in my possession and no time to play with them in the coming week.

A full calendar meant no opportunity for pots of gurgling pasta sauce, jars of salsa or a canning extravaganza. The only thing that made sense, given my time constraints, was to slow roast 'em.

The oblong-shaped Roma (aka plum tomato) has a higher "meat to juice" ratio than say, the average beefsteak tomato that's so good in a sandwich, which means it's a perfect candidate for an oven-dried experience. More tomato pulp means less water to evaporate, and after a long stint in a warm (not hot) oven, that translates into überintense, multilayered flavor.

Best of all, slow-roasted tomatoes take little brainpower; it's hard to screw them up. Oil, salt and season, line 'em up on a baking sheet, stick 'em in the oven and carry on with the rest of your life for the next four hours.

You won't believe the tomatoey transformation that takes place while you're napping or involved in some other form of domestic bliss; those Romas do a Shrinky Dink thing, which deepens their color and concentrates their tomatoness. The flavor is sweet yet sorta smoky, but the experience, like a good wine, keeps going, as the herb/spice topping kicks in.

For those worried about what to do with 30-some slow-roasted tomatoes, these little jewels can be enjoyed solo, in between sandwiches, thrown into an omelet or pureed with a little stock for a whole new pasta-sauce experience.

Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

30 ripe Roma tomatoes -- about 2 baking sheets' worth

At least 2 tablespoons olive oil (herb-flavored oil might be interesting)

At least 1 teaspoon coarse salt

Black pepper to taste

Seasoning options: 1-2 teaspoons dried oregano, mint, lavender, fennel seed, summer savory, ground coriander, orange or lemon zest, herbes de Provence

 Preheat oven to 200 degrees.

 Slice tomatoes in half, lengthwise. Pour oil into a small bowl, and with a pastry or silicone brush, apply oil to the skin side of the tomatoes.

 Line tomatoes snugly on a baking sheet, oiled-skin side down. Measure out salt and seasonings and place in separate bowls, then with your fingers, sprinkle each on top of the tops, ensuring even distribution.

 Place tray in oven and roast until the tomatoes have shrunk by at least one-third, maybe half their original size, 4-6 hours. They will look a little crinkly but should retain some juiciness.

 Remove tray from oven and allow to cool. Store in an airtight container in the fridge; tomatoes will keep for at least a week.
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