Slow-roasting intensifies the essence of cherry tomatoes

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Plump, fist-size tomatoes might be the stars of BLTs, Caprese salads, sauces and soups, but their wee cousins can be a cook's best friend, too.

Whether they're Sun Golds, Tumbling Toms or heirloom yellow pear or black plum, cherry tomatoes can play multiple roles beyond the salad bowl. Stuff them with herbed goat cheese for a quick appetizer. Sauté them with garlic and herbs in a skillet until their skins pop, then toss them with pasta.

And try slow-roasting them.

Chris Nugent, executive chef at Chicago's Goosefoot, roasts heirlooms before turning them into a richly flavored soup.

Chef and cookbook author Antony Worrall Thompson tosses roasted cherry tomatoes with pasta and pairs them with fish.

"Sacrifice some time in the name of simplicity," he writes in "The Essential Low Fat Cookbook: Good Healthy Eating for Every Day" (Kyle Books, $35), "because the roasting process really intensifies the tomato flavor."

That concentrated, caramelized flavor is one reason editors at Fine Cooking magazine suggest slow-roasting tomatoes in the book "Fine Cooking in Season: Your Guide to Choosing and Preparing the Season's Best."

They add them to pastas, sandwiches and salads or serve them alongside grilled meats. They suggest storing roasted tomatoes for a week in the refrigerator; longer in the freezer. And if there's any extra roasting oil, drizzle it on grilled vegetables or crusty bread.

If you don't have cherry tomatoes, roast plum tomatoes with this recipe adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine's "Fine Cooking in Season."

Halve through the stem end and seed 41/2 to 5 pounds of plum tomatoes. Heat the oven to 350 F. Line a 12-by-17-inch rimmed baking sheet with foil (then parchment if you have it). Coat the pan with 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Arrange halves in the pan, cut side up, turning to coat the bottoms with oil. Sprinkle sparingly with kosher salt, sugar and scant 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar. Thinly slice 3 to 4 garlic cloves; arrange the slices over tomatoes. Sprinkle with fresh thyme. Pour 1 cup olive oil over it all. Roast in the center of the oven until the tomatoes are dark red-brown, with deep browning on edges. Cool. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store in refrigerator as much as a week or in a freezer bag up to a month.

Red Snapper With Roast Cherry Tomatoes, Garlic and Basil

Makes: 4 servings.

9 ounces each red cherry tomatoes and yellow cherry tomatoes

12 peeled garlic cloves

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 skinless snapper fillets (about 6 ounces each)

1 tablespoon drained tiny capers

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

16 fresh basil leaves, torn

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oven to 375 F. Put red cherry tomatoes and yellow cherry tomatoes in a bowl with peeled garlic cloves and olive oil. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper; toss to coat. Turn seasoned tomatoes into a roasting pan, place in oven and roast 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cut snapper fillets into 1-inch dice. Add fish pieces to tomatoes; season lightly. Roast another 10 to 12 minutes. Add tiny capers, sherry vinegar and basil leaves. Toss very gently to combine and wilt basil leaves; take care not to break up the fish. Serve immediately.

Roasted Heirloom Cherry Tomato Soup

Prep: 20 minutes. Cook: 1 hour. Servings: 6 (2 cups each).

Adapted from a recipe by Chris Nugent, executive chef at Goosefoot restaurant in Chicago. For roasting, drizzle the vegetables with more olive oil if you like.

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 Spanish onions, peeled, halved

4 pounds ripe heirloom cherry tomatoes, about 6½ pints

6 cloves garlic

¾ teaspoon coarse salt

Freshly ground pepper

¼ cup fresh basil leaves

8 cups chicken or vegetable stock

6 ounces goat cheese

1 ounce aged balsamic vinegar

Heat oven to 375 F. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Place onion halves cut-side down in skillet; cook until caramelized, 4 minutes on each side. Set aside ¼ pound tomatoes (about ¾ cup) for garnish. Place remaining tomatoes, the caramelized onions and garlic on 2 rimmed baking sheets; drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, or more as needed. Season with ½ teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Roast in the oven, 30 minutes.

Place roasted tomatoes, onions, garlic, basil and chicken or vegetable stock in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan; simmer, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes. Purée soup in a blender, in batches if necessary. Season with remaining ¼ teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Cut reserved cherry tomatoes in half. Serve in warm soup bowls garnished with goat cheese, halved cherry tomatoes and a balsamic vinegar drizzle.

Per serving: 376 calories, 22 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 32 mg cholesterol, 30 g carbohydrates, 17 g protein, 862 mg sodium, 5 g fiber.