Why this recipe works: TMT—Too Many Tomatoes-—is a painless affliction that flares up when one has an overabundance of beautiful summer tomatoes (countertop clutter is a common side effect). I'm no stranger to this condition. Growing up, our family garden produced bushels of tomatoes every August. Today, friends come to dinner proudly gifting bags of colorful, oddly shaped heirloom tomatoes from their gardens. And, well, it's possible that I might have a slight addiction to buying tomatoes (and corn, and arugula, and shell beans, and...) at farmers' markets.
Is there a cure for TMT? Yes: Putting the tomatoes up. Since I'm too lazy to can whole tomatoes or turn them into sauce, I've learned to use my oven to help me cope with TMT by making oven-dried tomatoes. Roasting the tomatoes for hours is a pretty hands-off process, and it works wonders with the summer fruit, concentrating the tomatoes' flavor and turning them into rich, flavor-packed morsels. The seasoning required is minimal: some herbes de Provence, salt and pepper, and a little olive oil. It's best to let the tomatoes do the talking. I eat them straight as part of an antipasto plate; add them to sandwiches, sauces, soups, and stews; chop them fine and add them to mayonnaise; and use them as a pizza or focaccia topping. Really, they have countless uses, and since they keep in the fridge for several weeks, it's a great way to preserve your summer bounty. Even if you feel like you have the worst case of TMT on record, I think you'll quickly discover you just can't have enough of these oven-dried tomatoes.
—Scott Kathan, Managing Editor, Cook's Country
Bring on the flavor: Once the tomatoes are cored and halved, toss them with extra-virgin olive oil, kosher salt, freshly cracked black pepper, and dried herbes de Provence. Thyme and oregano make good substitutions for the herbes de Provence here (mint and rosemary do not).
Rack them up: For easy cleanup, line two baking sheets with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Roasting the tomatoes on a greased wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet increases air circulation, resulting in drier tomatoes. Place the seasoned tomatoes on the racks cut side down, then top the tomatoes with any oil and seasoning remaining in the bowl.
Blister and skin: Blistering the tomatoes' skins in a hot oven makes it easy to remove the skins. Place them in a preheated 425-degree oven for 20 minutes (or until the skins wrinkle). Carefully remove the baking sheets from the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 300 degrees. Use tongs to remove and discard the hot tomato skins, then return the tomatoes to the oven. After 30 minutes back in the oven, use a spatula to flip the tomato halves cut side up (they'll stay this way for the remainder of cooking). Return them to the oven, switching and rotating the sheet pans.
Roast, roast, and roast some more: The rest of the process takes three or four more hours of oven time (depending on the size and ripeness of your tomatoes). I found it was necessary to switch and rotate baking sheets twice during this stage to ensure even cooking. Eventually, the tomatoes will look like this—visibly dried with some dark edges. At this point, pull them from the oven. The roasting concentrates their flavor, turning the tomatoes into savory, tender little umami bombs. It will require real willpower to resist the urge to eat them all immediately. (And who am I to stop you?)
Keeping them fresh: Let the tomatoes cool to room temperature on the wire racks. Then transfer them to jars and cover them completely in extra-virgin olive oil. I think they keep best this way, and they should last up to three weeks in the refrigerator.
Makes 4 cups
Make today, enjoy immediately
6 pounds ripe plum tomatoes, cored and halved lengthwise
13/4 cups extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon dried herbes de Provence
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1. Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 425 degrees. Spray 2 wire racks with vegetable oil spray and set in 2 rimmed baking sheets lined with parchment paper. In large bowl, combine tomatoes, 1/2 cup oil, herbes de Provence, salt, and pepper and toss gently to coat. Place tomatoes cut side down on prepared wire racks and top the tomatoes with any oil and seasoning remaining in bowl. Roast until skins have loosened, about 20 minutes.
2. Remove tomatoes from oven and reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees. Using tongs, carefully remove and discard tomato skins. Return tomatoes to oven and continue to roast for 30 minutes.
3. Remove tomatoes from oven. Using spatula, carefully flip each tomato half cut side up, then return to oven, switching and rotating baking sheets. Roast tomatoes until visibly shrunken, dry, and slightly dark around edges, 3 to 4 hours, switching and rotating sheets twice more during cooking. (Remove smaller tomatoes as they finish cooking as needed.)
4. Remove tomatoes from oven and let cool to room temperature. Transfer tomatoes to jars with tight-fitting lids, lightly packing them into jars. Cover tomatoes completely with remaining 11/4 cups oil. Oven-dried tomatoes can be refrigerated up to 3 weeks.
Chocolate Ice Cream Shell:
Why this recipe works: When you get a letter from a man named Bullets, you feel compelled to respond. Bullets Gillespie of Nashville wrote to Cook's Illustrated to ask about Elmer Gold Brick Topping, a chocolate sauce that forms a thin, brittle shell when poured over ice cream. It's hard to find in stores, and Bullets wanted us to develop a recipe for a homemade version. He noted he would not be appeased with some anemic, overly sweet, waxy coating that tasted like it came from the local soft-serve stand.
Now, don't tell Bullets, but I used exactly such a product—Smucker's Magic Shell—as my starting point. The way it immediately sets up when it hits ice cream is downright magical; unfortunately, the chocolate flavor is sorely lacking. Still, I figured that understanding its basic mechanics might be the first step in engineering a sophisticated rendition.
Turns out Magic Shell's magic ingredient is coconut oil, which is liquid at about 74 degrees but solid at 70 degrees. Because of this quick transition, you can pour a fluid mixture of chocolate and coconut oil over ice cream and it will set into a crackly shell in mere seconds. Refined coconut oil plus bittersweet chocolate provided rich flavor and snappy texture, and to ensure the flavor would meet Bullets' exacting standards, I also added a bit of salt, espresso powder, cocoa, and vanilla.
When I anxiously phoned Bullets to offer my recipe, I was delighted to find that he was not at all the fearsome type I had envisioned, but a true Southern gentleman. He inherited his intimidating nickname from a great-grandfather who ran away at age fourteen to fight in the Spanish-American War. I'm hopeful that this tempting recipe might help Bullets persuade current Gillespie generations to stick closer to home.
—Andrea Geary, Associate Editor, Cook's Illustrated
Coconut oil is key: Store-bought Magic Shell's key ingredient is coconut oil. This oil is extremely high in saturated fat, which makes it liquid at 74 degrees and solid at room temp (70 degrees). I found that combining coconut oil in a 2:3 ratio by weight with chocolate produces a sauce that is drizzle-able when just slightly warmed but morphs into a shatteringly thin shell seconds after being poured over ice cream. Melting these two ingredients together in the microwave at 50 percent power is easy and ensures the chocolate doesn't scorch.
More chocolaty, more flavorful: For an extra boost of chocolate, I whisk some cocoa into the melted chocolate mixture. I also add a little vanilla and espresso to round out the sauce. Diluting the espresso in the vanilla before adding it to the chocolate mixture ensures it gets evenly distributed. And that's all there is to it. Except you also need a little bit of patience because at this point the sauce is too warm to turn into a shell once poured onto ice cream, so let it sit until it cools to room temperature.
The magic moment: Once the sauce is cooled, simply pour it over your favorite ice cream and watch the magic happen. The sauce will keep for quite a while at room temperature, though it will solidify somewhat. I find the best way to bring it back to the right consistency is to scoop out the amount I need and microwave it until it's thin and saucy.
Chocolate ice cream shell
Makes 3/4 cup
Make today, enjoy immediately
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon instant espresso powder
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/3 cup coconut oil
1 teaspoon cocoa
Stir vanilla, espresso powder, and salt together in small bowl until espresso dissolves. Microwave chocolate and coconut oil in medium bowl at 50 percent power, stirring occasionally, until melted, 2 to 4 minutes. Whisk in vanilla mixture and cocoa until combined. Let cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes, before using. Chocolate shell can be stored at room temperature in airtight container for at least 2 months; microwave, stirring occasionally, until melted and smooth, 1 to 2 minutes, before using.
Sour Dill Pickles:
Why this recipe works: At my very first job, between scribbling down orders and scooping ice cream, I was often found in the walk-in fridge gobbling down a juicy dill pickle from a giant bucket (sorry, Friendly's). Briny, garlicky, and crisp, a full-sour dill pickle satiated my wicked salt cravings—and still does. After all these years, I finally realized that if I just made my own, I could have a never-ending stash.
First, I had to decide whether I wanted a quick-vinegar or fermented dill pickle. Quick pickles are steeped in a salty vinegar solution and are ready in as little as a few hours. They're good in a pinch, but the sour bite is really just skin deep, as they rely on the vinegar for flavor. With fermented pickles, a saltwater brine is poured over whole cucumbers and they are left to sit. Natural fermentation takes over and the cucumber transforms—all the way to its very center—into a true sour pickle. (A little vinegar is added at the beginning, but it's only enough to keep things food-safe until fermentation kicks in.) This type of pickle can take some time to cure, but the reward is a pickle with a genuine sour bite that's not for wimps. To get the full flavor of a tangy deli-style kosher dill pickle, I was willing to wait for fermentation to do its thing. You should, too.
Be aware that if your garlic is very fresh, it will likely turn blue. Don't worry; it's just reacting to the acid. Note that when fermenting, cleanliness of both the ingredients and your utensils is critical.
—Yvonne Ruperti, Associate Editor, America's Test Kitchen
The best brine: The first step is to make the saltwater brine. The amount of salt is critical: Salt keeps the bad bacteria at bay (my first batch turned moldy because the salt concentration was too low), but using too much can slow fermentation to a halt. With more than half a cup of kosher salt to 8 cups of water, my brine is fairly salty. I also add vinegar, just enough to keep it food-safe until fermentation kicks in. Dissolve the salt in half of the water over medium-high heat, then stir in the rest of the water and vinegar. Let the brine cool to room temp before pouring it over the cucumbers.
Choose the right cuke: Kirby, aka pickling, cucumbers are the best variety for this recipe (and any pickling recipe, hence their name). Make sure they're as fresh as possible, picking ones that are firm and green. Rinse them off in a colander to get rid of any sand. Depending on their size and your container's shape (use a 3- to 4‑quart sterilized jar or a pickle crock), the number you end up fermenting will vary, but it will likely be around 10 or 12.
Pack those pickles: Along with the pickles, I add a few extras—fresh dill, dill seeds, smashed garlic cloves, and whole peppercorns—to boost the flavor. Tightly pack your jar or crock with the cucumbers, alternating the dill, garlic, and spices along the way. Only fill the jar to about 2 inches from the top to leave room for the brine. Make sure to use clean tongs to limit transferring bacteria into the jar.
Submerge completely: To pour the brine over the cucumbers, I find it easiest to first transfer the brine from the saucepan to a liquid measuring cup. Fill the jar with brine until it's about an inch from the top. It's very important that the pickles and spices are covered in the brine by at least 1/2 inch. My recipe intentionally makes extra brine; reserve about 1 quart and store it in the fridge so that you can replenish the crock if any of the liquid evaporates during fermentation.
A weighty matter: If anything pops up above the brine, it runs the risk of getting moldy. I like to arrange a piece of parchment in the jar or crock, then weigh it down with a small bowl or plate (a saucer or bread-and-butter plate should be a good fit) to prevent any potential issues. This holds the pickles safely beneath the brine's surface and creates a seal that keeps the pickles from going bad.
Keep it clean: The next step is to cover the jar with a piece of cheesecloth that's been folded over a few times. This keeps out dust while letting gas escape; gas is produced as the pickles ferment. To keep the cheesecloth from falling into the liquid, I use a rubber band to secure the cloth in place.
Sour beginnings: Keeping the jar at room temperature and away from direct sunlight will help fermentation. Check it daily to make sure the brine is covering the pickles, topping it off if necessary. Skim off any scum that might collect on the brine's surface, and if the cheesecloth gets damp, replace it. After three days you'll notice the brine is starting to look cloudy and some bubbles may be rising up. After 10 days, the pickles should be turning a yellow-green color and the brine will be really cloudy. Take a pickle out and try it. It should have a nice sour flavor.
Superlative sours: My pickles took just 10 days to get the flavor that I wanted, but it could take longer. They can sit at room temperature for up to 21 days. When the flavor is where you want it, transfer them to the refrigerator. They'll keep on fermenting in there (at a much slower pace than they do at room temperature). Of course in my house, these babies never last long enough to get the chance!
Sour Dill Pickles
Makes 10 to 12 pickles
Start today, enjoy in 10 to 21 days
8 cups water
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt (see page 70)
1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
10–12 small (3 to 4 ounces each) pickling cucumbers, rinsed well
20 sprigs fresh dill
20 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 tablespoon dill seeds
11/2 teaspoons whole peppercorns
1. Bring 4 cups water and salt to boil in large saucepan over high heat. Off heat, whisk in remaining 4 cups water and vinegar. Let cool to room temperature.
2. Using sterilized tongs, tightly pack cucumbers, dill, garlic, and spices into sterilized 3- to 4‑quart jar or crock with tight-fitting lid, leaving 2‑inch space at top of jar. Fill jar with brine, leaving 1‑inch space at top of jar, making sure all pickles are submerged. (Reserve remaining brine in refrigerator.) Press piece of parchment paper against surface of brine, then weight with small plate or bowl. Cover jar with triple layer of cheesecloth and secure with rubber band; store at room temperature in relatively cool place and away from direct sunlight.
3. Check pickles daily, skimming off any residue on surface of brine, and topping off with reserved brine, as needed, to keep pickles submerged. Taste pickles after 10 days to gauge level of fermentation; pickles should be yellow-green in color and sour in flavor. For more sour pickle flavor, continue to ferment at room temperature (in cool place) for up to 11 days longer. Remove cheesecloth, cover, and refrigerate pickles for up to 1 month.
Courtesy America's Test Kitchen.