As you peruse the farm market for apples and pumpkins this weekend, don't forget the last of the local tomatoes. During this exceptionally sunny September, late-harvest varieties have had the chance to fully develop that combination of acidity, sweetness and meatiness that is so difficult to describe but so easy to love. The bins may not be overflowing, but the tomatoes picked at the very end of September, after spending the entire summer on the vine, will likely be the best of the year.
The question is, what to do with them this late in the season?
Late-harvest tomatoes are already bursting with flavor, and oven roasting concentrates this flavor powerfully. Unlike sun-dried tomatoes, which often taste overwhelmingly like salt and other preservatives in which they are packed, oven-roasted tomatoes have a fresh and pure tomato zing. Oven-roasting eliminates excess water from tomatoes without drying them out, so they are quite different from sun-dried tomatoes in texture as well -- plump rather than shriveled, toothsome but never leathery.
The method is simple. Line a baking sheet with heavy-duty foil (no clean up), quarter the tomatoes and toss them with some salt and olive oil, and roast them in a 350- degree oven until they're wrinkled and collapsed but not dehydrated, 30 to 45 minutes, depending on their size. I imagined several appealing uses for my roasted tomatoes: I could spoon them onto bowls of soft polenta enriched with butter and Parmesan cheese, toss them with spaghetti and olive oil or scramble them with some eggs and goat cheese. But the oven was already on, so I forged ahead with my scones.
I gently squeezed most of the remaining juice from the tomato pieces before chopping them, so I wouldn't be adding too much extra liquid to the dough. Because my oven-roasted tomatoes had enough personality to stand up to other assertive ingredients, I added a handful of shredded sharp Cheddar cheese to the dough along with mustard powder, mustard seeds and a little Dijon mustard. For the sake of tenderness, I made sure to use well-chilled butter, took care not to overmix the dough, and patted it into a circle rather than risk toughening it with a rolling pin before cutting it into wedges. Baking the scones in a very hot oven encouraged an impressively high rise.
TOMATO, CHEDDAR CHEESE AND MUSTARD-SEED SCONES
1 pound tomatoes, cored and quartered
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt, divided
3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons dry mustard
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes and chilled
4 ounces shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1/4 cup mustard seeds
3/4 cup milk
2 large eggs, lightly beaten, plus 1 large egg, lightly beaten, for brushing tops of scones
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine tomatoes, olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and ground black pepper to taste in a bowl and transfer to baking sheet in a single layer. Roast until softened and wrinkled, 30 to 45 minutes. Let cool, squeeze juices from tomatoes and discard, and coarsely chop tomato flesh.
2. Increase oven temperature to 450 degrees. Line another baking sheet with parchment paper.
3. Combine flour, dry mustard, sugar, baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large mixing bowl. Add chilled butter pieces and mix with an electric mixer on low speed until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in cheese and mustard seeds until distributed. Mix in milk, 2eggs and Dijon mustard until dry ingredients are just moistened. Stir in tomatoes. Do not overmix.
4. Turn dough onto a lightly floured work surface and divide in half. Shape each half into a 6-inch disk. Use a sharp chef's knife or bench scraper to cut each disk into 6 wedges. Place wedges 1/2 inch apart on prepared baking sheet. Brush tops with remaining egg. Bake until golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes. Serve warm or let cool completely.