This is the time of the year for the aromatic herbs. Rosemary, thyme, oregano and sage, with their woody stems and deep herbal fragrance, are the centre of our kitchen as summer comes to a close.
I like to roast halved tomatoes in a hot oven with olive oil, whole garlic cloves, thyme and rosemary. These can be done for a long time in a slow oven or more quickly in a higher temperature oven. Done slowly at 300 F for several hours they will become firm and almost dried and the flavour will intensify – almost like a sun dried tomato. Done quickly in a 450 F oven they will blacken in spots and remain juicy and luscious. Before the tomatoes go into the oven, they can be drizzled with a small amount of balsamic vinegar, or maple syrup, and liberally scattered with grey sea salt and cracked black pepper.
Once the tomatoes are roasted you have many options. They can be eaten as is or turned into a sauce. This weeks roasted tomatoes encouraged me to take them in a totally new direction. The sauce started in a typical way with onions fried in olive oil with a finely chopped clove of garlic. I slipped the skins off the roasted tomatoes and added them to the pan.
The first departure from a more routine sauce was the addition of a whole star anise pod and a pinch of allspice to bring a warming resonance to the sauce. A few chopped fresh tomatoes were added and the pan was set to simmer for about half an hour.
While the sauce puttered on the stove I boiled a big pot of water for spaghetti and prepared the second departure from routine. I opened a package of haloumi and sliced it thickly cross wise and then length wise to form batons. I fried the cheese in a hot dry pan until it browned.
To finish the sauce I worked in a quarter cup of olive oil after taking the tomatoes off the heat. The sauce was tossed with the just cooked spaghetti in a warmed serving dish, and the pasta was liberally tossed with a generous handful of chopped chives and oregano. I added enough herbs so that the sauce was as green from the oregano and chive as it was red from the tomato.
The sauce was deeply flavoured, aromatic and multi-dimensional. Deep and intense because of the roasted tomatoes and garlic, and further developed by layering in the sautéed onion and garlic and fresh tomatoes. The allspice and star anise brought unexpected aroma and resonance. The green herbs brought peppery freshness and colour. The haloumi was an extremely satisfying and toothsome change from the usual parmesan or mozzarella typically found in tomato sauces.
This dish began somewhere familiar and arrived at a completely new and unexpected destination and this is what is fun about cooking. The effort is worth it if you get somewhere interesting in the end.