151 pages later, I have emerged from my thesis-writing cocoon! It feels great! Except that in about a week, I’ll have to go back inside for the final revisions as prescribed by my helpful thesis committee. But after that, I will emerge a butterfly with three beautiful letters after her name: P H D. I’m so excited I could sing! La la la la la PHD!
I hope you aren’t tired of this PhD business, dear reader, because it’s going to continue for the next few weeks. After six years of labor dedicated to my craft, I think I’m entitled to bask in the pride that somehow pulled me toward it even during my darkest days of graduate school. I’ve been (secretly) dreaming of this time for many moons, but the waking reality is even better than my secret dreams. I just feel so accomplished, anticipating the completion of my degree. I feel victorious.
Another thing that made me feel victorious recently was an excellent open-faced sandwich that seemed to invent itself for the sole purpose of comforting me in the final weeks of thesis writing. I love sandwiches, especially the kind that can stand alone as a vegetarian entree. Sandwiches of this type really need some sort of protein to work, and I like a little something more than a piece of cheese. Or even better, a little something in addition to a piece of cheese. I want good bread and cheese and something to tie the whole thing together into a neat little package called dinner.
Enter the humble white bean. It’s such an easy answer: open a can, drain the beans, dump them in a bowl, and mash them with some salt and pepper. Comfortingly bland and yet utterly fortifying, white beans are so good in sandwiches, especially as a creamy mattress for the real superstars of this open-faced sandwich: slow-roasted tomatoes, courtesy of summer and A Homemade Life.
I’ve fallen pretty hard for the slow-roasted tomato. It’s what sun-dried tomatoes wish they could be but never quite achieve: a silky, sweet-tart pouch of tomato essence that practically melts into a puddle of summer on your tongue. It’s startling that with a little heat and time, pedestrian Roma tomatoes can be transformed into something so sublime. And right now, at least in my corner of the globe, Romas are cheap. Really cheap—like 15 or 20 of them for 3 bucks at the farmers’ market. Unbelievable. I keep scooping them up, deliciously thrilled at the prospect of another week of slow-roasted tomatoes.
By day, I’ve been roasting my brain on data and figures and science prose. But by night, I fire up the oven for the slow steady midnight roasting of my cache of tomatoes. It takes just a few minutes to prep the tomatoes, especially if you’re lazy like me and do your prep in the pan with the tomatoes. It’s worth the effort to roast a couple pounds of tomatoes at a time because it’s really easy to plow through four of them in one sitting. Seriously: I top each sandwich with four tomato halves, right down the middle like giant red buttons, and polish off two sandwiches without a hiccup. This, my friends, is home-cooking at its best. Eat your sandwiches accompanied by a vegetable or two or maybe a chilled soup and you’ve got a snappy late-summer dinner that will leave you just enough room for dessert.
Molly’s Slow-Roasted Tomatoes with Coriander
Adapted from A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg
Have I mentioned lately how much I love Molly’s book? I’ve been working my way through the recipes, following them in my devil-may-care, I’ll-just-change-this-and-that-because-no-one-is-here-to-stop-me way. One of the nice things about most of Molly’s recipes, published in the book or on Orangette, is that they are really user-friendly for a tinkerer like me. I feel that’s a strong indicator of a good, solid recipe and one of the reasons I cook so much from her recipes.
For these slow-roasted tomatoes, the basic recipe is pretty easy and loose, but I make things even easier on myself by doing away with an extra bowl and instead prepping the tomatoes on a cutting board and then inside the pan where they’ll roast for a few hours. I also use a little more salt and coriander than Molly because I like the seasonings a little bit stronger.
Roma (plum) tomatoes (make lots!)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt (I’ve used sea salt and table salt with good results here)
Ground coriander (oh, delight!)
1) Preheat the oven for 250 degrees F. Spray a baking dish or rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray and set aside.
2) Prep the tomatoes: wash them, chop them in half lengthwise, and use a little V-shaped cut to snip away the stem on each half. Line them up inside the prepped dish or sheet, cut side up.
3) Drizzle the tomato halves lightly with olive oil. You don’t need to coat them in oil, just use a bit on each one to give it a little flavor and richness. Sprinkle them with salt and ground coriander to taste, just a bit on each one.
4) Slide the tomatoes into the oven and roast for about 3 hours, at which point the tomatoes will have shrivelled into little crinkled pouches of concentrated tomato goodness. Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool to room temperature, or just cool overnight. Store roasted tomatoes in a tightly sealed container in the fridge.
Open-Faced White Bean, Cheese, and Slow-Roasted Tomato Sandwiches
My favorite bread for these sandwiches is a pre-sliced loaf of French bread made by Breadsmith, which I store in the freezer for safe-keeping while I work my way through the loaf. The flavor seems just right for these sandwiches, a sort of cross between pizza and grilled cheese sandwiches.
One more note: if I’m making this recipe to feed just me, I make two sandwiches, but you’ll have enough of the bean mixture to make sandwiches for 2-3 eaters. Store leftover bean mixture in the fridge.
4-6 slices of bread, such as the French sandwich bread made by Breadsmith
A single garlic clove, peeled and sliced in half
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 14.5-oz. can white beans, such as Great Northern beans
A few shredded handfuls of a favorite cheese, such as Organic Valley’s Wisconsin Raw Milk Cheese Jack Style
16-24 roasted tomato halves (4 for each slice of bread), see recipe above
1) Lightly toast the bread in your favorite toasting apparatus. After toasting, rub it with the garlic clove and drizzle a bit of olive oil on top.
2) While the bread is toasting, prep the beans. Drain and rinse the canned beans, then dump them into a shallow bowl, like a large cereal bowl. Use a fork to mash them, then season them to taste with salt and pepper.
3) Spread a few tablespoons of the bean mixture on each slice of bread. Top with cheese. Place four roasted tomatoes, cut side down, on each slice of bread. I like to make a line with them, as though the tomatoes were very large buttons on a shirt that happens to be shaped like a piece of bread. Sprinkle each sandwich with salt and pepper to taste.
4) Turn on your broiler. Cook the sandwiches under the broiler for 1-2 minutes until the cheese is melted and the sandwiches are nicely toasted and maybe a little bit browned. Serve immediately.