Last week I took a trip to Live Earth Farm in Watsonville, CA. I would tell you how beautiful it was, but the photos are better:
The farm doubles as a CSA and an educational nonprofit, and as my group toured the farm we got to sample sun-warmed strawberries and raspberries picked off the bush. Pretty heavenly. But what we ultimately came for were the dry farmed New Girl tomatoes. They were nearing the end of their season, but were still a rich, plump red hanging off the vine. And they tasted just as good as they looked, which can probably be contributed to the dry farming technique.
So what exactly is dry farming?
Dry farming is a process that restricts irrigation during the growing and harvest season. The practice has been used successfully in the California region, which typically has very little rainfall in the summer depending on the location. Some of the best Napa wines are dry farmed, including those used in the historical Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 (also known as the Judgment of Paris), where Napa wine outshone the French for the first time. (There's a lovely movie about this called Bottle Shock, in case you're interested. Alan Rickman plays a very convincing snooty wine sommelier, and Chris Pine sports some incredibly confusing blonde hair.) I have to say, after trying dry farmed tomatoes from Central California, I'd bet in their favor in any contest.
Basically, dry farming relies on good soil tillage in order to slow down evaporation. The lack of supplemental surface water also encourages the plant roots to grow deeper, searching for water that seeps up from below. This is sustainable in many ways, considering the practice uses natural rainfall patterns. It's definitely not a high yield practice, but with the resulting flavor, I'm not complaining.
This season, I've been buying dry farmed Early Girl tomatoes from Dirty Girl Produce, a farm out in Santa Cruz that sells at various markets, including the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. While they're great to eat with a slab of pesto or cut up into a salad, I'm finding that the best way to feature their flavor is to slow roast them.
Slow Roasted Tomatoes
This recipe isn't from anywhere in particular, but I remember referencing Molly Wizenburg's version on her blog, Orangette, the first time I made these. You can do this with any tomato, but finding one with good flavor is best. Shop in season and ask your local farmer for tips!
As many tomatoes as you'd like
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Optional: Garlic and herbs. I prefer a healthy sprinkling of thyme.
Set oven between 175 and 210 degrees
Cut tomatoes in half and toss in a mixing bowl with some olive oil. Tomatoes like the Early Girl tend to have a thick skin, and can be tossed easily, but if you are using a more delicate variety, consider using a pastry brush to apply the oil.
Lay oiled tomatoes out on a baking sheet, skin side down. Sprinkle sea salt on upturned halves. No need to overdo it. Cut up garlic and spread around pan. Place thyme or other herbs on top and around tomatoes.
Stick in the oven for 4 to 8 hours, checking periodically. I consider my tomatoes done when the edges are crinkled and the tomatoes have shrunk but are still juicy on the inside.