Recently the proliferation of heirloom tomatoes at greenmarkets harkens back to the days of yore, when tomatoes were beautiful and irregular and presumably so full of flavor that after one bite you could boast about how good it was for the remainder of your life and try to make everyone feel like you know something that they don’t know and how much richer your life is than theirs because you’ve had this amazing tomato experience and they haven’t.
Nowadays the marketers and growers have gotten smart. It’s fairly easy to come across tomatoes sold ‘on-the-vine’ that look old-fashioned. But when you get them home and slice them open, they taste negligibly better than any of the other tomatoes at the supermarket…and cost twice as much. They just have a redder color and come with their stems attached.
Here’s an excellent recipe for encouraging flavor and sweetness from any tomatoes, even ones that are less-than-ideal, using a technique called making a confit. The slow roasting with olive oil concentrates and sweetens flavors, making ordinary tomatoes boast-worthy.
Confit of Tomatoes
Adapted from The Sweet Life in Paris
1. Buy some tomatoes, just about any variety will do. 2 pounds (1 kg) is a nice amount.
2. Wash and dry them, then slice them in half. Pour enough decent-quality olive oil in a baking dish so that it just covers the bottom of the dish, somewhere between 1/4 cup (60 ml) and 1/3 cup (80 ml) should do.
3. Sprinkle in coarse salt and freshly-ground black pepper, add a few branches of fresh thyme and/or a few sprigs of rosemary. Then line the bottom of the baking dish with the tomatoes, sliced-side down. Don’t be bashful; it’s okay to really pack them in.
4. Peel and slice 3 or 4 garlic cloves, slice them in half lengthwise and tuck them in the gaps between the tomatoes. Sprinkle the tomatoes with a bit more salt and a small sprinkling of sugar (less than 1 teaspoon) and add a few bay leaves.
5. Bake the tomatoes in a 350 F (180 C) oven until they are soft and cooked throughout (a paring knife should pierce them easily), which should take at least 45 minutes.
6. Once they’re soft, remove them from the oven and let stand until room temperature. You can scrape the tomatoes and juices and herbs into a container and refrigerate them for up to 4 to 5 days or use them right away. They will actually improve as they sit.
Use them to toss into pasta, slightly chopped, or warm them and spoon them whole onto hot garlic toasts, perhaps with a few filets of good anchovies, and shower them with lots of fresh herbs. They’re also nice served alongside a summer salad with some goat cheese, all drizzled with a bit of the tasty olive oil and juices.
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