It’s been dry here for the least few weeks so I have had to water the garden a little bit, something which I try to avoid. But with no noticeable rain for three of four weeks, I have to water especially those more sensitive plants (like melons or Swiss chard) – or frankly anything that started to droop – like the peppers. Most of the times, I have been able to use the water from our rain-catching “system” which has the capacity to capture and store 350 gallons of rain water. But yesterday, I had to use the well water – because our barrels were all empty..
Nonetheless, the tomatoes are coming – I am, at time, literally, with my elbows in tomatoes. Many end up in sauce, added to the pan that’s almost constantly simmering on the stove, cooled, pureed and refrigerated until the following Monday a.k.a. “canning day”.
Some tomatoes have been bred to process better: less seeds, meatier, hold their shape well. They are variously called “canning”, “processing” “Italian”, “paste” or “plum”. This year, I planted 2 kinds of canning tomatoes: Viva Italia and San Marzano sel. Redorta. I got the seeds for the San Marzano sel. Redorta from Seeds from Italy, a small company in New England, which I used the first time this year and that I am really liking. They are large plum tomatoes, that are vaguely pear-shape – definitively bigger tham the plum tomatoes I have grown so far. Yes, they are good for sauce but they are excellent in my Savory Oven Tomato Preserve (note for next year’s garden: more plum tomatoes!). The recipe is inspired by French “Confit”, a technique used to preserve meat (think Confit de Canard/ Duck Confit) using salt and fat (olive oil in Provence, goose or duck fat in Perigord and the French Southwest). Here the tomatoes are salted/sugared, drizzled with oil and baked for several hours in a very low oven. The roasting helps to dry the tomatoes – yet they don’t dry out because of the oil – and concentrates the flavors: the end product is like essence of tomatoes.
I read the original recipe in L’Ami des Jardins, a French gardening magazine I receive, but I modified it by omitting the garlic and by considerably lengthening the baking time. I also omitted the vinegar it was calling for at the end of the first baking, although a few drops of balsamic vinegar would probably enhance the flavors – Something I’ll try next time.
I pack the tomatoes in a wide mouth jar covered with oil and keep them in the fridge for a few weeks: they are great on sandwiches, as part of an antipasti tray, in savory tarts, with cold meats and with grilled meats. While the recipe extends the life of tomatoes, it’s not preserving them for the long term. Freeze if you want long-term storage. It’s so easy to make, I suggest you make a batch every time you have a few pounds of plum tomatoes on hand. After all it’s hardly a recipe at all, and the quantity are approximate.
I tried the recipe with whole cherry tomatoes and although good, it’s not same at all: too much liquid remains to make it a “confit” but they are very tasty mixed with left over rice or with pasta. It’s handy to have a jar in the fridge for such meals!
One final comment: yes, the tomatoes spend a lot of time in the oven, but there is hardly any active time. Which makes it a perfect recipe to make on the week-end after you’ve hit the farmers’ market: the tomatoes turn into goodness while you go about your business (or your fun).
Savory Oven Tomato Preserve
4 lb Italian type tomatoes
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 Tablespoons salt
3 large sprigs of fresh rosemary or 6 large sprigs of thyme
The prior evening:
· Wash, halve and core the tomatoes
· Generously oil a rimmed cookie sheet (or two depending on their size). Fit tomatoes snuggly (they should touch) on the cookie sheet, cut-side up. Sprinkle them with the salt & and 1 tablespoon sugar. Drizzle with additional olive oil.
· Bake in 215°F oven for 3 hours. Check mid-way and drizzle additional oil if the tomatoes seem to be drying too fast. Rotate the cookie sheets if using several. Turn the oven off and let the tomatoes rest overnight.
In the morning:
· Strip the leaves of the rosemary and chop them (Strip the thyme leaves if that’s what you are using: no need to chop them). Scatter over the tomatoes. Drizzle with more oil and the other tablespoon of sugar.
· Bake in 215°F oven for 2 1/2 hours
· Let cool until easy to handle. Pack tightly in a glass jar, pour the juice collected in the pans on top, use a knife to get the air bubbles out. Add additional olive oil as needed to cover all the tomatoes. As you are using them, make sure the remaining tomatoes are covered with oil.
· Keep refrigerated for 2 or 3 weeks. Freeze for longer storage.