I’ve been thumbing through my new/old copy of the Café Boulud Cookbook, considering what my next recipe would be and then who’s the guest judge of Top Chef this week? Daniel Boulud with his cute smile and melt-the-cockels-of-my-heart accent. Oh, the timing is impeccable, I tell you. So what’s next? I’ve already done a lovely chilled melon soup so maybe Onion Soup with Braised Beef Shanks? No, it’s too hot. Potato Gratin Forestier? No, I’m too fat. Candied Yellow Tomatoes? Huh? I kept coming back to the tomatoes, turning the idea over in my mind, trying to figure out what it would look like, taste like. I’ve certainly seen tomato desserts over the years though I’ve never made one myself. Is it too weird? Would it be just awful? If you think about it, technically the tomato is a fruit. And fruit can be candied. So is it really that far of a stretch? Well, we’re about to find out.
I’ve candied citrus peel countless times – make a syrup with sugar and water, bring to a boil to dissolve the sugar and slowly cook blanched citrus peel until tender. Textbook. So the tomatoes would be done in a similar fashion, no? Well, no.
First you blanch and peel the tomatoes and ditch the peel. Then you cut each tomato into sixths and remove the fleshy center part with the seeds, leaving the firm outside part of the “fruit”. If you were to dice or chop this, it would be known as tomato concasse (“kon-kah-SAY”). Work that into the conversation and impress the hell out of your family.
Next a light sugar syrup is made and infused with vanilla bean and lemongrass. The hot infused syrup (which smells so good you want to bathe in it) is poured over the tomatoes, brought to room temp then covered and refrigerated overnight. Somehow, I thought the whole “candied” process would be … well … a little more vigorous. A sticky pot bubbling away on the back burner. This was more a steeping kind of thing. In fact, there was a lot of steeping in this recipe. In the syrup, with the tomatoes, in the ice cream base. Ah, christ what am I doing? I was slowly becoming suspicious of the whole thing.
But something wonderful happens during that overnight soak. The tomatoes absorb the syrup and become full and unbelievably juicy; sweet and bursting with bright flavor from the lemongrass. They were so much more juicy than the day prior and didn’t taste like tomatoes at all. There was a hint of tomato flavor that came in a the end but somehow it had been transformed into something entirely different. It’s rather trippy. I wouldn’t say it was candied in the sense that I was expecting though. At this point I was wondering if I should have went with the Soupe de Pistou instead.
The recommended accompaniment is a thyme infused ice cream made with a basic crème anglaise base. I wasn’t sure what to think of this. Herbal ice cream. But since I was already knee deep in crazy, what the hell. With 2 cups of milk and 4 egg yolks, it was quite a rich eggy custard – richer than I would normally use and I think it needed more thyme. The recipe said 2 ½ teaspoons of fresh leaves but I just whacked a bunch off the plant in my window box, eyeballed it and didn’t bother measuring. Oh the horror, she didn’t measure! It worked. So there.
The verdict? Meh. It tasted like I thought it might … odd. The ice cream and the tomatoes were tasty on their own but together it was all just OK. Disappointing actually. I wanted the flavors to be stronger, to pop more. The ice cream was very rich, overpowered the delicate tomato and it tasted a little grassy. The tomato itself was pretty much lost and a rather odd texture – sort of like a piece of watermelon without the crispness – with a strong lemongrass flavor. I had just made lawn clipping ice cream with lemongrass flavored yellow mushy bits. Awesome.
Oh well, it was certainly worth trying. Candied tomatoes are fun, interesting and most definitely different. Experiments are always good whether they work out of not. In the end, I’m glad I took it out for a whirl. It’s changed some preconceived notions and generated some new ideas. I’ve learned that there’s probably a reason we don’t see candied tomatoes that frequently. Lesson learned.
Side note: Just as I was becoming discouraged at this tomato as a fruit/dessert thing, San Fransciso Chef Chris Cosentino tweeted (twittered?) something to lift my spirits. Last night he tweeted a picture of something his pastry chef whipped up – tomato leaf panna cotta, strawberry tomato compote and basil seeds. Click on this picture link – looks pretty good don’t you think? There’s hope yet! Though this time around, I think I’ll let someone else do the work.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: LOW. Bummer low. The process was interesting and it was a pretty easy recipe. But it’s kind of a drag when something doesn’t turn out spectacular. Ah, no worries. The savory tomato confit I made at the same time was much much better and made more sense anyway.
CANDIED YELLOW TOMATOES WITH THYME INFUSED ICE CREAM
The ice cream is really rich and only makes one pint which I don’t think is enough for 4 people if you plan on serving more than 1 scoop per person. I’d double it for 4 proper servings. You can also use a purchased premium vanilla ice cream.
Candied Yellow Tomatoes:
4 medium yellow tomatoes
1 ½ cups water
½ cup sugar
1 stalk lemongrass
½ moist plump vanilla bean, split lengthwise
- Prepare the lemongrass – peel off any tough outer leaves, trim to only the bulb + 4” of the stalk, split it in half lengthwise then with the handle of a chefs knife bruise the stalk. Set aside.
- Bring a large pot of water to boil and have an ice bath ready.
- Cut the core from each tomato and toss the whole tomato into the boiling water and blanch for 1 minute.
- Place tomatoes into the ice bath to cool quickly.
- Remove from the ice bath and peel tomatoes. Discard the peel.
- Cut each tomato into sixths.
- With each wedge on its rounded side, cut between the firm flesh and the pulp and seeds, following the curve of the flesh.
- Discard the pulp and seeds (or save for sauce) and place the pieces of tomato (the concasse) into a bowl.
- In a saucepan over medium-high, bring the water, sugar, lemongrass and vanilla bean to a boil.
- Remove the pan from the heat, cover and let steep for 10 minutes to extract flavor from the lemongrass and vanilla bean.
- Pour the syrup over the tomatoes, including the lemongrass and vanilla bean, and bring to room temperature.
- Cover and refrigerate overnight.
- To serve: arrange six tomato wedges in a chilled dish, top with a scoop of ice cream and a spoonful of the syrup.
Thyme Infused Ice Cream:
Makes 1 pint
2 cups whole milk
½ cup sugar, divided
2 ½ teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
4 egg yolks
- In a saucepan, bring the milk to a boil with ¼ cup sugar.
- Turn off the heat and add the thyme leaves. Cover and let steep 10-15 minutes.
- In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the remaining ¼ cup sugar until thick and pale yellow.
- Strain the infused milk into the egg yolk mixture, a little at a time, whisking to combine.
- Discard the thyme and pour the mixture back into the pot.
- Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture thickens just enough to coat the back of the spoon. If you run your finger down the back of the spoon, there should be a clear swipe. Careful not to overcook!
- Strain into a heatproof bowl and place in an ice bath to cool completely.
- Cover and refrigerate for several hours to chill thoroughly.
- Churn according to your machine’s instructions.
- Scrape the ice cream into a container, cover well, and put in the freezer for an hour or two before serving.