What says summer better than a big bowl of vibrant, juicy tomatoes? Fresh sweet corn perhaps? Or fragrant fuzzy peaches? OK so there are a few things that I look forward to during these warm months but as soon as I see those tomatoes popping up in my garden in crazy growth spurts more commonly seen in teenage boys, I know something good is on the way. And that time is now people. Hurry. I’m on a real tomato kick myself right now and you should be too.
About a month ago I was working my way home after a long glorious trip; back to the messy, stuffy apartment I had left in disarray in my haste to get out of dodge. On the way, I decided to make a quick stop at my community garden to see how it had fared. My little garden plot got a late start, just a few weeks before I left actually, mainly due to the lousy Chicago weather. Hail, of all things, had destroyed the sweet little seedlings that I’d coddled throughout the spring on my dining room table. Ridiculous. After a particularly vicious storm I stared at my little 26sf of wet dirt and the sad pile of battered debris and decided a trip to the garden center was in order, much to my chagrin. I had to have something in my plot at this point. So I planted the tomato, pepper, cucumber and eggplant seedlings with some radish and lettuce seeds, watered them well, hoped for the best and then left. As in left the country. For 5 weeks. Because isn’t that how it works?
Some friends took charge of watering my little garden square and before I left, I’d carefully inserted the “vacation” sign so the good folks of my community garden would keep an eye on it as well. Fast forward five weeks. Upon my return to Chicago, I approached that corner of Peterson with some trepidation. My expectations were low, not sure what I’d find. I rounded the corner … holy crap. I was stunned – complete and utter overgrown chaos. I don’t know what kind of magic water they used on my plants but those little tomato seedlings that barely reached my knee a few weeks ago? Well they were now over 5ft tall and the sungold cherry tomatoes were so abundant, they were falling all over the place in a riot of bright yellow-orange. I filled a bag with the sweet little things. A week later, I filled another.
But that’s a lot of tomatoes for one person. I ate them by the handful. I made salads. I sautéed some for a delicious pasta sauce. And yet, the level in the bowl hadn’t seemed to move at all. These were too good to give away (me! me! all for me!) so I did what any sane person would do: I saved them for a rainy day. I slow roasted a tray-worth to bring out even more of their sweet flavor and froze ‘em. Saved for those miserable grey days that are certain to come. For those days when I need something bright and colorful and bursting with summer flavor. I’ll be ready and prepared.
I love this technique, picked up from a David Lebovitz post a while back. To “confit” means to cook something slowly in fat and usually refers to meat – duck confit is a classic. Here I use olive oil for the fat so it’s a kind of slow roast but in much more oil. Call it what you will, it’s delicious. The method is great for an aggressive tomato harvest or even an over-enthusiastic market purchase. It even works wonders with those miserable hard little cherry tomatoes that you’ll find at the store in February. In fact, this is what you should do with those things because it makes them better than they actually are.
Don’t skimp on the oil (Dad, I’m looking at you.) I know, it seems like a lot but you want the tomatoes to slowly cook in that oil where they’ll release their juices and get all soft and wonderful. Too little oil and they tend to burn. Save that oil! It has a lovely tomato flavor – I made a really delicious vinaigrette with it for a tomato salad not long ago. Liquid gold, I say.
My favorite way to use up these tomatoes is a simple toss with some pasta, a little chopped basil or parsley and a few gratings of good parmesan. Delightful. They’re great added to soups, make a lovely tart and are nice on a sandwich too – think really tasty BLT. To save them, put portions in Ziploc bags and freeze for when you need a little sunshine in your day. You can thank me later.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: GO AHEAD AND GET YOUR GOODNESS ON. You put these in the oven and think “eh, no big deal” but trust me, when they emerge a little wrinkled, with the juices flowing and the intense flavor of tomatoes magnified by 5, you yourself will ooh and aah. Having these packed away in the freezer for a literal rainy day will make you a hero. With so little effort – set it and forget it – why wouldn’t you do this? Do it right now, would you?
SUMMER CHERRY TOMATO CONFIT
Adapted from David Lebovitz
Note: I say to really pack them into the baking pan and perhaps you’ve noticed that they’re not so packed in the photos above. Truth is, I ate a bunch before I realized I hadn’t taken a photo yet. Couldn’t help myself. Whatever.
2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes
kosher salt & black pepper
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
1-2 sprigs fresh rosemary
3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
2 bay leaves
¼ teaspoon sugar
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Get the right pan ready – you want the tomatoes to be packed in there, side by side. If they stack up, use a bigger pan. A ¼ sheet pan or a 9″x9″ pan usually works well for me.
- Pour enough olive oil in a baking dish or rimmed sheet pan so that it just covers the bottom of the dish, ¼-1/3 cup should be good.
- Line the bottom of the baking dish with the tomatoes – really pack them in – then give them a little roll with your hand to thoroughly coat the tomatoes in oil.
- Sprinkle salt and pepper on top then tuck in the thyme and rosemary sprigs, the garlic and bay leaves.
- Sprinkle the sugar on top of the tomatoes.
- Bake until tomatoes are soft, a little wrinkled and cooked throughout, about 35-40 minutes.
- Tomatoes can be stored in the refrigerator for 1 week or freeze for longer storage.