By Riki Shore
What the heck is confit? How do you pronounce it? And what does it have to do with tomatoes anyway?
Tomatoes are at their sweetest this time of year in southern California and, while I don’t like eating raw tomatoes, I love them cooked, stewed, and sun-dried.
I came across this recipe from one of my favorite professional chefs, Jean-Georges Vongerichten. He consistently makes the most flavorful food with the fewest ingredients – which is not to say that all his recipes call for five or six ingredients. Some of them have a list a dozen, or more, long. But many of the recipes that I love best from his cookbooks are the simple and elegant ones. This confit fits the bill.
There’s that word again. Confit. Jean Georges is allowed to use it, because he’s French. But I’m from Philly, so I should probably call this recipe tomato gravy – and maybe I would if I had bought my tomatoes from a roadside stand in southern Jersey. But these are plum tomatoes from SoCal.
Strictly translated, confit means candied. But that doesn’t do it justice. In cooking,when you make a confit, you take one main ingredient and cook it in its own juices (or, in the case of meats, in its own fat). Cooked slowly, the process concentrates flavor and heightens sweetness.
A confit of tomatoes is juicy, sweet and, to borrow from Jean Georges, beguiling. You can eat these with cured meats and cheeses, sliced into a salad (think Greek salad with a twist), or added to any meat dish for extra sweet flavor.
While this recipe has few ingredients, it does have several time-consuming steps. Each step is necessary (no shortcuts here), but the end result is worth it. You’ll be stocking your fridge with a delicious flavor enhancer that keeps for at least one week. Trust me, this is one recipe worth trying, especially in late summer.
12 ripe plum tomatoes
1/3 cup olive oil
6 garlic cloves, lightly crushed
6 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Trim the stem end of each tomato and score a small “X” in the opposite end. Plunge the tomatoes into the boiling water until the skin starts to loosen. This can take anywhere from 20 seconds to 2 minutes. Remove each tomato as its skin starts to wrinkle or split.
2. Plunge the tomatoes into ice water, then drain. Peel each tomato, cut in half, then remove the seeds with your fingers.
3. Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with foil, then brush the foil with olive oil. Place the tomatoes, cut side down, on the baking sheet. Scatter the garlic and thyme all around, sprinkle with salt and drizzle with the remaining olive oil.
4. Bake for 2 hours or more, until the tomatoes are very soft and shriveled. Check the tomatoes every half hour to ensure they are not browning and rotate the baking sheet for even cooking. Let cool, then store in a tightly covered glass jar in the fridge.