It's the most wonderful thyme of the year.
There’s a common assumption that once the weather cools down and the farmers’ market closes for the season, the only tomatoes you can consume for the next couple months are the the ones sold in cans. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good canned tomato and fully understand the vast potential of this mighty pantry staple, but there actually is a way to bring a handful of fresh tomatoes (no matter how bland, lifeless, and out of season they may be) to life. It’s called tomato confit, and it’s about to rock your world.
The first time I encountered a tomato confit was about a year ago when Ann Taylor-Pittman, Executive Editor of Cooking Light, was cooking up a batch of cherry tomatoes in the test kitchen. As soon as I walked in, I was immersed in what might have been the most comforting, delightful smell of fresh herbs and garlic. I was speechless. From that moment, I knew that this would be the only way I’d consume fresh tomatoes through the winter months.
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Confit, which literally translates to “to preserve,” refers to the process of slowly cooking foods (meats, fruits, or vegetables) with fat. In the case of tomatoes, they’re heavily doused in extra-virgin olive oil and cooked in a relatively low-heat oven (like 275°) for an extended period of time (like 2 hours). Taylor-Pittman uses cherry tomatoes for her confit, but you can slice up whatever tomatoes you have (plum, roma, grape—they all work). Given that it’s wintertime, the tomatoes will likely not be at their prime when raw—don’t sweat it. That’s the beauty of this process—the low and slow cooking introduces a depth of flavor that you would not have thought possible given the starting point. For intense aromatics, Taylor-Pittman adorns her ‘maters with fresh thyme and sliced garlic cloves, but it’s really all up to you. Trust me, your kitchen is about to smell better than it ever has.
Once your tomatoes are done cooking and your kitchen smells like a cozy pizzeria nestled away in a small Italian village, it’s time to dive in on these babies. You can eat them straight off the pan (like a certain someone I know does…), stir them into a homemade sauce for pasta and pizza, scramble them into eggs, smear them on toast (perhaps with some ricotta), incorporate them into soups and stews, or fold them into a casserole. Whatever route you choose to take with these delicate, rich tomatoes, your final dish is going to be bursting with an undeniably delicious, garlicky flavor. And no one needs to know that it all started with a handful of lackluster, out of season produce.