My very first taste of tomato confit was with a friend, a fellow student who claimed a great devotion to tomatoes. He insisted that the only way to eat tomatoes was to “apple” them: to rip them whole from the vine and bite straight into the flesh. He refused even a dash of salt.
But then came the confit: tomatoes, shallots, garlic, herbs and olive oil, slow-roasted for long enough that they all melted together into a thick, glistening mush, which we scooped from the pan and piled atop handfuls of bread — and that was it, the end. My friend’s face went pale; his eyes leapt. He began to grunt, inhumanly, and didn’t say an actual word for another 10 minutes — not until the whole pan had been cleared — and then he turned to me, his lips shiny with oil, and said, “I guess that’s what a tomato tastes like. I had no idea.”
So now we eat it desperately. It’s very easy to make. You chop a few things, throw them together in the pan and wait. The slow-roasting is everything: You cook the tomatoes at a low enough temperature that they never burn, but only simmer and congeal. The flavors all mix, melt and intensify. It’s perfect.
But the ingredients are key. Cooking is all about good ingredients, and very little about fancy techniques. So it’s important to get the right tomatoes — in this case, sauce tomatoes, which are firm and have almost no juice — as well as fresh herbs and good olive oil. My first tomato confit was made with ingredients from the Yale Farm, at the top of Science Hill — that is, about as locally grown as you can get. I’d suggest buying ingredients at the farmers’ market Saturday mornings in Wooster Square — or even go volunteer at the Yale Farm and pick your own. But get good ingredients.
A confit, by the way, is any meat — usually duck, goose or pork — preserved in its own fat by long, slow cooking. It’s French; they pronounce it “cohn-fee.” So no, tomato confit is technically not a confit. But it is cooked slowly like a confit, and it does involve lots of fat (or in this case, olive oil) like a confit. And it also sounds fancy and is delicious like a confit. It’s the sort of dish where you let the ingredients stand for themselves.
Let the tomatoes do the work; you just enjoy it. And keep enjoying it. And never stop.
5 cups of tomatoes (preferably sauce tomatoes), sliced horizontally into 1-inch rounds
1/2 cup of whole shallots or pearl onions, peeled
1 head of garlic (about 12 whole cloves), peeled
1/2 cup of fresh parsley
3 T of fresh savory or thyme
1/2 cup of fresh sage
1 cup of extra virgin olive oil
Salt, preferably fine sea salt, or else Kosher salt
1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.
2. In a large baking pan — about an inch deep, maybe — lay the tomatoes in a single flat layer so that they crowd each other but do not stack. Scatter shallots and garlic evenly throughout the pan, preferably in the little nooks between the tomatoes. Now, do the same with the herbs (which can vary — I used parsley, savory and sage, but you can use any combination of your favorites, so long as you buy them fresh and use them liberally.)
3. Now, oil and salt the whole thing like you’ve never oiled and salted before. One cup of olive oil seems a bit much, but it’s essential if you want to develop a thick gooey mush (which you do). Moreover, if you don’t use enough oil, the tomatoes will dehydrate, and you’ll end up with something that tastes more like BBQ sauce. Just pour the oil over everything, making sure a thin layer develops underneath the layer of herbs and vegetables. Then salt it — and again, go overboard. I used 1/2 a tablespoon, but you should salt to taste, so long as “to taste” means “aggressively.” Sprinkle the salt, like the oil, over everything.
4. Place the pan in the oven and wait, patiently, for two hours. Yes, two hours. It takes two hours, cooked at such a low temperature, for the shallots and garlic to cook all the way through and for everything to congeal into that perfect ecstatic mush. Check it every 20 minutes or so, just to make sure it’s not burning.
When it’s ready, the herbs will have crisped and blackened, the tomatoes will have shrunken, and everything will shimmer wonderfully. Serve it with bread — to scoop up the leftover oil, especially — and an excessive quantity of white wine. And feel free to moan and grunt at the table; you can talk later.
Serves four as an appetizer.