Last year at this time, I bought (and fell head over heels in love with the idea of) a bushel of tomatoes (in two batches of about 25 lbs each). At this time of the year , my local farm sells these gorgeous plum tomatoes by the bushel,
It was a huge batch of oven dried tomatoes last year, this year, I've graduated to sauces and preserves. My freezer is stuffed to the hilt with bags of oven dried tomatoes, pasta sauces, enchilada sauce and canned bottles of tomato thokku relish (a tradition from last year).
Thokku relishes were a great way of preserving the flavors of fresh juicy summer produce by cooking the moisture out of them. Preserving the cooked down pulp under a film of oil ensured that no spoilage due to yeast/bacterial activity would occur. For the longest time this was the time honored method of preserving, esp in Southern India, before refrigerators came along.
I've created a lot of recipes with Indian flavors using non native techniques such as baking etc.. It was time to try something in reverse. This is my recipe for a Tomato confit, flavored simply with fresh oregano, garlic and salt.
Tomato Confit preserves. (makes about 2 cups)
5-6 lbs ripe plum tomatoes (about 25-30)
1 cup Olive oil
Salt and freshly crushed black pepper to taste
6-7 sprigs Fresh oregano
5-6 cloves garlic, smashed.
Add about 1/3rd of a cup of the Olive oil in a heavy wide bottomed pan (I use a Fagor 4-Qt. Cast-Iron Chicken Fryer which works beautifully! ). Slice off the top 'scar' and the bottom tips of the tomaotes, cut them into 1/2 legthwise and gently place them into the oil.
Cover and allow to cook on medium heat for 30 minutes (remember the Cast iron tends to retain heat, higher gas settings will cause the tomatoes to caramelize in the bottom, Oh yes.. speaking from experience!) . Using a pair of tongs gently lift off the peels from the fruit (they'll be hanging loose by this time). If you want to remove the seeds as well, then cool the mixture down & then pass the tomatoes through a food mill at this stage.
Using a hand blender, blend the tomatoes into a puree (this keeps the seeds in which I prefer). Add the sprigs of oregano and the smashed garlic (which eventually disintegrates completely).
Stir in the remaining oil and cook down without the lid for about an hour. In due course, the oregano leaves will detach from the stems. When this happens, simply pick out and discard the twigs.
As the mixture slowly loses all its moisture, the color darkens to a deep brick red and the brightly colored (and exquisitely flavored) oil begins oozing out.
Switch off the heat when the oil appears to bubble and 'fry' the tomato concentrate.
Cool down and store in sterilized glass jam jars.
I like to can them in small 1/2 cup jelly jars. Fill up to 1/2 inch below the rim of the sterilized jar. Place the lid and twist the ring on till just 'finger tight'.
Heat water in a large pan and once the water just begins to simmer, place the jars in gently. Allow the bubbles to escape from the ring into the water (In general, follow canning instructions from the can manufacturers, it takes about 20 minutes for these small cans). Once the air within has escaped, gently lift the cans out, screw the lid on tight and allow the vacuum seal to form. I've managed to store these for 2 months at room temperature in the pantry. It simply got used up within that time.
As for the oil, I filter the bits and pieces of tomato and store in to be drizzled over Crostinis and Caprese salad. The flavor is simply too good to waste.
Serving suggestion: Just apply a generous dab of the confit over mozzarella slices and serve over fresh grilled bread.
This would be great served over slices of pan toasted polenta as well.