Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Tomato and basil confit

I love tomatoes. To be honest, who doesn’t. They are delicious, smell of summer and remind me of the good old days when I was a child and all I aspired towards was a massive plate of spaghetti with some of my mum’s special sauce on top (bonus recipe at the end).
This recipe loves tomatoes too, and makes them even more caramelised and delicious than they are fresh.
20 very ripe plum tomatoes,
1 cup extra virgin olive oil – plus extra for the jars
1 teaspoon seasalt
1 tablespoon of granulated sugar
1 teaspoon of dried ground chilli pepper if you like it
2 cloves garlic, chopped up really thin    
20 basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon white wine sugar

Put the tomatoes in a big pan of very salty boiling water and let them boil for 5 minutes. Drain them and put them in a bowl of icy cold water for two minutes. Then, with patience, peel them without damaging the tomato itself, which must remain whole. It isn’t a ridiculous task as it sounds, because the boiling and the salt will have detached the skin from the tomato so peeling it off is actually quite satisfying. Yet, if a little bit of skin is stubborn and doesn’t come off it’s not the end of the world.

Cut the tomatoes in half vertically and remove all the seeds and the wateriness. In a bowl, mix the olive oil, the vinegar, the garlic, the chilli and the basil leaves which you will have chopped up in very large irregular chunks.
Pour ¾ of this oil in a large baking tray (lined with foil or parchment paper so you don’t go insane cleaning it afterwards) and lay the tomatoes in the mixture face down. Cover the top of the tomatoes with the rest of the oil, making sure it completely sogs up the red flesh. Finally, sprinkle sugar all over the tomatoes.

Put the baking tray in a cool oven – about 140 °C, for 2 and ½ hours turning them around half way through. In Southern Italy, women used to leave these to bake in the sun for a couple of days. Again, this is a long time but you don’t really need to do anything in it so you can dedicate your energy to something else.

When they are all done and heavenly scented, let them cool before putting them in sterilised jars. Pour the oil inside the jar with the tomatoes, and top it up if you intend to keep them outside the fridge for more than a couple of days.

You can of course use them to cook, even tough I think they are just perfect with some fresh basil, thinck slices of juicy mozzarella cheese and really good bread. 

These are the best present ever, especially to men who live on their own and don’t like cooking (and there’s more of those than you’d think!). If you want your present to be absolutely perfect, pair a couple of jars of this wonderful dark red confiture with a pack of posh real Italian pasta, some Parmesan cheese and a little tag around the jars with my mom’s recipe for special spaghetti sauce.
Take the tomatoes out of the jar and put them in the food processor with all the garlic and the basil and about a tablespoon of the oil and blitz them to a paste. Add 1 cup of hot water from the kettle and blitz again. Done. Delicious.

After you’ve used the tomatoes, keep the oil and use it instead of normal oil or butter to cook (e.g. to grill chicken breast, in your salads, to separate rice or whatever you are doing). It will make everything taste incredibly delicious with no effort at all. It is so good that you could even give it as a present in a pretty little bottle decorated with raffia – how great is that?

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