My Workshops are but an excuse for me to cook up new recipes for an unsuspecting crowd. Somehow I have never been afraid to try a new, untested recipe for a crowd of complete strangers who are yet to make up their minds about my cooking prowess. In fact, more often than not, I pick new recipes for grand meals where my reputation is at stake. Most of the time I sail through reputation unscathed.
As was with these slow-simmered tomatoes I selected to cook from an old Bon-Appetit cookbook bought a very long time ago. It was one of the few photographed recipes, duly captioned, yet missing from the index. I had to scan the book, page by page, to find the recipe which was simplification itself. Other than the oodles of olive oil and a really long simmer it asked for little else.
It was the month of December. I had spotted the most beautiful tomatoes and bought a basket full. I had a Pasta class coming up and these would make a great side.
The class was booked full which meant I would not get time to mind the cooking of our lunch. TH took on the responsibility of keeping an eye on the tomatoes simmering away on a low heat. The universe conspired. I had dug out the big heavy pan that I rarely use. The tomatoes were perfect for cooking. TH stopped me from taking the pan off the heat more than once. They simmered for over 2 hours and the pool of oil was infused with deep, rich umami flavour. Everyone loved it and asked for the recipe.
The next two attempts were total flops though. Then last week I spotted the same tomatoes at the vegetable market and again bought some. They were made to be simmered like this. There are two things you must ensure before you try this recipe: one, make sure you use a very heavy pan to cook, and two, only use best-quality fully ripe tomatoes. If you have these two in place, you will impress whoever is at dinner. Even if it is just yourself.
8 ripe tomatoes
1/4 C extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp sugar
fresh ground pepper
For the herb oil
1/4 C extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3/4 C mixed herbs (parsley, basil, rosemary, sage, mint; use a mix of at least 3 kinds)
Heat 1/4 cup olive oil is a heavy bottom pan large enough to accommodate all the tomatoes in a single layer. Place the tomatoes, stem side up, in the pan. Cook for 15 min on medium-low heat. Use a splatter guard to catch some of the splattering oil – it makes quite a mess. But persevere, it’s worth it.
Sprinkle over the sugar, salt, and pepper. Turn the tomatoes and lower heat to as low as it will go and cook for 2 hours. It is very important you use a heavy bottom pan so that the tomatoes do not scorch despite the long cooking time. Slide the tomatoes around to check they aren’t catching at the bottom. Resist the temptation to take them off the heat before the stipulated cooking time. If your pan is not thick enough, put a tava on the stove and place the pan with the tomatoes on top of that.
Heat the additional cup of oil on low heat in a heavy small kadahi and add the garlic. Add the minced herbs and cook for 6-8 minutes, stirring frequently. Transfer the tomatoes to a serving platter with any juices there might be. Pour the herb mix over and serve with bread or pasta.