We never let summer go by without sinking our teeth into peak-season heirloom tomatoes but recently found ourselves with way too many after returning from a tomato party at One Acre Farm. I've written about some of the fun things we get to do when we volunteer there but I can't believe I haven't told you about tomato season at the farm. They grow more than 20 varieties of tomatoes there!
I was so smitten with all the tomatoes during my first year there I didn't recover in time to report about them. But hey, we were more prepared this year and here we are with all the photos and notes from the tasting session to share with you. Plus, a giant bag of precious heirlooms and a recipe for extending their lifespan just a little longer.
Slow-roasting tomatoes using a cooking method called confit is an easy way to preserve them for future use. Stored in an airtight container with the oil, the tomatoes can last up to two weeks and can be used to make a quick pasta sauce, on toast, and served alongside grilled vegetables. And because these heirloom tomatoes are so flavorful, there's not much else you need to add or do to make them any more worthwhile.
To understand confit, I turned to my new trusty cooking companion Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat, who describes it as "essentially poaching in fat instead of water." You will find some basic instructions on how to make tomato confit at the end of the post. Before we get there, here are some highlights from the tomato party. Beware, tomato porn ahead!
Tomato Tasting Party at One Acre Farm
One Acre Farm in Morgan Hill, California, holds a tomato tasting party every summer and I've had the privilege to attend two of them since I started volunteering there. This year, we tasted over 20 varieties in all shapes, colors, and sizes! These tomatoes have names that seem to come out of the perfect imaginary candy store, like Brandywine, Dad's Sunset, Napa Rose Blush, Pozzano, and Beaverlodge Plum. Oh, and let's not forget Kellogg's Breakfast. We got to vote on our favorites in different categories like flavor, sweetness, juiciness, and looks.
The sun-loving tomato plants grow wild and free! A lot of work and care are put into optimizing their prolific yield, like the trellising that we once helped with, which for me was a universal lesson in offering just enough support for something or someone to prosper.
Solar Flare is a beefsteak-style red tomato with glowing yellow stripes. Although not highly rated compared to all the tomatoes on show here, this is one of those large, luscious tomatoes that I like to sink my teeth into and eat like a fruit.
Black Vernissage is an understated beauty with green streaks against its dark red skin. I've been informed by my research that they make rich-tasting sauces.
Pink Berkeley Tie Dye is a crowd favorite for having the most complex flavor and being the juiciest. I think it should also be awarded for having the hippest name.
Sungold wins hands down for being the sweetest. When I started volunteering here, harvesting and eating these sun-kissed babies straight off the vine was one of the most memorable experiences I had working on a farm. (One in the basket, three in my mouth!)
Chocolate Pear has a deep red shade tinged with swirls of brown and green and a shape that reminds me of the bottle gourd. Its firm skin and portable bite size makes it my choice for a snacking tomato. Melt in your mouth not in your hands?
The Green Zebra (left) is a striking tomato with green and yellow stripes so it's not surprising that it got the most votes for the Best Looking title. I love it for the sweet and tangy taste too. Next to it is the Wapsipinicon Peach (right), named after a river in Iowa and has a slightly fuzzy skin like the peach.
White Currant is a truly deserving winner of the Best Overall trophy. I am so in love with these tiny yellow darlings that burst in the mouth with the most amazing sweetness. Definitely a personal favorite of all the tomatoes I've tasted this year!
How to Confit + Salt Fat Acid Heat
Confit comes from the French word "confire", which means preserve. Although I came across a few methods in my search for ways to prolong the use of end-of-summer heirloom tomatoes, confit stood out as a good way for retaining the character of the tomatoes, unlike drying which takes away the moisture and making a sauce which breaks them down.
I've never used this method of cooking before and was glad to have the guidance from Samin's book. In the chapter about acid, which tomato falls under, she explains that "you can't always rely solely on recipes in the kitchen" because, to put it simply, everyone's tomatoes are different and could have different levels of ripeness and acidity. Instead, she encourages us to "taste as you go, develop a sense for acid balance, and trust your instincts."
The recipe in the book is for cherry tomato confit with variations for large tomatoes like Early Girls. I took liberty with several adaptations, most noticeably in using a lot less oil. I also did not see the necessity in skinning the tomatoes as heirlooms tend to have thinner skins so I skipped the step. And because I had some big tomatoes, I halved some of them for even cooking time.
One thing I might do if I find my tomatoes to be subpar is sprinkle a little sugar on top along with the salt to balance the acidity, but these farm-fresh heirlooms were so outstanding that I left most of the seasoning for when I used the confit later. But really, all it took was a dash of fresh herbs in the pan with the tomato confit a week later to produce a quick and easy pasta dish that had all the sun-kissed deliciousness!
Heirloom Tomato Confit
Inspired by Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat. The lifespan of end-of-season heirloom tomatoes is extended just a little longer by slow-roasting them in oil. Use it to make a quick pasta sauce, on toast, and serve alongside grilled vegetables.
2lbs (900g) heirloom tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1/2 cup olive oil, plus more if needed
4 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
Small handful of basil leaves (in a pinch I used Thai basil)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Preheat the oven to 350° F (180° C).
On a baking dish, arrange the tomatoes cut sides down in a single layer until they fit snugly. Pour the olive oil over the tomatoes. The tomatoes don't have to be fully submerged but they should all be in contact with the oil. Add more olive oil if necessary.
Put the garlic and basil between the tomatoes and sprinkle with salt. Place in the oven and bake until the tomatoes are soft and fork tender, about 1 hour. The tomatoes will shrink but should still be plump and moist. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes.
Serve warm or at room temperature. To store, refrigerate the tomatoes with the oil in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.