Recipe: Oven-Roasted Tomato Jam

Sometimes a recipe arises from a confluence of ideas and inspiration -- a convergence of influence, flavor, and downright craving. This recipe is one of those. It was inspired by Laurie Colwin's rapturous description of a long-roasted tomato "condiment" she ate to excess at a party. The recipe she received from a waiter was vague at best. We thought we detected hints of it, though, in Elizabeth's stewed cinnamon-spiked tomatoes. So going on a whim and whiff, we went in pursuit of garlicky, long-roasted, soft and smeary tomato jam.

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Fresh tomatoes going into the oven with plenty of garlic and olive oil.

Colwin describes a dish of tomatoes baked for a very, very long time in the oven with a great quantity of garlic and olive oil.

Hmm, we thought. How difficult could that be? So, on a rainy afternoon, with nothing else to occupy our kitchen or our oven, we banged together some tomatoes, garlic, salt, pepper, and olive oil -- with just a hint of cinnamon as a nod to Elizabeth's recipe.

The result was heavenly. Rich, deep, slightly burnt flavor. Smoky, salty, and a hint of sweetness. All that soft tomato brightness. We promptly ate the entire pan (with a little help from dinner guests), first with a spoon and then, more civilized, spread over goat cheese on crackers.

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Softened tomatoes after the first phase of baking.

We've made this a few times now, with fresh tomatoes and with canned. We actually prefer the version with fresh tomatoes. It's a great way to use those tasteless winter tomatoes (if you have no guilty qualms about buying such out of season contraband). They get rich and silky-soft under this treatment. Canned tomatoes work well too, but they get concentrated more quickly, and you should be careful about how much salt you add at the beginning. If the canned tomatoes already have salt, you don't want to add more and then roast them into a more concentrated form.

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The finished tomato jam, just coming out of the oven.

This is a recipe to adjust to your own liking, too. We liked the tomatoes concentrated and soft, and then we upped the heat and roasted them until half burnt. You may like yours with less carbon (and smokiness) or more. It could also vary depending on the type of canned tomatoes you have.

Play around -- in the end, putting a large quantity of tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil into the oven to roast for a long time has to work out in some delicious way or another, don't you think?

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Oven-Roasted Tomato Jam
1 28-ounce can of plum tomatoes, preferably without any salt or added spices OR 4-5 ripe red tomatoes
5-6 large cloves of garlic, slivered
Olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, freshly ground

Heat the oven to 325°F. Line a 9x13 baking pan with aluminum foil.

If using canned tomatoes, cut or mash into small bits. Pour off about half the juices and then spread evenly in the baking pan. If using fresh tomatoes, chop into quarters and spread in the pan. Mix in the garlic cloves and drizzle generously with olive oil. Sprinkle a few pinches of kosher salt on top, and dust with black pepper. Sprinkle on the cinnamon.

Bake at 325°F for about 3 hours, or until the tomatoes are very soft. They should color, though -- just cook down. (Canned tomatoes are already cooked and will need less time - about 1-2 hours.) Increase the heat of the oven to 450°F and roast for another hour, stirring every 15 minutes or so to mix the dark parts back in.

Remove from the oven and let cool. Mash to an even consistency, if necessary, and serve on crackers or toast with soft cheese.

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(Images: Faith Durand)

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