That a handful of overripe tomatoes on the verge of getting thrown in the compost can be transformed into something so deeply-flavorful, so unctuously delicious, so amazingly swoon-worthy is nothing short of magic. You seriously need to try this.
I was tipped off to this technique by an article written by Francis Lam on Slate.com, “How to Make Weapons Grade Ratatouille.” In it, he describes a method of making ratatouille where the base of tomatoes gets cooked down and down and down some more and only then do the eggplant and zucchini start to come into play. In his words, eating a bowl of this “...would drop your voice an octave.”
Well, I didn’t have any eggplant or zucchini or even sweet peppers. And all I had by way of tomatoes were a handful of over-sized cherry tomatoes and one great bruiser of an heirloom. I decided that was enough to at least test out Lam’s method of cooking down the tomatoes into a thick sauce and I’d figure out what to do with it later.
I started with an onion and a spoonful of minced garlic. I cooked that over low heat until it was completely soft and starting to fall apart, but not yet starting to brown. This took about fifteen minutes. Then I added in the tomatoes, which I had finely minced, with all their juices. I let this bubble away on the back burner for maybe forty-five minutes or an hour, stirring occasionally.
It was heavenly. During the long, low cooking, the juices had condensed into something rich and creamy. The sugars in both the tomatoes and the onions had caramelized slightly, and everything melted together into one perfect mess. It was jammy and thick, sweet but also tart, very rich, and yes, it did drop my voice an octave.
I had it for dinner, spooned over thick pieces of toast and topped with a poached egg. And then I used another piece of bread to clean the pot I’d cooked it in. It was that good.
Jammy Tomato-Onion Sauce Adapted from Francis Lam’s Weapons Grade Ratatouille
1 onion, sliced thinly 3 cloves garlic, minced Over-ripe tomatoes, as many as you have salt and pepper
Warm a glug of oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, the garlic, and a big pinch of salt, and cook slowly until the onion is completely soft and starting to melt apart. If the onions start to brown before this happens, turn down your heat a nudge.
Meanwhile, mince the tomatoes as finely as possible. Be sure to save all the juices. When the onions are ready, scrape the tomatoes into the pan and stir them in. Let the mixture come to a bubble, and then turn down the heat to low. Let this simmer for 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it becomes a dense jam. Salt and pepper to taste.
Spoon this over toast, a bowl of rice, crackers, or any other edible vehicle.
If you have any, leftovers will keep refrigerated for up to a week.