Olive Oil Poached Early Girl Tomatoes (Early Girl Tomato Confit)

This is by far my favorite summertime recipe for Early Girl tomatoes. A variety of heirloom tomato that’s somewhat of a workhorse because of their long bountiful season. They’re small to medium sized, bright red, meaty and sweet. When they first show up at the farmer’s market in early June, they taste best cooked because their flavor isn’t as developed as it will be in the later part of the season. Even as they improve through the hotter summer months, this recipe for poaching them in olive oil concentrates their sweet flavor and preserves it.

They’re show stopping right out of the oven: jewel-like red spheres coated in extra-virgin olive oil. A lot of it. Orange peel and pounded fennel seed are used for added fruitiness. But, don’t worry, you can re-use that poaching oil to make this recipe again and again, to make vinaigrettes, or in any other recipe calling for great flavored olive oil.

I like serving these poached tomatoes as a salad with peppery greens like arugula or mustard, lightly dressed with crumbles of cheese like salty ricotta salata or as an accompaniment to grilled steak or salmon. They’re also great gently forked onto thick cut toast for the best bruschetta or pressed into a sandwich for the ultimate B.L.T. In San Francisco we’re plagued by chilly Summers. A simple soup with chicken broth, torn basil and these tomatoes plopped right in is the perfect remedy.

This recipe is simple but each step is integral and should not be skipped. The seasoning time really does help bring out the flavor of the tomatoes. It also helps speed up the cooking time.

Total time: 45 minutes plus 15 to cool  Serves 6

12 small Early Girl tomatoes, fresh, ripe and firm (about TK pounds)

1 orange

3 large garlic cloves, sliced thin

1 tablespoon fennel seed, freshly ground

1 teaspoon dried chile flakes such as cayenne, Piment d’espelette, or Marash

Tk Kosher salt

1 ½ cups extra-virgin olive oil

3 cups arugula

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

¾ cup chopped, almonds (about 3½ ounces), toasted

½ cup crumbled, ricotta salata cheese (about 4 ounces)

Bread, thick-cut, toasted

1 Heat your oven to 400 degrees. Fill a medium to large sized pot with water for blanching the tomatoes and bring to boil. While the water is heating, detach any stems the tomatoes might have and make two intersecting slits in this location just deep enough to score the skin or  if you have a melon baller, core the top stem area. Set the tomatoes aside and prepare an ice bath in a bowl large enough for all the tomatoes to cool after blanching.

Once the water is boiling transfer the ½ the tomatoes into the water with the slotted spoon and boil for 10-15 seconds. Take them out and place in the prepared ice bath to cool. Repeat with the other half of the tomatoes. Once completely cool, working from the scored edge, gently peel the skins off until all the tomatoes have been slipped of their skin, revealing their tender flesh.

2 Place the tomatoes, scored side down, evenly spaced into an 8x8 inch (or 11x17 inch) glass or ceramic baking pan. Season each tomato with ¼ teaspoon kosher salt, peel the orange into wide strips and tuck in between and place over the tomatoes with a peeler. Place the sliced garlic, ground fennel, and ground chile flakes in between the tomatoes and let sit out at room temp for 15 minutes.

3 Pour the olive oil over the tomatoes to cover ¾ up the sides of the tomato leaving the top of the spheres poking out. Cover the pan with aluminum foil. Then transfer to the oven and bake until small bubbles begin to rise from the oil, about 15-20 minutes.

4 Take the pan of tomatoes out of the oven and let cool to just warm to the touch, uncovered. About 10-15 minutes

5 When ready to serve… Toss the arugula with the red wine vinegar, a pinch of kosher salt, and 3 tablespoons of the cooled poaching oil. With a slotted spoon place the tomatoes on a serving platter and top with the dressed arugula, toasted almond and crumbled cheese. This simple salad (or open-faced sandwich) is the perfect way to showcase the luscious sweetness and slightly plump texture of this perfect Summer fruit.

Enjoy as a salad here with toast on the side or as an open-faced sandwich where the tomatoes and and it’s flavorful poaching oil are plopped and gently smeared onto the toast, saturating the bread with richness and sweetness of these tomato.  

Make ahead The tomatoes can be poached ahead and kept refrigerated in a single layer airtight container for up to 5 days. Serve warm or at room temp.

Notes After you’ve enjoyed the tomatoes, discard the oregano branches and save the flavorful extra-virgin olive oil poaching liquid at room temp for other uses or reuse 1 to 2 more times as a poaching liquid.