Cherry tomato confit, before it’s roasted. Photo by Christine Burns Rudalevige

The tomatoes are coming! The tomatoes are coming!

I will pay top dollar for the first, fat and juicy, vine-ripened heirloom slicing tomato I can get my hands on in late July. I will cut it into thick slabs, slather those with mayonnaise, sprinkle them with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and sandwich them between slices of crusty, country boule. And because there is nothing more perfect on a warm summer day than a completely local tomato sandwich, I will eat it slowly, reverently.

But in the meantime, I’ll eat cherry tomatoes until they come out my ears because they get to my kitchen first. Yes, I know you can buy grape tomatoes from away and local, hydroponically grown cherry tomatoes on the vine all winter long. But the ones reared in the hot sun – either found in the bucket on my side stoop or in a compostable container at a farm stand – are in a league of their own. Stem and fruit emit an earthy musk and the sweet explosion that occurs when you bite down on one is more exciting than Pop Rocks.

First of the Sungold tomatoes from Six River Farm in Bowdoinham. Photo by Christine Burns Rudalevige

The first pint of tangerine colored Sun Golds I buy from Six River Farms in Bowdoinham each year doesn’t survive the ride home. For that very reason, I always buy two or three pints of these super sweet beauties because my kids will snack on them at any time of day until they hit the bottom of the bowl. As the cherry tomato season progresses and more exotic varieties like Indigo Cherry Drops, Purple Bumble Bees, Tomatoberry Garden and Sungreens get combined into assorted quarts, I fix them into tomato panzanella salads with day-old bread croutons fried in bacon grease. And when the cherry tomato crop peaks and we get a bit weary of eating them raw, I confit them. Cooking all varieties, slowly in oil with other aromatics (see recipe), gives a cook many options on how to use them.

Slathering them, while they are still warm, onto a piece of grilled bread is a good place to start. Secondly, boil up a pound of linguine with 2 cups of cherry tomato confit, 8 ounces of diced soft cheese like a French brie or a local camembert, and a 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil and toss until the cheese and oil combine into a creamy sauce. Or simply ladle a couple of tablespoons of the confit over a piece of grilled fish and call it a meal. Use any leftover oil in salad dressings.

I’ve already told you what happens to the first slicing tomatoes that I can get my hands on. As more arrive on the scene, there will be much caprese salad with local mozzarella and basil leaves served at my table. I will freeze plum tomatoes for future use instead cranking up the stove in August to can them. These are my staple tomato preparations.

The tomato slushy being strained through a towel to get clear soup. Photo by Christine Burns Rudalevige

But I’ve recently happened upon one more way to capture the essence of summer tomatoes even when we think we’ve had enough of slicing and dicing them. No-cook tomato consommé. Consommé is clarified broth, typically long simmered and purified by a floating raft of egg whites. The flavor of the veal, beef, chicken or lobster is clean and intense, the very essence of whatever is in the pot. I missed the consume class in culinary school because one of my kids was sick, so I’ve never actually made a proper one, mainly because I’d rather use my farm-fresh egg whites for meringue cookies.

But no-cook consommé for when I have tomatoes continuing to ripen on my counter that need to be used before they rot right where they are sitting? That I can manage. The process is as simple as making and straining a tomato smoothie.  The orange-tinged liquid rendered is clear, crisp and as tomatoey as any way you’ll eat tomatoes this summer. It’s light, refreshing (especially served chilled with an ice cube made from the same consommé) and a welcome surprise in a bowl for any tomato lover.

Cherry Tomato Confit

I run with the mixed cherry tomatoes for this recipe because they are visually interesting. And I slide the baking dish into my toaster oven because it doesn’t throw off as much heat as my oven.

Makes 4 cups

3 pints cherry tomatoes

1 1/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil

8 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly smashed

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 225 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place the tomatoes in a single layer in a baking dish and drizzle them with the oil. Add garlic and salt. Bake until the tomatoes are swollen and the skins wrinkled, about 2 hours. Use immediately or cool completely to store in an air-tight container for 3-4 days in the refrigerator or 3 months in the freezer.

Top toasted bread with the still-warm tomatoes. Photo by Christine Burns Rudalevige

No Cook Tomato Consommé

I adapted this recipe from one British chef Jamie Oliver included in his cookbook “Jamie at Home.” I don’t bother to remove the stems from the tomatoes as they add flavor.

Makes 2 quarts

1 slice of raw red beet (optional for increased color)

5 pounds ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped

1/2 cup vodka

2 tablespoons prepared horseradish

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

2 large basil sprigs (both stalk and leaves), plus extra leaves for garnish

2 garlic cloves, peeled

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

2 whole allspice berries

Place the beet slice in the bottom of a large bowl. Place a muslin towel, or 4 large sheets of cheese cloth, over the beet slice so that it completely line the bowl. Cut an 18-inch long piece of kitchen twine.

Working in 2 batches, combine half of the tomatoes, vodka, horseradish, vinegar, basil, garlic, salt, pepper and allspice berries in a blender. Process until smooth. Pour the tomato puree into the bowl lined with muslin or cheese cloth. Repeat the process with the remaining half of the ingredients.

When all the tomato puree is in the bowl, gather the edges of the muslin or cheese cloth together and tie them together with 1 end of the kitchen twine. Take the other end of the twine and tie it to the handle of an upper kitchen cabinet, taking care to make sure the bundle hangs about the bowl.

The consommé will drain by itself in 6 hours. But you can hurry that process along by squeezing the bundle. Take care not to squeeze so hard that you break the bundle. When the consommé  is ready, there should be only about 1 cup of strained solids. Compost those. Remove the beet from the bowl. Chill the consommé before serving garnished with fresh basil leaves.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, a recipe developer and tester, and a cooking teacher in Brunswick. Contact her at: [email protected]

Finished tomato consomme. Photo by Christine Burns Rudalevige

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