Tomato Sofrito -or- Tomato and Onion Confit

Ok, this time around there is no elaborate backstory. There is no deep, rich history, at least none that I am aware of. There is no connection to greater humanity. It is just freaking delicious.

This recipe is adapted, if not outright lifted, from a Thomas Keller one. I have been making it so long, I can’t even remember from which book or article I saw it. (Sorry, Tommy.)

Simply put, this is fresh summer tomatoes and onions cooked slowly submerged completely in extra virgin olive oil for many hours. It is intensely flavored and it goes on, well, just about anything.

Seriously. Serve it with a steak. I love it with fresh pasta. It is amazing on an omelet, or just scrambled eggs. I’ve never done it, but I bet it would blow your mind on ice cream.

The secret is to use fresh tomatoes at the peak of ripeness. The better the quality of the tomato, the better the sofrito will be. I don’t recommend using any store-bought tomatoes for this. Either grab them straight from your garden or a farmers market if you trust the vendor. If you can’t smell the tomatoes from five feet away, don’t bother.

Tomato seeds are intensely bitter to me, so I meticulously purge them before cooking. At a minimum, you should seed your tomatoes and put all of those seeds and liquid in a strainer. There is so much fantastically flavorful liquid in there, you definitely want it in your pot.

This recipe is all about intensifying flavor. Whatever goes in, sweetness, savoriness, or bitterness, will all be intensified, so be mindful.

Some other write-ups of this recipe out there call for squeezing the seeds out. This damages the flesh of the tomato. I prefer to be a bit more gentle. It makes for a nicer dice and the final texture comes out a little better.

Originally, I believe the recipe calls for Roma tomatoes. They will work perfectly well. I prefer using some funkier varieties, like heirloom. They are sweeter and have a more complex flavor that comes through strongly in the final product.

Finally, be patient. This is going to take about six hours in just cooking time. Use low heat. Be careful to not burn anything. This is not a fussy recipe, but you should stir things occasionally. Particularly in the end stages of the cooking the onions and tomatoes, things can progress quickly, so keep an eye on it.

If I haven’t made this clear already, this stuff is like magic. The copious amounts of onion and tomato infused olive oil alone is magnificent. Use it for some lower-temp cooking applications, or just drizzle it all over your food. Sop it up with some warm, fresh bread and you will want to die, but in a good way. You have been warned. Enjoy!

Hardware

  • 2qt sauce pan
  • 1 ~4qt (or larger) pot
  • fine mesh strainer
  • (at least 1) prep bowl

Software

  • 3lbs fresh (and I mean fresh) tomatoes, variety of your choosing
  • 1 large red onion
  • copious extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium garlic clove
  • Salt (preferably kosher)

Directions

Fill your ~4qt pot with water. Put over high heat and let boil

Medium dice the onion, and put in the 2qt sauce pan. Add a about 1/2 tsp of salt. Add the EVOO to the pan until the onions are completely submerged. Stir.

Put pan on a medium low heat. Let the temperature of the onions and olive oil rise until it just starts to bubble. Adjust temperature as necessary to keep the onions bubbling gently.

While the onions are softly cooking, begin work on your tomatoes. Score the bottom of the tomatoes with an X. Drop in boiling water just until the skins start to peel off. Pull them out of the boiling water, and let cool (you can plunge in a water or ice bath to chill if you like). Remove the tomato peels.¹

Place the fine mesh strainer over a bowl. Slice the tomatoes open and scrape out all of the seeds (and any juice) into the strainer.

Chop the tomatoes to a medium dice. You now have tomato concasse.

Stir the tomato seeds around in the strainer with a spatula or spoon to help them drain. Discard the seeds and save the strained tomato juice.

Cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until they develop a golden brown color. If your temperature is right, this will take roughly two hours. The onions will be frying a bit at the end and the temperature will start to creep up above 212°F.

When the onions reach this stage, add the tomatoes and reserved tomato juice with another 1/2 tsp of salt. Stir thoroughly to combine. The oil should rise to the top and cover the tomatoes and onions. Let the heat rise again to a soft bubbling.

Softly simmer, stirring occasionally, for about another 4 hours. You may have to scrape down the sides of the pan occasionally. (There is a lot of flavor on the sides of the pan.)

When it is ready, the tomatoes will have turned deeply red and begin to fry a bit. Finely chop or grate the garlic clove on a rasp (I prefer the latter) and add to the pot. Cook for an additional two minutes. Taste and adjust for salt. You will likely need to add some.

The sofrito is ready to use at this point. If not using immediately, let cool and store in an air-tight container in the fridge. It will keep up to a week, but it is not likely to stick around that long.

This sauce/confit is incredibly versatile. Put it on pasta, vegetables, meat, eggs, whatever. For serving you probably want to drain out some of the oil, but don’t throw it away. After being infused with onions and tomatoes for 6 hours, it has amazing flavor. Dip bread in it. Use it to cook your eggs. Make salad dressing with it. I used it instead of butter for roasted artichoke hearts and nearly lost my mind.

The possibilities for this stuff are endless, so experiment!

¹ You can dehydrate the tomato peals in a ~200° oven for a few hours then grind in a clean spice grinder to make an amazingly flavorful powdered tomato garnish.

Cook, Chemist, Engineer, Generalist