Monday, August 13, 2018

The Pleasure of the Annual Tomato Glut...and a Recipe for Tomato Fondue

It happens every year about this time.   Whether you shop at a Farmers' market or have your own garden, beautiful, ripe tomatoes start piling up on the kitchen counter faster than you can consume them.  I always eat as many of them as I can raw...sprinkled with salt, drizzled with olive oil...sometimes enhanced with a bit of vinegar.  But inevitably there are just too many to eat.  Even though I regularly cook with them too, I almost always have so many that they decay faster than I am able to use them up.  

When it reaches this point of overabundance I begin to consider ways to preserve the harvest.  I almost always try to make tomato sauce for the freezer (in fact, I often purchase extra tomatoes for just this purpose...summer tomato sauce is a wonderful thing to have on hand during the fall and winter months).  And some years I make slow-roasted tomatoes (which turns them into concentrated flavor bombs for pastas, pizzas, pilafs, etc.).

Last week as I was considering the mountain of tomatoes on my counter, I remembered something we used to make way back in the early days of my cooking career at The American Restaurant: a delicious preparation called "Tomato Fondue."  

Contrary to what you might think, there is no cheese involved in this fondue.  This fondue is all about the tomatoes...tomatoes that have been cooked in an abundance of olive oil until the juices and pulp have melted (hence the term "fondue") into a jam-like substance of tangy tomato deliciousness.   There is also a bit of onion and garlic...  and a sprinkling of fresh herbs (thyme, oregano, and/or winter savory).  But not too much of any of these things.  Tomato fondue should be all about the tangy and sweet flavor of summer tomatoes.

Tomato fondue has a myriad of uses.  It can of course be used to finish a soup (stirred in, or served as a drizzle or dolloped garnish)...or to enhance a pasta sauce.  But my favorite way to use it is as a condiment—dolloped onto a piece of baked or sautéed fish

As a topping for pan-seared halibut..with a bulgur pilaf with corn and zucchini....

...mixed with a little more olive oil and drizzled over a grain bowl

The leftover pilaf from the previous photo...topped with an egg...

...extended with stock or water (and/or more oil) and used to dress vegetables.  

Romano beans...dressed with tomato fondue, kalamata olives, toasted pine nuts and parsley....

You could also use it for oeufs en cocotte (just use a small spoonful of the tomato fondue in place of the cooked leeks).  It would also make a delicious instant appetizer—on a crostini smeared with fresh cheese or bean purée, or spooned over a round of baked goat cheese and served with crackers or crisp toasts.  

And it could be used to enhance a spread/dressing of some kind (like mayonnaise, for example).  Once you make it (and taste it!)...and have it on hand...I'm certain it will catch your eye every time you open the refrigerator to gather inspiration for what to make for dinner. It is amazingly versatile.

Since I mentioned preserving the harvest at the beginning of this post, I hope it goes without saying that tomato fondue can be frozen.  The flavor is so concentrated that you can freeze it in small portions (rather than the larger quantities that you might opt for when freezing a less concentrated tomato sauce).  I think ice cube trays would probably be perfect.  Either line the trays with plastic wrap...or purchase trays designated for your tomatoes (the oil in the fondue will color and imbue every plastic surface it touches with its orange-y gold color).

I have to admit though, that I haven't frozen any yet this year.  Part of the beauty of tomato fondue is that it reduces a mountain of tomatoes down to a very manageable...and consumable...amount.  I have made two 1 pound batches so far and have managed to eat it all.  I'm so glad that it popped into my mind after all these years. After having it around for a couple of weeks and finding so many ways to use it, it is on its way to becoming a summer staple in my pantry. 

Tomato Fondue

1 lb. Vine Ripened Tomatoes
1/2 c. finely diced summer onions
1 t. (heaped, if you like) minced garlic
3 to 4 T. olive oil
1 bay leaf
Several sprigs of fresh thyme, oregano and/or winter savory—leaves picked and minced

Halve the tomatoes horizontally (vertically if using Romas).  Holding the tomato halves over a sieve set over a bowl, scoop out the seeds (using your fingers).  Set the de-seeded tomato halves aside for a second while you stir and press the seedy juice around in the sieve (with a rubber spatula) until all the juices have gone through the sieve.  Discard the seeds.  Using a large-holed grater set on a plate or pie pan, grate the tomatoes by holding the cut side of the tomatoes against the grater and grating until just the skin remains in your palm.  Add the grated tomato pulp to the tomato juices.  (See note.)

Warm the oil in a medium sized sauté pan or shallow sauce pan set over moderately low heat and add the onions, along with a pinch of salt.  Cook gently until the onions are softabout 10 minutes for juicy, summer onions.  Add the garlic and cook another 3 or 4 minutes.  

Add the tomatoes and herbs to the pan 

and bring to a gentle simmer.  Cook, stirring occasionally and regularly (carefully scraping down the edges of the pan as the fondue reduces) until the mixture is thick.  If you draw a spatula through the fondue, a path will remain (see picture at top of post).  You will also be able to mound the fondue on a spoon.  

(This will take about 20 minutes or so.). Taste and season with salt to bring out the brightest tangy flavor.

You will have 2/3 to 3/4 of a cup of tomato fondue.  Store in a Tupperware or covered jar in the refrigerator.


  • The original recipe called for the tomatoes to be peeled, seeded and cut into a fine dice.  Since the tomato flesh breaks down as it cooks, it seems easiest to me to simply grate the flesh as I have done.  You may of course peel, seed and dice if you like.
  • We made the fondue in very large quantities at the restaurant—a batch made with four pounds of tomatoes would have been typical.  You may multiply this into any sized batch you like, just remember to use a wide (as opposed to deep) pan.  A large surface area will encourage the tomatoes to reduce and concentrate more quickly.  Large batches will still take longer, but the fondue will cook better in a wide pan.  When I make this in large batches, I multiply everything but the bay leaf. I find bay to be quite strong and even if I were making a four pound batch would still use just one leaf.

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