Last summer I helped manage a farmers’ market in New York City, and one of our vendors had a particularly bountiful crop of heirloom tomatoes. Huge Purple Cherokee tomatoes to be specific. At the end of the day, he drove the excess tomatoes back Upstate and threw them on the compost heap.
This pained me so much. I hate seeing food go to waste, especially something as fleeting as succulent summer tomatoes. My farmer friend told me I could take as many as I wanted, so I got carried away (as usual). One day I literally carried back ten pounds of Purple Cherokees. At the end of my strenuous market shifts, I loaded a shopping bag to the brim and make the arduous journey back to my apartment in Harlem. This involved walking almost a mile, and squishing my way on a bus and then a subway full of sweaty, cranky New Yorkers. People glared at me (or at least I thought they did) because my bags bursting with vegetables poked them in the back and took up precious space. Sometimes the fragile tomatoes couldn’t stand up to the pressure, and the bag would leak.
Dustin and I developed a method for dealing with the tomatoes taking over our small apartment. We didn’t have AC and didn’t feel like canning or putting up sauce when the temperatures were exceeding 90 degrees. Instead we coarsely chopped the tomatoes and threw them in the slow cooker to cook down for 24 hours. The result was a jam-like spread, the concentrated essence of summer tomatoes.
Now that Austin and my garden are brimming with tomatoes, I tried this method again with the same results. Here’s the recipe, if you can even call it that:
Slow Cooker Tomato Tapenade
Makes about 2 cups, depending on the water content of the tomatoes
- 2 lbs. tomatoes, coarsely chopped
- 2 tbsps. olive oil
- fresh or dried herbs (basil, marjoram, oregano, thyme, rosemary, or a combination all work well)
- salt to taste
Mix ingredients together in the slow cooker and turn it on. Over the course of 24 hours, the tomatoes will undergo a fascinating process of cooking down and concentrating their bright, sweet flavor. After about 12-16 hours, the tomatoes will develop a dark crust around the rim. Mix this caramelization into the tomatoes and allow them to cook 1-2 hours longer. When you are satisfied with the texture, add salt to taste. Spoon the tapenade into a container, and allow it to cool on the counter before placing in the fridge.