Many of the world’s greatest recipes are born from the need to preserve summer produce. Tomato conserva is no exception. This is a broad designation for any recipe in which tomatoes are cooked down or otherwise concentrated to make an intense paste that lasts the winter. Historically, drying this paste was the
I encountered another style of conserva in Beirut, where local chef and caterer Hussein Hadid slowly cooked down cherry tomatoes with a large quantity of unfiltered olive oil. The resulting sauce was thick, sweet, rich and marvelous. He mixed it with bulgur in a hearty dish called bulgur bil banadoura, Hadid’s version of an Armenian bulgur salad (often called eetch) with onions and chili peppers mixed in with the tomato conserva before serving.
Back at Milk Street, the revelation was that even humble supermarket grape or cherry tomatoes could be transformed into concentrated flavor. The secret was long, slow cooking (about an hour), a full cup of olive oil for 4 pints of tomatoes, and 2 cups water. (The water prolongs the cooking time, which allows the tomatoes more opportunity to break down, yielding a silky texture.) Garlic, bay leaves, salt and 1 teaspoon sugar round it out.
I use this recipe as is on pasta, mixed with rice, spread on grilled bread for bruschetta, served with a cheese plate, or folded into cooked grains as Hussein did for his salad. There is a lot of magic in the kitchen, but this recipe is at the top of my list.