My family has a mad love for cherry tomatoes. If you have ever grown them you know they are the gangsters of the tomatoes. Unlike me, they can handle the pressure ( I'll explain later.) They will take over your garden forcing other tomatoes to bow down to their power. Boy, do they produce! You can barely keep up the amount of fruit they produce. Yet, mainly I see them in salads. Doing research on red gravies I found some articles and recipes for cherry tomatoes where they were used by the past generations of Italian home cooks for gravies and light pasta dishes. This sent me on the mission to come up with a recipe my family would love. The prep on this is less than 15 minutes - then you let the oven do the work. Y'all... the smell that fills your house will bring your neighbors by to see what is going on. The sauce is a little on the sweeter side so adjust the vinegar and pepper to your taste.
I got a lot of my Italian cooking knowledge from a friend of mine’s feisty Italian grandma. I'd go to their house for dinner and sneak my way into the kitchen to visit with her and watch her prepare the family meal. I swear, some grandmas have superpowers. This frail-looking woman would make dish after dish. One leading into the next like a well-tuned machine. She never seemed to pause - not for a drink or a break of any kind. It was awe-inspiring to watch how decades of cooking for her family gave her hands the muscle memory for what needed to happen next. Like magic, all these dishes would come out of the kitchen and be placed on the table within seconds of each other. Where was she while everybody was eating? Still in the kitchen finishing up dessert and cleaning. They need to quit focusing on robotics and start studying these grandmas that seem to have boundless fortitude with no need for nourishment…they are truly super-humans.
This is also how I got one of my numerous early bartending jobs. My friend’s uncle found out I was a bartender and offered me a job at his bar in New Orleans. Of course, I jumped at the chance. It was a day-bartending job so I knew it wouldn't be horribly busy (I was not aware just how few customers I would really have.) My first day I showed up ready to go. I wore my cutest outfit and had my speed opener and wine key ready. There I stood behind the bar staring out into the dark emptiness. All the windows were covered and the lights were as low as they could possibly be without it being pitch black. The door would open and an older man in a leisure suit would walk in. He would walk past me, never acknowledging my presence. He walked straight to a door in the back and wouldn't be seen again ’til hours later when he exited the bar the same way he came in. All day this goes on - a different man, different leisure suit, same behavior. At the end of the day, the owner came over, said, “You did a good job,” and hands me a couple hundred dollars. In theory, this would have been the best job ever. One small problem - after days of watching this, my brain being what it is, comes up with every possible, crazy, scenario in my head. What were they doing? Am I involved in some sort of crime ring? I can't go to jail, I'm way too much of a smart ass - I'll never make it. Is this how people get cement shoes? What if I see something I am not supposed to see? I can’t be grilled by the police, I have a big mouth I will fold as quick as a flat sheet. Is Joe Pesci going to stab me with a pen or throw me in a hole in the desert? You get the drift - crazy brain in full force. I politely told the owner that my boyfriend didn't like me working in the bar business (of course I had no boyfriend, nor would I care what he thought, but when all else fails, blame the boyfriend.) So I had to quit. I realize now that my twenty-something self romantically wanted to believe that I became part of some inner sanctum of the Mafia, which in turn made me cooler than my peers. Truly, if you think about it, it was probably a bunch of old men who met in a bar that had been paid off years ago, probably there to avoid their wives by playing poker and smoking cigars. I was just another young girl staring blindly at them as they walked in to do their daily routine and they had seen the likes of me come and go hundreds of times. So why would they even take the time to get to know me? Of course, when I tell this story I leave out the last part and tell people how I am sure I had a hand in the New Orleans Mafia. Move over Al Capone, Jolie Meaux is stepping in (for like five minutes then she will cower away in fear.)
Did I say this recipe was simple? Like, tie your shoes simple (no offense to the velcro lovers out there).The ingredients are few but getting the best version of them will make a big difference. Of course, if you have a garden full of cherry tomatoes and basil you are set. If not, try your local produce stand or farmers’ market because the prices and quality are so much better. If you are stuck with your local grocery (I am sorry, I hope you get a produce stand soon) just make sure your tomatoes are nice and firm and always look at the bottom of the basket ( I swear they purposely sneak the bad ones there.) Fresh basil is amazing in this, but the dried stuff will work in a pinch. Now, balsamic vinegar, there are a lot of things I think are hyped up by the foodies that aren’t true. Balsamic vinegar isn’t one of them. You get what you pay for in this instance. A good balsamic vinegar has a higher price tag but a little goes a long way.
We’ve pretty much covered most of them already. Here's the compact list - cherry tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, fresh thyme, brown sugar and salt, pepper and fresh basil. You can leave your tomatoes whole and just smash and peel your garlic. That’s it, folks.
Prep and cooking
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.
Mix together your tomatoes and garlic in a casserole dish - preferably glass since metal can react to the acidity of the tomatoes.
Mix together your oil, vinegar, thyme, brown sugar and salt in a bowl.
Pour this mixture over your tomatoes and garlic and combine. I use my hands because they are your number one tool in the kitchen and one less thing to wash is fine with me.
Bake for about an hour till the tomatoes are soft and caramelized.
Now you have two options here you can stop and leave it as is or you can take the next steps to make a creamy sauce. Better yet double the recipe and do both. Both versions are yummy on pasta, bread etc.
If you want a creamy sauce just chuck the whole thing with some basil in a blender and blend away. I use an emulsion blender for this because I generally cannot be trusted with blenders. Word of advice - always make sure your container is screwed in tightly and the top is snug. If you don't your kitchen will look like a there was a mass murder in there and the red burn spots on your face will make people worry you have some sort of swamp fever. Yes, I have done this more than once.
And you are done. Really. Now serve it over your favorite pasta, slathered on a crusty bread or as a dip for some fried goodness. The options are endless with this one.
1 pound cherry tomatoes
4 cloves garlic smashed
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon course salt.
Small handful of fresh basil
Salt and black pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 325 degrees
Mix together tomatoes and garlic in a 9x13 casserole (preferably glass)
Whisk together oil, vinegar, thyme, sugar, and salt
Pour mixture over the tomatoes and combine
Bake for about an hour until the tomatoes are soft and starting to caramelize.
*You can stop here for chunky sauce and serve with fresh basil on top or proceed for a creamy sauce.
Once cooled enough to handle place mixture in a blender or use an emulsion blender. Add basil, salt, and pepper to your taste and blend until smooth.
Serve however you prefer it is pretty much good on everything.
Part of this recipe is from the great and Powerful Martha Stewart.