As we draw closer to August, you and I will be tempted and tried by False Tomato Season. Though I have never in my life had a truly fantastic tomato before the eighth month of the year, I refuse to learn, and always end up being betrayed by at least one good-looking but disappointing-tasting tomato.
Good, fresh tomatoes cannot be forced. Sure, cherry tomatoes are pretty decent any time of year, but they do not compare to a ripe tomato. Luckily, we humans learned how to use heat (and salt) to improve our food a long time ago, and the air fryer is the next step in that evolutionary journey. It’s a fairly new device, but an efficient one, and I am delighted to report it does a bang-up job at reducing watery, bland tomatoes into an umami-rich, jammy mass.
Unlike most of my favourite air fryer-applications, this one doesn’t crisp up a damn thing. Instead, the whipping winds of the tiny convection oven blister the tomato’s skin and rip into its flesh. Juices spill out, then all but evaporate, condensing down into something that, while not a syrup in consistency, is certainly sweet enough to be one.
These obliterated tomatoes are wildly flavorful. They have a deep, caramelised sweetness — almost like tomato paste — with the intense, slightly raisiny notes of a sun-dried tomato, minus the overpowering tartness. They spread like a hearty jam, and would make an outstanding sandwich filling, especially if you’re craving something a little warmer, sweeter, and rib-sticking than tomato toast.
The cook time is kind of long for an air fryer recipe, but still quite short when you consider that another of my favourite roasted tomato recipes requires an overnight stay in the oven.
All you have to do is add a dry pint of cherry tomatoes (or about 300 g of larger, halved or quartered tomatoes) to the basket of your air fryer along with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a couple big pinches of salt. If your air fryer has a “crisper plate” or a similar piece of hardware that keeps the food above the bottom of the air fryer, go ahead and remove it. You want the tomatoes sitting in the oil. (If you have a toaster oven-like air fryer, set the tomatoes and oil in an oven-safe dish.)
Once the tomatoes are sitting in a small pool of salted olive oil, close the basket and set the temperature to 150C. Let the tomatoes cook and reduce for a full hour, stirring every 15 minutes or so, until they collapse into a shapeless mass of browned, softened tomato mush. Spread the must on bread, shove it into a sandwich, or mix it with a grain. You can also dollop it on ricotta and shovel it into your mouth with potato chips. In fact, I think I’ll go do that right now.