i wait all year for tomatoes. i know not another thing of the earth with such brazen individuality in specimen and species. originating in the americas, the aztec's word for them is tomatl, meaning plump thing with navel. i have to think the first tomato farmers recognized their human qualities not just by the undeniable belly buttons, but by their myriad nuances--flavors that mature, shift, flirt, linger.
when tomatoes come, they come with the abundance and ferocity of a mother's love, heaping upon us faster than we can eat them. the answer to the unrelenting harvest, the pile on the kitchen counter that has begun to dimple, and ripple and split with its ripeness, is tomato water. it also manages to be seductive, intoxicating, a sip of potent summer. it will unfold in your mouth like a poem. you might think me melodramatic now, but you'll believe me later. you might, like me, shed a tear, that a flavor could be that powerful.
tomatoes are of the best examples of foods that taste more like themselves when paired with certain other foods, kind of in the way a good friend makes us feel like ourselves. it's said that if you grow basil near your tomatoes, the both will taste better for it. little wonder the two are a classic culinary pair. basil plays a crucial role in tomato water, but you wouldn't exactly know it. basil, along with cilantro, parsley, garlic, shallot, and a splash of white wine vinegar, all serve to oomph up the tomato. the entirety of the ingredient list gets blitzed to an insanely fragrant red pulp, then strained (be patient) overnight. the resulting pale pinkish, reddish liquid is this: tomato in stereo.
i keep my tomato water in a mason jar tucked away in the fridge and nip from it throughout the day because, let's face it, i like to be happy as often as possible. i've also given it the theatrics it deserves, serving it in delicate glass tumblers to pour over bowls of thickly sliced heirlooms, olive oil slathered grilled bread, and an oozy scoop of burrata. for simplicity and economy, just tomatoes + tomato water will do. it's a match which reminds me of björk's music video where two robot versions of herself make out.
ferran adria, the genius and game changer behind spain's el bulli, said, "you need an entire life just to know about tomatoes." if that is the case, and i do believe it is, tomato water is a corner turner, a definite intimacy, on the journey to knowing.
(makes roughly 2 - 3 cups, depending on your tomatoes)
2 pounds very ripe red tomatoes (a few non-red tomatoes are fine, too, but might affect the final hue of your water)
1 generous cup basil leaves
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 medium shallots, coarsely chopped
2-3 medium garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons good quality white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 small pinch red chile flakes
1 large piece of cheesecloth
line a fine mesh sieve with the cheesecloth and set it over a large, non-reactive bowl. place the tomatoes, herbs, shallots, garlic, white wine vinegar, chile flakes and salt in the bowl of a food processor or blender. pulse until the ingredients are coarsely chopped and transfer the mixture to the prepared sieve.
cover the mixture and let it sit overnight (or at least 12 hours) in the fridge. discard the solids and cover and chill the tomato water until you are ready to use it.
* this recipe was barely adapted from michal anthony's "tomato water" in bon appetit. as he recommended, i once used my tomato water to finish tomato risotto (recipe here), and highly encourage you to do the same. take note, you'll also have to make oil-poached tomatoes which will only build upon your tomato know-how. tomato water would also make a killer cocktail or soda.
* michael anthony recommends not stirring or pressing on the tomato water solids or else the resulting water will be cloudy. you be the judge of how you'd like to proceed.
* because the tomatoes in this recipe get blitzed, i recommend using tomatoes on the verge of over-ripe, the one's with bruises, or the odd mark. save the beauties for serving unscathed.
* björk, all is full of love, here. you're welcome.