It was a triumph: After three hours of chopping, pureeing, simmering, stirring, caramelizing, and concentrating, I stepped back from the stove. In my hand was a spoon, clinging to a dynamite-red flavor bomb. It was just short of nuclear, and already I knew I was going to put it into everything that could use a big bang of tart, savory, and sweet with a miles-deep umami finish. I showed it to my special lady friend. “Congratulations!” she said. “You just made tomato paste. It’s cheap and comes in cans.”
But but but … OK, fine. Yes, that is what this is. But to be honest, I’ve never understood, really, why anyone eats the tomato paste that comes in cans. I mean, I’m not even snobbing on this -- it just tastes like sour goop; has anyone ever said, “You know, what this dish needs is some really sour red goop?”
This homemade tomato paste, though … this is magnificent stuff. Once you’ve concentrated three pounds of fresh, sweet, peak-summer tomatoes down to about a cup, you have a texture like cool butter and flavor that makes you feel like your brain might short-circuit: It’s tomato-y, sure, but it’s so tomato-y that it threatens to reform your idea of what a tomato tastes like altogether. The long, slow cooking simmers off all the water, making its flavor vibrate with intensity. But the cooking also starts to caramelize some of the sugars, giving its sweetness a darker, mysterious edge, and since I make it with some olive oil, the paste emulsifies a little to give a rich, round finish. Basically, it becomes a secret weapon for instant deliciousness -- drop a spoonful in any sauce, any soup, sauté, salad dressing, or just smear it on something.