There’s a tiny shop in downtown Lexington called Oliva Bella. We used to drive past this shop every week for three years and wonder, “How can an Olive Oil Shop exist??” (We were young and naive!)
When I moved just a few blocks away from the shop in my last semester of college, I finally decided to go in. And let me tell you, I wasted those three years not going into that store. The tiny shop is full of artisan breads, real, aged balsamic vinegar, beautiful chocolate truffles, and olive oil imported from Italy. The owners immediately welcome you in and feed you anything and everything they have to sample. Each of the three olive oils the shop sells come from a family farm that produces only enough oil for themselves and the store. Each has a distinctly unique flavor, all worthy of drinking straight from the bottle. They often create recipes with their products and allow people to sample them, including pastas, sauces, and these amazing sweet and sour jams, one tomato and one with Vidalia onions. As soon as I tried the sweet, dark, rich tomato jam, I knew I had to have more. I brought a jar when I moved home at Christmastime, and my mom and sisters and I devoured it within weeks. I bought a jar for my mom and one for myself the next time I was in Lexington, and before I knew it, my mom was calling me to commiserate over seeing the bottom of our jars.
Spread it on french bread, add it to tomato sauce, spread it on crackers and melt cheese on top, add it to mac & cheese, or just eat it with a spoon. The Oliva Bella website also has a page of recipe ideas using the stuff. The possibilities are endless, though unfortunately the jar is not.
A few weeks ago, we got 3 1/2 pounds of tomatoes from our CSA. Being the only tomato-eater in the house (Brett hates fresh tomatoes), I knew I had to do something drastic. After giving a couple away, we still had about 2 1/2 pounds left.
As I watched them slowly ripen more and more, I racked my brain trying to think of something I could do that would either preserve them, or at least make Brett interested in sharing the load. I finally remembered this stuff. My mom kept the label from the jar with the ingredient list, just in case she every felt like trying to replicate it. She gladly sent me the list and I got to work. After 10 looong hours of waiting and stirring and filling our apartment with wonderful smells, it was finally ready to taste.
2 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup good olive oil
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, grated
1 small onion or 3 small shallots, minced
salt + pepper
Combine all ingredients in an oven-safe dutch oven or baking dish. Roast uncovered at 275 degrees for 9-10 hours, stirring every two hours, until it reaches a thick consistency and a deep brownish-red color. Fill into an airtight containter, refrigerate and enjoy!
I cut the tomatoes in 2-3-inch dices, but next time would cut them smaller (or as my mom suggested use a food processor), only because the skin rolled up and formed little sticks. They don’t affect the flavor, just the appearance. Also, the only hot sauce I had at the time was Cholula Chile & Lime, which I didn’t think would compliment the other ingredients so I left it out. I didn’t miss it, but I would add a few splashes next time. Also, I don’t think I added any salt & pepper. It couldn’t hurt though!
If you’re ever in Lexington, I would definitely recommend stopping at Oliva Bella and trying everything they offer to feed you!