Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Tomatoes got off to a slow start this summer because of a harvest stymied by erratic weather. Still, they’re plentiful now, and all the familiar hues and varieties are at the farmer’s markets in abundance: crimson red and blush colors, dark hued brandy wines and a whole host of other heirloom tomatoes in yellow and orange.
Local heirloom tomatoes at the Rosemont Market on Commercial St.
Regarding those old-fashioned tomatoes I’m partial to standard beefsteaks or “slicing” tomatoes as they’re often labeled. Still those heirlooms with the funny shapes work well in salads drawn together with herbs and mozzarella. I’ve taken to using fresh marjoram, though, instead of basil in the salad mix; it offers an unusual flavor.
In seasons past I’ve always made tomato soup or even canned tomatoes when they go on sale by the bushel towards the end of the season.
But one of my favorite preparations is to bake them in casseroles. One is made by stewing tomatoes, then lining a dish with thick bread slices, filling it with well seasoned stewed tomatoes in which a bit of sugar is added. Then it’s topped with bread, and melted butter is poured over that. You bake it until it’s bubbly and the top slices have browned.
The ingredients for this deliciously old-fashioned scalloped tomatoes
Another is an adaptation from the venerable cookbook author and chef, Edna Lewis, from her classic book, The Gift of Southern Cooking. It’s a dish of scalloped tomatoes mixed with onions, butter, croutons, sugar and plenty of salt and pepper. It’s slowly baked, covered with parchment and foil then browned for the last 10 minutes of cooking. It’s great with all kinds of grilled or roasted meat and poultry
For the tomatoes use a mix of heirlooms and field varieties in various colors. For the bread cubes use good bakery bread such as Rosemont’s Scala bread sold by the loaf.
The assembled casserole ready to bake covered with parchment and foil
4 slices thickly sliced good quality white or whole wheat loaf bread
8 tablespoons butter, melted
6 large tomatoes (about 3 ½ pounds), peeled seeded and cut into large pieces
1 small onion, finely chopped
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 heaping teaspoons sugar
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Remove the crusts from the bread and cut into large cubes about 1 inch square. Put them on a baking dish and pour over 4 tablespoons of the melted butter. Mix the cubes so they’re evenly coated. Bake, turning halfway through, for about 10 minutes or until lightly golden and crisp.
Meanwhile prepare the tomatoes by plunging them into a large pot of boiling water. Cover the pan, remove from heat and let steep 3 minutes. Transfer to an ice bath. Skins will slip off easily.
Cut the tomatoes in half, squeeze out the seeds and cut into large pieces about 1 ½ inches. Put into a nonreactive mixing bowl. Add the chopped onion, seasonings and sugar. Mix well. Add the croutons. Mix well
Prepare a 2 ½ quart baking dish (or 8 x 11 or 9 by 13) by buttering it well. Add the tomato mixture and cut a piece of parchment paper fit to cover. Then wrap the dish tightly with foil. Put on a baking sheet and bake for 35 minutes. Remove parchment and foil and continue to bake for 10 minutes or until it’s slightly crispy and bubbly. Serve immediately.
Baked scalloped tomatoes
John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.
In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.