Tomato Gratin, because tomatoes are at their peak.
Not only did it stop raining, but there was no humidity in the air today. Temperatures were in the 70's and the sky was brilliantly blue. I decided to forgo my usual Saturday pilates mat class at the Y. My goal was to get to the farmers' market early, while everything still looked exquisitely fresh. I had this recipe for Tomato Gratin in mind while I did my shopping.
Tomatoes at the market were the star vegetable today. Yes, there was bi- color corn, and green, yellow, and flat beans. There were peppers galore, eggplants too, and cucumbers, kirby or lemon yellow. Not to mention the summer melons, peaches and plums. Watermelons with or without pits, yellow or red, take your pick.
But tomatoes were featured at each stand. The heirlooms were present everywhere, as well as regular big old round large tomatoes, often touted as "Jersey tomatoes'. And arrays of pint baskets of cherry tomatoes in a rainbow of colors, lined up in neat rows for the choosing.
I picked out a combination of types and colors, and was careful to ask how much my purchases weighed. My goal was to buy 3 pounds in all, in order to try this recipe, baking in the oven as I write. The smell of the roasting garlic is intoxicating. When you have had enough of tomato sandwiches on toast, slathered with mayo, switch things up this summer and try this Tomato Gratin recipe.
The flavors of the gratin will be more complex than the sandwich. I imagine you will enjoy the results. The juices of the tomatoes that were broken down in the skillet, thicken considerably during the baking time.
Use a "crusty artisan-style" bread to sustain the integrity of the bread during the cooking process. The crustiness prevents the gestalt of a soggy gratin. After the bread is mixed with the tomatoes and juices, topped with parmesan cheese and baked for about 40 minutes, the gratin has "a crusty, savory topping that contrasts with the custardy interior". The bread enhances the umami created in the marriage of the ingredients of this tomato gratin.
Besides the spices and the EVO, there are few ingredients in this recipe, making it an easy peasy one. I transferred the ingredients into a baking dish, rather than baking it in an oven safe skillet. My bad for adding an extra dish to the clean-up, but you gotta do what you gotta do. A baking dish felt neater to me for storing the finished tomato gratin in my fridge.
Here is a shout out to the Lost Bread Company which produces some of the best bread I have ever tasted. Lost Bread has a stand at both NYC's Union Square and Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza's farmers' markets. So find their stand when you are at the markets, and try their breads. Their seedy grain hearth bread is my favorite. I happily used another one of their hearth breads when making this recipe.
Try making this Tomato Gratin, and enjoy!Jump to Recipe
This, that, and the other...
Last weekend I was wrapping a birthday present for one of my nieces. Mollie was coming to NYC for a weekend visit, as she was on vacation from the graduate school she is attending where she is studying to become a physical therapist. Wrapping the gift brought me back to thoughts of my Aunt Gertie. Gert was my mother's sister, her only sibling, and most of all, my mom's best friend, always.
Gertie did not need to work. Compared to my blue-collar, middle class family, her family was financially quite well to do. And yet, after never having worked since the time between graduating high school and getting married in her very early twenties, she decided to apply for a job at her favorite store in one of the many Jersey malls. Bloomingdales!
At this point in her life, Gertie was no spring chicken. She was probably at an age when most people were close to retirement. But she was an empty nester, probably a bit bored, and may have needed a broader purpose.
Gertie was one of the most social people I knew. In my mind, she was my very own Auntie Mame. She would stop off at our house to visit my mom, sit on the piano bench facing away from the keys, looking out onto the rest of the living room, and us, at full attention for what to dish about next. Gertie was like Scheherazade, spinning all sorts of stories about the latest goings on in her life and our small suburban community, about recent purchases of clothes, shows in NY and operas at the Met. Having never yet traveled outside of the States, I especially loved hearing about her travels with her husband, in Europe. There were tales about Italian leather gloves purchased in Europe, and the thrill of audiences with the Pope.
Working as a salesperson in Bloomingdales, gave her just the social outlet she needed. Gert got to talk with customers and meet all sorts of people throughout the day. As someone now in my later years, retired, and thinking about how my own life may continue to have a purpose in some new way, I appreciate my Aunt. She found something that gave her a reason to get up in the morning, made her happy and brought joy into her life. Not to mention that she got to dress beautifully each day she went to work at her job. Heels and all, despite the fact that during her shift, she stood on her feet for hours.
One story I remember the most from Gertie's days as a salesperson at Bloomie's was the one about teaching a very young sales girl how to wrap a package correctly. My Aunt was completely amused that this younger person was not taught the proper art of wrapping a present, with ends neatly folded and tucked, and using a minimum of tape to seal the deal.
Wrapping a present correctly may seem like a very small thing. But I liked that my Aunt took care with this seemingly minor task, and took pride in doing every little thing well. Today, we all talk a lot about being mindful. Gertie was ahead of her time in that realm. She also enjoyed mentoring the younger generation.
So, as I wrapped Mollie's present, and tucked the ends carefully, so that the wrapping seemed seamless, I carried Gertie in my heart. I feel grateful for her presence in my life as I grew up.
Now back to the recipe for Tomato Gratin
"For the best results, use the ripest in-season tomatoes you can find. Supermarket vine-ripened tomatoes will work, but the gratin won't be as flavorful as one made with locally grown tomatoes. Do not use plum tomatoes, which contain less juice than regular round tomatoes and will result in a dry gratin....the remainder [of the toasted bread scattered] over the top along with some Parmesan...create a crusty, savory topping that contrasted with the custardy interior."
" You can serve the gratin hot, warm, or at room temperature."
- 6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 6 ounces crusty baguette, cut into ¾-inch cubes (4 cups)
- 3 garlic cloves, sliced thin
- 3 pounds tomatoes, cored and cut into ¾-inch pieces
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- 1-½ ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (¾ cup)
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh basil
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Heat ¼ cup oil in 12-inch overnsafe skillet over medium-low heat until shimmering. Add bread and stir to coat. Cook, stirring constantly, until bread is browned and toasted, about 5 minutes. Transfer bread to bowl.
Return now-empty skillet to low heat and add remaining 2 tablespoons oil and garlic. Cook, stirring constantly, until garlic is golden at edges, 30 to 60 seconds, Add tomatoes, sugar, salt, and pepper and stir to combine. Increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes have started to break down and have released enough juice to be mostly submerged, 8 to 10 minutes.
Remove skillet from heat and gently stir in 3 cups bread until completely moistened and evenly distributed. Using spatula, press down on bread until completely submerged. Arrange remaining 1 cup bread evenly over surface, pressing to partially submerge. Sprinkle evenly with Parmesan.
Bake until top of gratin is deeply browned, tomatoes are bubbling, and juice has reduced, 40 to 45 minutes; after 30 minutes, run spatula around edge of skillet to looseb crust and release any juice underneath. (Gratin will appear loose and jiggle around outer edges but will thicken as it cools).
Remove skillet from oven and let stand for 15 minutes. Sprinkle gratin with basil and serve.