James Peterson's Tomato and Herb Gratin


Tomato and Herb Gratin [Photograph: James Peterson]

Hear the word "gratin," and my mind often drifts towards rich, cheesy potato casseroles served up in the cold depths of winter. I was pleasantly surprised, then, to hear James Peterson wax poetic on a simple Tomato and Herb Gratin in his Vegetables. Made only with ripe summer tomatoes, parmesan, olive oil, and herbs, the dish is the simplest (and lightest) in a long line of more recognizable baked tomato dishes like lasagna and eggplant parmesan.

Make no mistake, this is no shortcut, speedy recipe. Peterson suggests an hour-plus cooking time in addition to time spent peeling slicing, and seeding tomatoes. But the effort is worthwhile, yielding a delightfully concentrated platter of late-summer bounty enlivened by herbaceous and tangy Parmesan.

Why I Picked This Recipe: I'm always looking for new ways to enjoy tomatoes come September, and this recipe stood out as a cross between a cheesy sauce and a platter of slow-roasted goodness.

What Worked: The process was simple enough, and the richness of the concentrated tomato juice was spectacular with the parmesan cheese and (optional, but highly recommended) anchovies. Also, Peterson's trick to coat the basil leaves with olive oil before cutting really does stave off browning!

What Didn't: The tomatoes took much longer to cook off their liquid than the 1 1/2 written in the recipe, and by the time the tomatoes were finished, the top was a bit too crusty for my taste. I'd lower the oven temperature and give the tomatoes a little more room next time.

Suggested Tweaks: Peterson suggests adding anchovies, olives, roasted bell peppers, and/or capers to the dish. I enjoyed the anchovy option, and the others sound appealing as well.

As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of Vegetables Revised to give away.

About the author: Kate Williams is a freelance writer out of Berkeley, CA. She is a contributor to The Oxford American and blogs at cookingwolves.wordpress.com.

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