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.
Reprinted with permission from Vegetables, Revised by James Peterson. Copyright 2012. Published by Ten Speed Press. Available wherever books are sold. All rights reserved.
- Yield:serves 4
- Active time: 45 minutes
- Total time:2 1/2 hours
- 6 ripe tomatoes, peeled
- 1 teaspoon coarse salt
- 30 fresh basil leaves
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- Optional Ingredients
- 8 anchovy fillets, soaked for 5 minutes in cold water and drained on paper towels (soaking optional)
- 1/4 cup pitted and chopped olives (don't use canned olives)
- 2 red or green bell peppers, charred, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch strips
- 2 tablespoons capers, drained
Cut the tomatoes in half from top to bottom and cut each of the halves into 4 wedges. Use your thumb and forefinger to push the seeds out of each of the wedges. Toss the tomato wedges with the coarse salt and drain in a colander for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Sprinkle the basil leaves with 2 teaspoons of the olive oil and coarsely chop. (The oil helps keep the leaves from turning black.) Immediately combine the basil with the remaining olive oil in a small bowl.
Spread and third of the basil mixture in an oval gratin dish or square baking dish just large enough to hold the tomatoes in a single layer. Arrange the tomatoes in the dish, overlapping them slightly if necessary. Spoon a second third of the basil mixture over the tomatoes and sprinkle over the Parmesan cheese. If you're using any of the other toppings, arrange them on top.
Bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until there is no liquid left in the baking dish and a light crust has formed on top. If the cheese or toppings start to become too brown before the liquid has evaporated, turn down the oven and bake somewhat longer. Brush with remaining basil mixture and serve immediately.