There’s a little game I play as fall wanes into winter. It’s about tomatoes. In summer, when tomatoes are at their peak, I want nothing but to eat them — lots of them, all the time — in preparations as simple as can be. Don’t make me pasta with tomato sauce when bursting, juicy, raw tomatoes can be had in abundance; slice up a couple, drizzle a little olive oil on top, share a pinch of salt, and I’ll be on my way, thank you.
The fall tomatoes in these parts aren’t half-bad, either. Some farmers — Toigo, notably — do a great job with the late-season fruit. But December and January (and beyond) are murky tomato territory, where the red ones are all found beneath the fluorescent lighting of your nearest grocery store, and the farmers market tomatoes tend to be green, for frying or pickling only.
Now before you let anyone tell you that supermarket tomatoes are good for nothing, I’ve got to chime in. I’ll agree wholeheartedly that January beefsteak tomatoes are about as mealy and flavorless as they come. However, the grocery store’s cherry tomatoes are passable when you really, really need them. Furthermore, there are ways to enhance supermarket tomatoes to the point that they’re not just edible, they’re actually kinda tasty. This is one of those ways.
That quality that we all love about good raw tomatoes — that so-juicy-it’ll-burst thing — can be mimicked by heating subpar tomatoes. This concentrates intensifies their flavor, and also stretches the tomato skin taut, so that when you bite into one, the innards burst in your mouth. Top said heated cherry tomatoes with a thick blanket of feta and parmesan-spiked homemade breadcrumbs, and you’re on your way to heaven. Given that the tomatoes aren’t the best, you should compensate by using high-quality ingredients for the rest of the dish. I use homemade breadcrumbs, really good butter, and parmigiano reggiano cheese.
I can imagine this going wonderfully with a steak dinner; alternatively, pair it with a salad, a frittata, or roasted vegetables for a light supper.
Bursting Hot Tomatoes with Cheesy Breadcrumbs
1 pint cherry tomatoes, best you can find but supermarket will do
1 cup homemade breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon butter
1/8 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/8 cup grated parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spread the tomatoes in a single layer in an ovenproof casserole.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Add breadcrumbs; toss to coat evenly, then continue to cook until golden, about 5 minutes.
Transfer breadcrumbs to a small bowl; mix in feta, parmesan, and several grinds of black pepper. Spread evenly over tomatoes. Bake until breadcrumbs are well browned, about 15 minutes. Serve immediately.