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Tuscan Baked Tomatoes

A perfect tomato is a thing of wonder: its perfectly smooth red skin, its firm flesh, its juices suspended just so. I hesitate to do anything but drizzle it with olive oil, sprinkle it with salt, and eat up.

But then the end of August rolls around, and farmers start in with the deals: a half-bushel of near-perfect “seconds” for $12.  I can’t resist a deal like that. So I buy ’em, and over a week or so, the tomatoes make their way into salsa, tomato sauce, and other things that I jar and process for winter.

This summer, I got even luckier. Zach and Clay are the bloggers behind The Bitten Word; they’re also my neighbors. Every year, they go to their CSA farm at the end of August and pick their weight in tomatoes — in fact, one year, the Washington Post did a story on their adventure. This year, they overshot it on the picking. Lucky neighbor that I am, I got to share in the spoils.

We jarred a bunch as crushed tomatoes and a few more pounds as sauce. I’d already done salsa and jam, and there aren’t many other tomato-based staples that I use during the year. A cardinal rule of canning is “if you won’t use it, don’t can it.”  So, with about 10 pounds of tomatoes to go, I cooked up tomato feast for weekend lunch.

We started with pan con tomate, the Spanish tapa of grilled, garlic-rubbed bread (we used sourdough) topped with grated tomato and some olive oil and salt. We had a bit of Andalusian gazpacho, thickened with more of that same homemade sourdough and topped with more olive oil. (Come to think of it, about 80% of what we ate yesterday was tomato, bread, and olive oil. I’m not complaining.)

We did change things up with a purslane salad, which I’ll be blogging about later in the week. But the main course at yesterday’s lunch was a tray of baked tomatoes, their supple flesh topped with a crunchy mix of bread crumbs, tuscan spices, and plenty of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. They take almost no effort to prepare, and they’re a really fantastic way to celebrate the peak (and almost the end) of tomato season.

Tuscan Baked Tomatoes
Adapted from Ina Garten
Serves 4-6

6 large, ripe tomatoes (regular beefsteak tomatoes work great here)
1 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup basil leaves, julienned
2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano leaves (or substitute 1 teaspoon dried oregano)
2 small cloves garlic or 1 large clove, minced
1/2 cup parmigiano reggiano cheese
salt and freshly ground pepper
good olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Use a small paring knife to cut the cores from the tomatoes, removing as little of the flesh as possible. Cut them in half crosswise; if they are very large or if you want more pieces, cut into three very thick slices. Place the tomato halves or pieces in a baking dish or on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper and drizzle about 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the tomatoes.

In a bowl, combine the bread crumbs, basil, parsley, oregano, garlic, and cheese. Pack the bread crumb mixture onto the tomato slices and if you’re feeling really crazy, top with another drizzle of olive oil. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until tomatoes are sizzling and bread crumbs have started to brown. Serve hot or at room temperature.

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