Growing up on Long Island, one of my many summer food ‘joys’ (besides sweet corn, fried clams, crab cakes, steamers, homemade ice cream cones, watermelon, but I digress) was ripe, juicy, freshly picked tomatoes. Not just any tomato – but sweet New Jersey tomatoes. I’d slice them in half, sprinkle w/ a little salt and eat them as I would an apple. Didn’t want them in a salad – why would anyone want to mix this delectable flavor w/ greens or a dressing? Certainly not I.
Living in Los Angeles a zillion years later, I miss those tomatoes of my youth… LA has great heirloom tomatoes and friends have grown some pretty tasty ‘regular’ ones… but a delicious, big, bright red, beefy beefsteak just isn’t happening in Southern California (can’t speak for the north). To me, those California impostors are tasteless. So I’m always looking for a new way to serve them when my husband brings them home… I’ve cut them up, salted them and tossed them with a balsamic vinegar dressing… I’ve diced and sautéed them to toss in pasta… and I’ve even roasted them. All delicious dishes, but still not the same as biting into a slightly salted, ripe, New Jersey tomato.
I still haven’t found that elusive tomato here on the left coast, but I recently discovered a really wonderful tomato dish while flipping through the TV channels on route to HGTV and accidentally landing on the Food Network. That itself made my husband laugh. Me watching the Food Network! I love to write about food, but he knows I don’t like to watch people prepare food… but Ina Garten (the Barefoot Contessa) was talking tomatoes. Provencal tomatoes. I stopped. I listened. I copied down the recipe (for my husband, of course).
So, the next time he bought those big, ripe, California tomatoes, he made the dish. Was it as good as my tomato memory? Well, no. But really, not much can compete with a beloved, childhood memory. Have to admit, though, Ina’s tomatoes were definitely tomato-licious.
(Inspired by Julia Child –
Barefoot Contessa Family Style)
6 ripe tomatoes (2-1/2 to 3-inches in diameter)
1-1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs (5 slices, crusts removed)
¼ cup minced scallions, white and green parts (2 scallions)
¼ cup minced fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 teaspoons minced garlic (2 cloves)
½ teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup grated Gruyere cheese
Good olive oil
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
Cut the cores from the tomatoes, removing as little as possible. Cut them in half crosswise and, w/ your fingers, remove the seeds and juice. Place the tomato halves in a baking dish
In a bowl, combine the bread crumbs, scallions, basil, parsley, garlic, thyme, and 1 teaspoon salt. Sprinkle the tomato halves generously w/ salt and pepper. With you hands, fill the cavities and cover the tops of the tomatoes w/ the bread crumb mixture. Bake the tomatoes for 15 minutes or until they’re tender. Sprinkle w/ the cheese, drizzle w/ olive oil, and bake for 30 seconds more.
Serve hot or at room temperature.