Just how good can tomatoes be? I am stunned by how amazing the heirloom tomatoes are this year. They’re sweet, tangy, salty, and whizbanging tomato-y all at the same time. My kids are eating them like peaches, tomato juice running down their forearms, and I am feeling like a kid because they fill me with such delight. All this from a tomato, seriously. Maybe I am just discovering my love for them. Maybe as I am eating more locally I am noticing them more since I am eating them less, or maybe the trend toward heirloom varieties is introducing me to tomatoes I have never known before. Whatever it is, I am clearly celebrating tomatoes.
The go-to tomato meal has been a simple tomato and bread salad: Chopped tomatoes, toasted chunks of peasant bread, garlic, basil, olive oil, salt and pepper all tossed together. Heaven. And I have been eating that a lot.
But this morning there was a little whisper of crisp in the air. It was the first end-of-August day when one says, “Aha, there it is, fall…”
And so I kind of decided to bake the tomato and bread salad. Which isn’t that weird, I promise; it’s actually a riff on a savory tomato bread pudding that has long been a southern tradition. What I like about this version is that it skips the butter, cream and eggs of a traditional savory bread pudding–instead relying on the juiciness of the tomatoes. Moist inside, but the top gets crunchy and finishing it with a scatter of cheese imparts a nice richness to round it all out.
If you are unable to get heirloom tomatoes, shoot for deep, red locally grown ones over the pink supermarket globes grown for transport. In a pinch, you can even use canned whole tomatoes. Which gives me an idea: I think I’m going to get busy freezing some of these heirloom beauties so that I can revel in my tomato bliss all year.
Savory Tomato Bread Pudding
2 pounds heirloom tomatoes, halved and seeded
1 handful of fresh herbs (basil and cilantro are nice)
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
Fresh ground black pepper
4 cups sourdough or whole grain bread, torn into rough cubes
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 ounces grated cheese (Parmesan and Gruyere are nice)
1. Preheat oven to 400.
2. In a food processor, add tomatoes, herbs, salt, and black pepper. Pulse just until coarsely chopped.
3. Add the bread to a 1 1/2 quart baking dish and toss with olive oil. Gently toss in tomatoes.
4. Bake for about 30 minutes or until until the top is crusty and golden brown. Sprinkle cheese on top and return for another 10 minutes.
5. Remove from oven and allow to rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.