Hello, tomatoes

Leaving Berlin wasn't easy. There were many goodbyes. Goodbye, Sonnenblumenkernbrot! Goodbye, Schoko-Reiswaffel! Goodbye, disembodied fake leg! But coming home to Boston in late August means coming home to tomatoes, the good ones, and plenty of them.

Hello, tomatoes.

They met me at the market just a few hours after our plane landed. I was pale and puffy-eyed, they were scarred and seamy. It was an unglamorous reunion, but I didn’t mind. I bought more than I had intended, and tottered home.

Through my ripening fatigue, I remembered that there was a recipe, one that had languished on deck in my kitchen last summer until the season had passed. A tomato crumble, or something like that. My sleepy tongue could hardly be bothered to spit out words in their proper order, but I did know just where to find the recipe, in last year’s August Gourmet. My brain has its priorities.

It is indeed a dish in the crumble family, the sweet crumble’s savory cousin, perhaps. First, you butter a baking dish, and line it with thick rounds of tomato. You sprinkle the tomatoes with thyme and lemon zest, and then bury them under a blanket of toasted hazelnuts and pebbly breadcrumbs. The tomatoes melt and shrivel, slump and bubble up through the crisp crust, and when, forty minutes later, you open the oven door, it's hello, tomatoes all over again.

We did the dishes to force ourselves awake for an extra twenty minutes. I didn’t dream of tomatoes, but I did have one for breakfast the next day.

Baked Tomatoes with Hazelnut Bread Crumbs
Adapted from Gourmet, August 2009

A few quick notes about my adaptations: The original recipe calls for lemon thyme. I didn’t have any, so I used your standard thyme and added some lemon zest. I tried a mix of heirloom tomatoes the first time that I made this dish, since that's what we had on hand, and beefsteak tomatoes the second time, as the recipe suggests. I loved both versions equally, but Eli preferred the beefsteaks. He thought there was something lost in the particular heirlooms that we used – mostly pineapple and Aussie tomatoes – when they were baked for so long. If there are any tomato experts out there, and you’d like to suggest an ideal tomato for this dish, I’m all ears.

About the breadcrumbs: Instead of making my breadcrumbs first and then toasting them, I toast several slices of bread, cut off the crusts, and then pulse the already toasted bread in a food processor. The breadcrumbs are perhaps a little chewier than they would be if you pulsed first, and then toasted, but they crisp up the rest of the way in the oven later on.

Finally, the oven temperature. The original recipe suggests baking the tomatoes at 450 degrees for 15-20 minutes, but I wanted my tomatoes to melt a little more. The problem is that at 450, the topping will burn if you leave it in the oven for much longer. The second time around, I baked the dish at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, and then I turned up the heat to 450 for another 10. Perfection.

2 cups toasted whole-wheat bread crumbs (see my toasting method in the notes, above)
4-6 large, ripe beefsteak tomatoes (Or use what you’ve got. It’s all good.)
1 ½ Tbsp thyme, divided
½ tsp lemon zest
½ stick unsalted butter
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped. (Rub off any loose skins with a dish towel before chopping.)
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Butter a 2-quart shallow baking dish. Thickly slice the tomatoes and arrange them, overlapping, in the dish. Season the tomatoes with a few grinds of salt and pepper, and sprinkle the lemon zest and one tablespoon of the thyme over top. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Cook the nuts and the crumbs, stirring frequently, until golden, 4 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, and spoon the topping over the tomatoes.

Bake for 30 minutes at 400 degrees, until the tomatoes are bubbling and melting into each other, and the crumbs have browned a shade darker. Turn up the heat to 450 degrees and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Cool the dish for a few minutes, and just before serving, sprinkle it with the remaining half a teaspoon of thyme.

Serves 4-6 people as a main dish, and 8 as a side.


Alisa said...

Excellent photos! I love this recipe! I should make this soon :)

Adrienne said...

I'm so glad tomatoes were there to welcome you home! And I am impressed with your recipe location recall after such a flight. I've been toying with the idea of baked tomatoes lately, thanks for another option in that arena :)

olga said...

I've had this bookmarked for over a year now. Looks lovely and welcome back to Boston.

darbyoshea said...

This sounds divine. I'll be trying it very soon, but knowing me I'll have to throw in come cheese or some cream or something. You know.

jacqui | happyjackeats said...

as much as i love your travel posts, i have to say, i missed that tabletop. :)

buttersweetmelody said...

What an amazing idea! I have never thought of a savory crumble! I agree with darbyoshea in the above comment! Some cheese would send this over the top for me! Thanks sooo much for the inspiration! Love your blog!

Paulina said...

welcome back! and yes! tomatoes! I think I had tomatoes with or in every meal for the last couple of weeks...and I am determined to keep going until they are pushed out by butternut squashes. so many tomatoes to eat and recipes to try and so very little time!

Megan Carroll said...

I think I would eat that all the time if I could.

molly said...

I can't imagine a better homecoming. And yes, I'd have to side with Eli. Heirlooms are stunning raw, in all manner of salads, but all their juicy luster is sort of lost in the oven. But a good beefsteak cooks up into a thing of glory. Welcome back!

Jess said...

Thanks, Alisa! I hope you'll enjoy it.

Adrienne - The baked tomato is a beautiful thing. If you have another stellar baked tomtao recipe up your sleeve, I'd love to hear.

Well, hop to it, Olga! I think you'll really like this one.

Darbyoshea - Yes, I know. And guess what? I had a dinner guest a couple of nights ago who's allergic to nuts, and so I left the hazelnuts out and added a layer of ricotta between the tomatoes and the crumb topping. (I was totally channeling you.) It was wonderful, and I bet it would have been even better with your homemade ricotta.

Hi, Jacqui! I missed it too.

Thank you for your kind words, buttersweetmelody!

Paulina - Yes, I feel the same way. It's a race against the clock. Sometimes at the market, I can practically hear those tomatoes saying, "You'll miss us when we're gone!"

Megan, I know. It's that kind of dish, isn't it?

Molly - Yes, I also prefer my heirlooms raw. (We just happened to have quite a haul of them when I first made this recipe.)In addition to the beefsteaks, I'm thinking that roma tomatoes would do very nicely in this recipe. What do you think?

El said...

Welcome home. What a wonderful way to enjoy tomatoes!

Jess said...

Thanks, El. I'm hoping that I can squeeze in at least one more of these crumbles before the season ends. If there's time between all of the tomato sandwiches, tomato salads, and roasted tomatoes I still have on my list.

Stephanie said...

This is what you left for me in the fridge, isn't it? This is what I did not eat?

I am not very smart.

Jess said...

Yep, you guessed it. Next time. xo.