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.
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.