Laura B. Weiss
It’s almost tomato season and I’m already planning to make some of my favorite recipes with the luscious summer fruit. Frankly, the one I love best is no recipe at all. Take one just-picked exquisitely ripe tomato from the local farmstand. Bring home. Rinse off. Lean over sink. Chomp into it. Accompany with plenty of napkins. Now you have one of the great eating treats of any season!
But there are times when I want to take the tomato one step further. And now I have the perfect cookbook for those endeavors—Tomatoes (UNC Press 2013) by author and food writer Miriam Rubin. One of the great pleasures of this compact cookbook is that Rubin, who’s from rural Southwestern, PA, is a lively and inventive writer. She starts out by taking you on a journey through the history of tomatoes. It turns out that the fruit hasn’t always been beloved. Though in the Bible tomatoes were dubbed “love apples,” the Greeks labeled them “mala insana,” or unhealthy fruit.
In Tomatoes, there are recipes for every conceivable use for fresh, store-bought and canned tomatoes. There are preparations for Bloody Marys, for a savory tomato pie, and even for a spiced tomato crumb cake. The other night, I prepared Baked-Garlic Cheese Grits with Tomato Crunch Topping and my family swooned. Among the other recipes in Tomatoes that I can’t wait to try are Very Classy Cream of Tomato Soup and Crispy-Crumbed Baked Tomatoes with Pecans and Parmesan (See recipe below).
Because Tomatoes is part of the UNC Press Savor the South® Series—other titles include Biscuits, Peaches and Pecans—Rubin examines tomatoes through the lens of southern culinary traditions.
So what makes a tomato southern?
“A tomato absolutely becomes southern when it’s sliced thick, salted well, given a righteous slathering of Duke’s [mayonnaise], slapped between two slices of floppy white bread, and eaten over the kitchen sink,” she explains in the book’s Introduction. Tomatoes are also southern when they’re stewed, fried or made into a conserve.
Rubin points out that tomatoes aren’t just for summertime. The sorry cardboard supermarket tomato of yore has been replaced by several varieties of tasty tomatoes (some organic) that are now available at local supermarkets year-round. Plus, canned tomatoes work just fine in many recipes, she says.
Crispy-Crumbed Baked Tomatoes with Pecans and Parmesan
From TOMATOES: a Savor the South® cookbook by Miriam Rubin. Copyright © 2013 by Miriam Rubin. Used by permission of the University of North Carolina Press. www.uncpress.unc.edu
These are gorgeous nestled alongside a grilled or baked fish or a juicy steak or as the star of a vegetable plate. Medium- sized round tomatoes or large Romas work best, but cut Romas lengthwise in half instead of crosswise. Good- quality supermarket tomatoes work nicely because baking intensifies their flavor. Don’t be tempted to use store- bought dry bread crumbs here. Making fresh ones is so simple: Tear the bread into rough 2- inch pieces and buzz it in the food processor.
Makes 8 side dish servings
- 8 medium, firm- but- ripe tomatoes, such as Arkansas Traveler or Rutgers, or large Roma tomatoes (about 2 1⁄2 pounds), halved crosswise
- 3⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
- 1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1⁄2 cup chopped scallions
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 1 1⁄2 cups fresh bread crumbs (from about 3 slices crusty country-style bread)
- 1⁄2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1⁄3 cup finely chopped pecans
Preheat the oven to 425°.
Arrange the tomatoes cut- side up in a baking dish just large enough to hold them. Mix 1⁄2 teaspoon of the salt and the pepper in a cup; sprinkle over the tomatoes.
Melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Brush a little butter over the cut side of each tomato, leaving some in the skillet. Bake the tomatoes, uncovered, until they are hot, begin to soften, and look juicy on top, 20–25 minutes.
Meanwhile, add the scallions and garlic to the butter remaining in the skillet. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the scallions are tender, about 2 minutes. Add the bread crumbs and cook, stirring, until lightly golden and crisp, 3–5 minutes.
Scrape into a medium bowl. Mix in the Parmesan, pecans, and remaining 1⁄4 teaspoon salt.
Spoon some of the crumb mixture atop each tomato half. Bake until the crumbs are browned and heated, 10–12 more minutes. Serve hot.