Two nights ago I had an unfortunate tomato incident. Seduced by all the gorgeous heirloom varieties popping up at roadside farmstands, Dave took the plunge and bought a dazzling variety: green zebras, brandywines, purple cherokees, some yellow babies too. With the early corn tiny, sweet and tender, we had our hearts set on whipping up our debut Corn and Tomato Salad of the season.
If Chocolate Chunk is my signature cookie, Corn and Tomato is my signature salad. The recipe is from “Cucina Simpatica,” the cookbook by Johanne Killeen and George Germon of AlForno in my old hometown, Providence, and we eagerly await the dog days of August when the corn is plentiful and the local tomatoes divine. It’s a simple salad with, of course, the freshest corn and tomatoes, grilled bread rubbed with garlic, some sweet, thin-sliced red onions, chiffonade of basil and a straightforward balsamic vinaigrette. We eat it as often as we can during the small window when the gettin’s good for tomatoes, and I’m on to the fact that my very clever brother-in-law always plans summer visits as late into August as he can to ensure the tomatoes are indeed in season for his favorite salad.
So with the corn blanched, shocked and stripped and everyone hovering breathlessly as I picked up my paring knife on Monday evening, I plunged the sharp tip into the fleshy red fruit and—cue climactic horror movie music—it was like leaning in to kiss George Clooney and having him take off his mask at the last second to reveal Al Molinaro. I instantly knew: these tomatoes, beauties that they were, were a bust. Every single one of them. They varied between hard/unripe and mealy. Of course I had read that it’s a tough year for tomatoes, what with the widespread blight ruining crops, but I delusionally had had high hopes. I salvaged what little I could from each tomato, and sent David up to Eli’s to fetch some non-heirloom, locally-grown tomatoes. Of which I proceeded to toss four of the five pounds directly into the garbage disposal. Can you say buzzkill? We ate a bit of it ““ begrudgingly ““ and vowed to try again late next week.
But take the same tomatoes, stuff ’em and toss ’em in the oven? Brilliant! Sweet! Juicy! The tomato’s answer to an apple crisp!
Low effort/high reward to whirr up some fresh bread crumbs, mix in garlic and herbs, fill up the scooped out tomatoes and stick ’em in the oven. “How easy is that?” as Ina says. Sprinkle a little grated Gruyere and olive oil for the last minute of baking, and voilÃ! You’ve got heaven on a plate. Ben said it was one of the best dishes he’s ever eaten. That’s a pretty ringing endorsement.
And thankfully, it renewed my faith in tomatoes.
Barefoot Contessa Family Style ©2002
- 6 ripe tomatoes (2 1/2 to 3-inches in diameter)
- 1 1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs (5 slices, crusts removed)
- 1/4 cup minced scallions, white and green parts (2 scallions)
- 1/4 cup minced fresh basil leaves
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic (2 cloves)
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese
- Good olive oil
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Cut the cores from the tomatoes, removing as little as possible. Cut them in half crosswise and, with 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 with salt and pepper. With your hands, fill the cavities and cover the tops of the tomatoes with the bread crumb mixture. Bake the tomatoes for 15 minutes, or until they’re tender. Sprinkle with the cheese, drizzle with olive oil, and bake for 30 seconds more. Serve hot or at room temperature.