The tomatoes are here! Spilling over over fences, testing the physics of our twine braces and and slowly bending their cages into submission. The Lemon Drops, the San Marzanos (our imposters, anyway) the Mexico Midgets and Oxheart Oranges… they all mean serious business right now.
A few things in the universe aligned and I ended up with this really great bake I know I’ll make at a time or two before the season is over. Five giant, glowing Oxhearts revealed themselves – they had been secretly ripening while we were doing our best to keep Senior Kitchen Assistant out of the volunteer plants in one of our flower beds.
On the same day, I picked up a ball of fresh mozzarella JUST IN CASE (What? Don’t look at me like that. You don’t need mozzarella in case of emergency, too?…) and then stumbled upon a Smitten Kitchen post from a few years back extolling the virtues of my idol Ina Garten’s scalloped tomatoes. I skimmed the recipe and realized this was exactly the sort of dish that could do these big, beautiful tomatoes the justice they deserve.
Also, let’s be real. These were the tomatoes that almost never were. Mister Husband and I had a test of marriage over fencing in the beds and ever since, I’ve waited. And waited. And hoped I didn’t cause a ruckus that was all for naught. I know this sounds a little dramatic, but after a weird, early monsoon season, the spawn of Godzilla the groundhog, and a bunch of blight… we’re lucky we didn’t have to throw in the towel and pull the plants altogether.
This dish is great for many reasons, besides the obvious and well-deserved homage to sun-ripened tomatoes. Thyme-spiked white beans add a heft that easily makes this easily a main course and including them as part of the bake rather as a side saves a few dishes. The sourdough croutons add an extra tang and structure that other breads might not bring to the party. The garlic and herbs are bright, flexible, and pack a lot of flavor into this humble bake. Although we could make this all year long and be happy, I suspect this same dish made in January will be less impressive. And, cheese. Get yourself some emergency mozzarella, already.
Recipe for: Baked Tomatoes with White Beans + Sourdough + Mozzarella
5 cups sourdough bread, cut into 1 inch cubes, toasted until crispy
3 tablespoons olive oil
Pinch red pepper flakes (optional, but worth adding)
4 cloves garlic, minced
One 15oz can cannellini or northern white beans
2 – 2 ½ lbs ripe tomatoes, any variety, cut into 1 inch chunks, about the same size as your croutons
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, roughly chopped
½ cup fresh basil, torn
½ cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped
1 cup grated parmesan (freshly grated, if possible)
½ lb ball or log fresh mozzarella, sliced ¼ inch thick
salt and pepper
1) Toast the croutons: Heat oven to 350F. Toss sourdough cubes with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and a light sprinkle of salt and pepper. Bake for about 20 minutes or until cubes are almost tragically crispy, tossing about half way through. You’ll be baking these again with the very wet tomato and bean mixture, so go for broke, they’ll need to be extra crispy to hold their shape and texture. Transfer to a large bowl.
2) Prep your baking pan: Leave the oven at on at 350. Spray a baking dish with non-stick spray (or grease with butter if you’re feeling feisty).
3) Beans + Tomatoes become best friends: Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a deep saucepan and add the garlic and pinch of pepper flakes. Cook, stirring constantly, for barely 2 minutes, until garlic is fragrant. Toss the beans and thyme in the garlic oil until well coated. (You could stop here and just eat this, really…) Add the chopped tomatoes and toss together. Cook together for about five minutes, until tomatoes are warmed through.
4) Make a big hot mess: Carefully toss the tomatoes and sourdough croutons with the basil, parsley, parmesan. Add salt and pepper as needed (remember, you’ll have already salted the croutons and the parm adds some kick, so you may not need very much.
5) Bake said hot mess: Transfer hot mess into the prepped baking dish. Top with the mozzarella slices and bake for about 40 minutes, until it’s all bubbling and the cheese is starting to crisp. Let this settle for about 5-10 minutes before serving.