Every now and then I find a recipe that I would do very bad things for. Recipes that could make me give up government secrets, slap my mama, or tell my boyfriend I was going to nap with him and then wait until he fell asleep so I could eat it all by myself. Which is what I did yesterday. Oh, you’re passing judgment? Perhaps you didn’t see the first picture. Here:
Let me back up a little bit. The other day, Preston was invited to a potluck dinner that I, unfortunately, could not attend. I do, however, love cooking for anyone and everyone so I decided to cook a new recipe using the tomatoes Preston’s sweet, punk-ass little brother had given us a few days prior. (Did I use the potluck cookbook I bought last week? No. I used the internet. I don’t know why I keep buying cookbooks.)
As I was dicing the tomatoes and mincing the garlic and tearing up the French bread, I suddenly realized, without even putting a bite of this dish into my mouth yet (or, hell, cooking it), that it would be one of my favorite recipes ever. Basil, olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, bread, cheese. What else is there in life? I had a similar epiphany when the dish was in the oven and I was cleaning up. I licked the wooden spoon I had stirred everything with before putting it in the sink and had one of those shut-my-eyes-and-say-“mmmm” moments you see on commercials. I immediately emailed the recipe to my friend Brianna along with a short note that basically said “it’s still in the oven but I can tell this is a recipe you’re going to love.”
I cooked it, I ate a serving, and I sent it away with Preston. When he returned with an almost-empty casserole dish, I was simultaneously pleased and disappointed. The next few days I pined for it, obsessed over it, thought of ways to cook it with other vegetables. And I didn’t stop until I put the ingredients on my shopping list for my visit to the farmer’s market on Saturday.
I must admit, I made the poor-girl version of this dish. Instead of using quality parmesan, I used half a cup of the pre-grated stuff from the green cylinder and half a cup of mozzarella. I made up for it with the most delicious homegrown tomatoes, juicy cherry tomatoes, and fresh basil, all stolen from the Stolte garden. But even if you only have access to grocery store roma tomatoes and dried basil, go buy them and make this dish. It’s perfect for summer evenings, eating outside and watching the sun set… or curled up on your couch watching Grey’s Anatomy. But it’s also likely that you don’t even make it to that point. You’re probably going to take it out of the oven and dig right in and burn your mouth. But that’s okay. Your tastebuds will still thank you.
Scalloped Tomatoes with Croutons, from Smitten Kitchen. Serves 6. My (slight) modifications are italicized.
3 tablespoons olive oil (reduced from original)
2 cups bread from a French boule, in a 1/2-inch dice, crusts removed (I used 3 cups of Italian bread, torn into 1/2- to 1-inch pieces)
2 1/2 pounds plum whatever good tomatoes you’ve got, cut into 1/2-inch dice (again, I used a mix of tomatoes and cherry tomatoes)
3 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon) (I used more…)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup thinly slivered basil leaves, lightly packed
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (I used 1/2 c. Parmesan and 1/2 c. mozzarella and really liked the melty-salty combination)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high. Add the bread cubes and stir so that they are evenly coated with oil. Cook cubes, tossing frequently, until toasty on all sides, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine tomatoes, garlic, sugar, salt and pepper in a large bowl. When the bread cubes are toasted, add the tomato mixture and cook them together, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in the basil. Pour into a shallow (6 to 8 cup) baking dish and top with Parmesan cheese. Bake 35 to 40 minutes until the top is browned and the tomatoes are bubbly. Serve hot or warm with a big green salad, a bean salad and/or a poached egg.
Oh, and I promised I’d show you a picture of my oven. It’s in its early hundreds, the heat fluctuates, and there is ONE large burner and THREE small burners (why? Just to irritate me). But alas, it is my first kitchen, after all, and I don’t expect my landlady to spoil me with functioning appliances and functioning AC. Here’s The First Oven: