~ Tomatoes au Gratin: Scalloped Tomato Casserole ~
On Thursday we harvested Summer's last gasp... our final basket of tomatoes from Joe's garden. These are the big round, eating kind, not the small, elongated Roma or plum tomatoes (which have all been dutifully processed into sauce). Because tomatoes are my all-time favorite Summer thing to eat, I'm determined to make use of each and every one of these beauties before bidding a sad and hearfelt farewell!
On Friday I posted my recipe for ~ Baked Tomato, Jasmine Rice & Panko Casserole ~, which can be found in Categories 4, 14 or 20. This yummy casserole made short work of 8 of the biggest beefsteak-type tomatoes in the basket. Today I'm going to use up a bunch of the medium-sized ones!
What makes this dish "au gratin"?
A bit about gratins: The French word "gratin" is derived from the English word "grate" and means to scratch or scrape. Back in the 16th century, it referred to the crusty part of any cooked food that stuck to the side of a pot or pan and had to be scraped ("gratte") loose so as not to waste it. The term "gratin" refers to both the food being prepared as well as the dish in which it is being cooked. Gratins can be baked in large or individual quantities, but in either case, they require a wide, shallow dish. The food being cooked is usually cooked slowly in a liquid (such as milk, cream, wine, or stock), which results in the top developing a crisp, golden brown crust!
The "gratin effect" can also be achieved by sprinkling dried breadcrumbs, cheese, or, a combination of both over the food to produce the signature golden top. When this is done, the dish is referred to as a "gratine" or an "au gratin"!
Who put the word "scallop" in the tomatoes au gratin?
Well, we Americans did, BUT, in the case of the dish I am making today it is a complete misuse of the word. The only reason I used it in the title is because "out there" in cyberspace, everyone seems to be referring to recipes similar to this one as "scalloped". Now here this all you foodies: The French word for layering verly thinly sliced food in a casserole then baking it in a cream or a creamy sauce is "escalope", which is where we got the American verb "scallop". It's applicable in cases like potatoes au gratin, or, scalloped potatoes, but certainly not in this recipe, because: the tomatoes are not thinly sliced, nor, are they cooked in any liquid over any length of time!
Tomatoes au Gratin: Scalloped Tomato Casserole:
3 cups fresh bread cubes, 1/2"-3/4" diced, cut from a firm-textured loaf of French bread that has had all crust removed from it (Note: I used 1/2 of the 1-pound loaf pictured above.)
8 tablespoons salted butter (1 stick)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
For the tomatoes and au gratin casserole:
2 1/2 pounds tomatoes, cored and cut into 3/4" chunks
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 cup chiffonade of fresh basil, lightly packed
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzing over finished portions (optional)
no-stick cooking spray, for preparing au gratin dish
~ Step 1. In a 12" nonstick skillet, melt the butter over low heat. Stir in the garlic powder and white pepper. Note: I prefer the taste of croutons made using butter over those made with EVOO, but feel free to make make that substitution. Also, I like my croutons seasoned and I find that garlic powder and white pepper gives them a great flavor boost. By all means, season them with any kind of pepper you want!
~ Step 2. Add all of the bread cubes to the pan. Increase heat to medium-high. Using a large nonstick spoon or spatula, gently stir and toss the bread cubes constantly, until golden brown, about 5-6 minutes. Remove from heat and allow croutons to cool slightly in the pan, about 10-15 minutes, to allow carryover heat to continue to crisp them. While croutons are cooling and crisping:
~ Step 4. Add the brown sugar, sea salt and black pepper. Using a large spoon or rubber spatula, gently toss to combine.
~ Step 5. Return the skillet of cooled croutons to stovetop over medium-high heat. Add the tomatoes, along with any and all juices in the bowl.
~ Step 9. Transfer mixture to a shallow 1 1/2-quart (6 cup) au gratin or casserole dish that has been sprayed with no-stick spray. Distribute the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano evenly over all. Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, 35-40 minutes, or until bubbling around sides and lightly browned on top.
Allow to cool until it sets up a bit, about 20-30 minutes prior to serving. After that, what you serve it with is up to you. If you want to keep it vegetarian, it goes without saying you can serve it alongside a nice piece of fish or a even some tofu. For me, scooping some atop a good steak is a party in my carnivorous mouth:
Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 12" nonstick skillet; large nonstick spoon or spatula; paring knife; 1 1/2-quart au gratin or casserole dish
This recipe demonstrates the true meaning of the the word(s) "au gratin" and "scalloped": very thinly sliced potates in a cream sauce with a golden brown cheese topping!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)