The Food Network had the audacity (I am joking, a little) to air an episode of Barefoot Contessa in which she makes a “scalloped” dish with bread cubes, garlic, basil, Parmesan and the brightest most summer-bursting-forth, musta-tasted-like-the-heavens-above, thanks-for-rubbing-it-in-guys tomatoes over the winter, when there was absolutely nothing I could do to bring this dish into my kitchen. It wasn’t fair. It felt outright mean. For people as berserk about summer tomatoes as I am — people who avoid them in the off seasons, when they’re tomatoes in name only — being reminded of that which is as impossibly far off as the notion that there are days in the summer that are so hot, we actually long for the kind of weather that requires Gore-Tex and hot cocoa. It’s basically crazy talk.
Well, that day is today. Seriously, every time I arrive at the market during this wretched July, I am so hot, I’m almost dizzy (Do I remember my water bottle? Of course not. Do I feel like a tool for whimpering over the heat while carousing with people who work in fields all day? Um, yup.) and I cannot remember a single thing I had meant to buy because the sun, it’s like blistering my brain and ooh look! Tomatoes! Ah, summer, that’s why I keep you around.
I remembered this though: buy tomatoes, lots of them. Buy basil, a little of it. Buy a loaf of bread. Go home. Make it happen. I didn’t forget you, Ina, and your charming
barn kitchen witty friends scalloped tomatoes. I sliced and diced and sautéed and minced and even turned the oven on and proceeded to have the best lunch I’ve eaten all summer. I’m literally about to walk back into the kitchen a get some more. Yes, I know it is 4 p.m. and I might ruin my dinner but I don’t care. If it had even a whiff of tomato, it was ruined anyway; it would never compare. Fellow (and future) tomato junkies, come and get your fix below.
P.S. Weekend morning leftovers? Try it with a poached egg on top.
Scalloped Tomatoes with Croutons
Adapted, only slightly, from Sarah Chase, who inspired this version from Ina Garten
Although it will feel blasphemous to add heat to that which is perfect just as it arrived, summer tomatoes, this doesn’t cook them to death, more like wilts them slightly. They’re still juicy (juicier, actually because the heat released all of their awesomeness) and rather than losing that sweet puddle, the bread cubes sop it up and you don’t miss a thing. The sugar seems odd, I know, but I trust The Ina, I trusted that she’s never led me astray and sure enough, it works in here. It just rounds out the whole dish. It just… I’m sorry, I can’t talk. I have to go get thirds.
3 tablespoons olive oil (reduced from original)
2 cups bread from a French boule, in a 1/2-inch dice, crusts removed (I went closer to 3 cups, after buying a loaf of very puffy Italian bread by accident)
2 1/2 pounds
plum whatever good tomatoes you’ve got, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons Kosher salt (read this)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup thinly slivered basil leaves, lightly packed
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
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.