You say tomato, I say perfection. I have always loved tomatoes, in almost all of their incarnations. But when they are in season and perfectly ripe, I say, why reinvent the wheel? Slice them up with some salt and pepper, or just eat them like an apple! However, with friend’s plants, my mother’s plants and even my own, this season has proven to be The Summer of the Tomato, so I have been tinkering…
Recently, a friend with an over-abundance of beauties shared a mass of his harvest with me. This gave me pause. I mean, how many salads and tomato sandwiches can I eat? The answer is 2947985687465, but how uninspired would that be?
I first wanted to prepare a chilled tomato soup with a fresh crab garnish (inspired by Palate). Then I set my sights on an heirloom tomato salad with opal basil and torn croutons (inspired by Suzanne Goin). A tomato tart? Tomato aspic (No. Everyone thinks that's gross, except me)? Tomato sauce?? I settled on Baked Tomatoes with Goat Cheese, Fresh Herbs and Hazelnut Breadcrumbs; a version of a recipe I found in Bon Appetit (August, 2009), with a few of my own modifications. This was pretty tasty and quite beautiful, but I must stick to my guns as far as the importance of tomato purity. With the one, lonely tomato left behind from this dish, I tossed it with a bit of salt, pepper, oil and basil. I can’t think of anything that would have enhanced that tomato more.
2 cups coarse fresh bread crumbs (from country bread, preferably whole-wheat)
4 to 6 large heirloom tomatoes (about 3 pounds total)
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh lemon thyme or regular thyme, divided
1 tablespoon fresh oregano
2 tablespoons of fresh basil/opal basil, mixed, divided
3-4 tablespoons chevre
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted , any loose skins rubbed off, cooled, and coarsely chopped
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter a 2-quart shallow ceramic or glass baking dish.
Spread bread crumbs in a 4-sided sheet pan and toast in oven until dried and pale golden, about 15 minutes. Cool crumbs. Increase oven temperature to 450°F.
Thickly slice tomatoes and arrange, overlapping, in baking dish. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon thyme, oregano, and 1 tablespoon of the basils. Sprinkle chevre throughout. Melt butter in a large heavy skillet over medium heat, then cook nuts and crumbs, stirring frequently, until golden, 4 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon evenly over tomatoes.
Bake until tomatoes are bubbling and crumbs are browned, 15 to 25 minutes. Cool to warm or room temperature and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 tablespoon thyme and the remainder of the basils.
Cooks' note: Bread crumbs and nuts can be toasted (but not cooked in butter) 1 day ahead and kept together in an airtight container at room temperature.