The Best “Baked Heirloom Tomatoes” Of My Life!
This is a great recipe for using up an abundance of tomatoes, and it also freezes very well for later after the tomato season is over.
There are just some vegetable dishes that need to be served in an individual bowl, and this is one of them! Baked beans (actually any kind of bean), collards, real summer creamed corn (not the canned kind), and this fresh heirloom tomato casserole are all in that category for me.
I believe that it has to do with not wasting one drop of liquid and matching up that last bit left in the bowl with that last bit of buttered bread! Some would say this is a Southern style dish. All I know is my mother gave it to me.
Begin by preparing 4 cups of heirloom tomatoes, cut into teaspoon-sized pieces or smaller.
If these are smaller salad tomatoes, they may be halved or quartered, whatever works best. Larger tomatoes can be thickly sliced and then cut into chunks. Be sure to include the seeds and gel, as this is where a great deal of flavor is found.
It is not necessary to peel the tomatoes. I think the dish works best when each piece of tomato has a bit of the peel on it since it makes for a more colorful dish. I like to use as many different colors of tomatoes as I can, including striped tomatoes.
I also think that the greater the variety of tomato colors and flavors, the better the dish will be. It’s very interesting to see how different tomato flavors can blend together into the juicy part but still remain strongly unique in the chunky tomato part.
My mother’s recipe says that a 32 ounce can of drained tomatoes can be used, but I’ve never tried this. Each time I make this, the taste is slightly different depending on the varieties of tomatoes that I have in my garden and which is the greatest producer at the time.
In a pot on medium heat, melt
2 tablespoons butter
Add to this
2 large sweet onions, such as Vidalia onions, thinly sliced
Sauté the onions until limp, but do not brown them.
4 cups of heirloom tomatoes, previously prepared
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Cook about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. You don’t want a lot of boiling action or a lot of stirring. Those can cause the tomato chunks to lose their quality.
While the tomatoes and onions are cooking, preheat oven to 300 degrees. Butter your baking dish of choice.
I usually use two smaller casserole dishes so that I have one to eat now and one to freeze for fall and winter eating. You don’t necessarily want a deep casserole dish since the greater the surface area, the greater the evaporation in the oven and the more intense the tomato flavor! A pie plate also works well for this.
In the bottom of your baking dish(es), make a layer of
3 slices of toasted bread, cubed
I have tried this recipe with other types of bread, including herbed stuffing cubes, however I think that it works best with just plain white bread, toasted with the edges cut off and then cubed. It is sort of like the way that a tomato sandwich just seems to taste best with just plain white bread.
Be sure to taste the liquid at the end of the 10 minute cooking period. At this time you may want to add
1 to 2 tablespoons white sugar
This amount will depend on your taste test. Remember that the flavor will intensify after baking, so watch out for sweetness. If you feel like it could use just a little more sugar, hold back because baking will intensify the tomato flavor and the sweetness.
Pour cooked tomato and onion mixture into baking dish(es). Depending what you are using, about half full or slightly more to prevent boil-overs that can make a mess of your oven.
Bake for 40 minutes.
Serve in individual bowls. Garnish with fresh basil, if desired.