My grandmother sourced over half of every meal from a can. Sometimes around the Thanksgiving table, while eating my mother’s haricots verts with spiced nuts, my dad and his siblings would reminisce about my grandmother’s vegetables, which emerged from the can, cooked, only to be boiled to the point of disintegration.
My aunts and uncles found creative ways of joining the clean plate club without bringing vegetables to their lips. Most involved hiding the unwanted food in their underpants, then immediately discarding it in a garbage can or toilet far away from the kitchen. My grandmother must have wondered why the interior of my aunt’s bras and my uncle’s button-downs were often stained canned-bean green.
When Father’s Day approached this year, my mom and I were at a loss. Nothing was getting us excited. Then it came to her. "How about some retro favorites -- tuna casserole and baked tomatoes?" my mom suggested.
I usually don't bake tomatoes in the summer because a) the oven makes my apartment unbearably hot and b) the tomatoes are usually so red and juicy that I want to pick one right up and bite into it like an apple. In the winter, a trip to the oven is an excellent way to amplify a tomato's flavor when it is pale in complexion and lacking in taste. But in the summer, it can feel downright foolish.
But for Dad, I did it anyway.
These baked tomatoes may be a little a-la-Ohio retro, but they certainly don't borrow anything from the supermarket can tradition. The fresh bread crumbs are laced with garlic and herbs, and after the baking process, when you bite into one, its texture is like that of a fresh red sauce. They taste great at room temperature as an elegant appetizer, or if you're in need of more green vegetables, like my dad, as a topping for a mixed green salad.
Baked tomatoes with whole wheat bread crumbs and thyme
Makes 2-4 servings
- ¾ pound (about 3) beefsteak or other large firm tomato, cut into ½-inch slices
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 cup fresh whole wheat bread crumbs
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, plus more stalks for garnish
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley (optional)
- Remove crusts from 3 slices of preferably stale sandwich bread and pulse in the food processor.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Brush a cast iron skillet or casserole dish with olive oil. Arrange the tomatoes in one layer. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar, and season with salt and pepper.
- In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, garlic and herbs. Add a pinch of salt, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Toss to combine with a fork.
- Spoon the crumb mixture over each tomato. Drizzle some additional olive oil over the top. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, until the tomatoes are bubbling, then turn the heat up to broil, and bake for 3-5 more minutes, until the crumbs are nicely browned. Remove from the oven, and garnish with the additional thyme stalks. Serve immediately, or at room temperature.