We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Gratin of Creamed and Roasted Tomatoes

by Michelle

   Signs of spring are finally identifiable here in the Sonoran desert. The Tombstone rose next door, with its waterfall of arching branches, is now looking lively with clusters of yellow blooms jumping in the breeze. A favorite, ever-expanding clump of iris, visible from my breakfast nook, is sending up shoots with little hints of purple in the tight pods, the petals yet to be unfurled. As I wash dishes, the twitterpated doves on the concrete wall keep me entertained with their preening and kissing.
   I'm craving asparagus, artichokes, sweet peas and fava beans. I'm longing for cherries and vine ripened tomatoes. Decent plum tomatoes are available this time of year from a hot-house grower in Wilcox, Arizona. To intesify their flavor, I like to oven-dry the tomato halves for a few hours.
   I find so many uses for the tomatoes and you will too. Toss them in a salad, or spoon on top grilled bread, rubbed with garlic, for a quick bruschetta. Add the little guys to an antipasti tray and pair with a room temperature chèvre and my light pesto. For a stellar side dish, whip up this gratin to serve alongside just about anything: eggs, beef, lamb, chicken or halibut. The gratin is also wonderful served with chimichurri.

Gratin of Roasted and Creamed Tomatoes

   Leftover gratin can be gently reheated the next day and served alongside scrambled eggs and chimichurri. Sounds strange, I know, but it is very good.
   This recipe is adapted from Kinkead's Seafood Restaurant cookbook. The restaurant is located in Washington DC. I recall that on a rainy night, as our party dashed towards the front door for a waiting taxi, I caught sight of the cookbook with a fork wielding, conch-shell blowing Triton on the cover. After a lovely night eating incredible food, I knew instantly that I had to have the book for my collection. I skidded to a stop, Wile E. Coyote style, quickly made the purchase, tucked my new acquisition under my coat and made haste to my waiting friends. Preparing this recipe always brings me back to that special night.

30 oven-dried tomato halves
about 1/4 of loaf of bread: French, Peasant, focaccia, rosemary, etc.
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
1-2 tsps minced thyme leaves, preferrably fresh
3 Tbsps butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1-2 tsps chopped chives or chervil
1/3 cup shredded Gruyère cheese or Parmesan

1. Prepare the oven-dried tomatoes. The dried tomatoes can be made a day or two in advance and stored in the refrigerator until you are ready to proceed with the recipe.
2. Prepare croutons: Preheat oven to 300ºF. Remove crusts from bread. Cut into 1/3-inch slices, and then cut into 1/3-inch cubes. Spread cubes in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake until cubes are dry and crisp, about 40 minutes. Toss the croutons with a spatula about every 15 minutes for even cooking. Cool completely and store for about a week at room temperature. As an alternative, you can also use homemade croutons for salads.
3. Prepare gratin: Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter a 9x12-inch oven-proof dish with at least 1-inch sides that is large enough to hold all the tomatoes in a single layer.
4. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil, and add the garlic and time, and cook for a couple of minutes until the garlic is softeneed, but not brown. Add the dried tomato halves and 1 tablespoon of butter. Cook gently for a couple more minutes.
5. Add the cream and bring to a boil. Add the croutons and salt and pepper to taste. Transfer the mixture to the prepared gratin dish. Dot with the the remaining butter and bake for about 40 minutes until bubbly and nicely browned. Sprinkle with chives and serve. Serves 6 to 8.

Note: The unbaked gratin may sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before popping in the oven to bake, giving you some timing flexibility with final meal preparations.

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