A fresh tomato gratin that showcases the very best of summer tomatoes
Some think it’s sacrilege to cook a perfect summer tomato, but we disagree. Cooking intensifies the tomato’s natural flavor, and it’s an excellent way to use good tomatoes at the time of year when there are plenty of them around.
Tomato gratin (sometimes called scalloped tomatoes) is a great cooked-tomato dish because it combines fresh tomatoes with bread to soak up all the juices released as the tomatoes cook. But if you use the wrong type of bread or treat it incorrectly, you can end up with a mushy mess. And that’s a fate we can’t accept for in-season tomatoes.
Knowing how important the choice of bread was, we tried breadcrumbs, sandwich bread and a supermarket baguette, which all fell short. It was when we tried an artisan-style baguette that things really started to look up. With its resilient open crumb and chewy texture, it could soak up the tomatoes’ juices without falling apart, and its crisp crust offered nice textural contrast.
We took two more steps to prevent the bread from getting too soggy: We cut it into large 3/4-inch chunks, and then we toasted them in a skillet with plenty of olive oil, which had the benefit of giving this otherwise lean dish some richness as well as balancing the tomatoes’ acidity.
We set the bread aside before adding the tomatoes to the pan and cooking them to drive off some of their moisture. We then folded the bread back in just before transferring the skillet to the oven. This lessened the time it sat in the juices, so it wouldn’t turn mushy. And for more crunchy contrast, we toasted another cup of bread, bringing the total to 4 cups, so that I’d have enough to scatter over the surface before sprinkling on the Parmesan.
The results were perfect: The gratin had a soft, tender interior and a nicely crunchy, flavorful topping. For a boost of flavor, we browned some thinly sliced garlic in the skillet before adding the tomatoes. And with a sprinkle of chopped basil over the top of the gratin once it came out of the oven, we had a fresh take on tomato gratin that showcased the very best of summer tomatoes.
Best Summer Tomato Gratin
Serves 6 to 8
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 ounces crusty baguette, cut into 3/4-inch cubes (4 cups)