Tomatoes are “fruit” of the vine, native to South America. Explorers are given credit for introducing them to Europeans but like various members of the nightshade family, they were first presumed poisonous so not readily accepted. Some tomato advocates, however, claimed they had aphrodisiac powers thus the French name, pommes d’amour or “love apples.” Today this is one of America’s favorite “vegetables,” a classification the government gave the tomato for trade purposes in 1893. It wasn’t until the 1900’s that they gained popularity in the United States but one would never know given the dozens of tomato varieties available today. At yesterday’s farmers market, they stole the show–ranging widely in size, shape and color– one could not resist taking a few of these beauties home.
Now that we have this gorgeous produce in our kitchen what’s next? Ripe tomatoes should be stored at room temperature and used within a few days. They should never be refrigerated as cold temperatures make the flesh pulpy and kill the flavor. After all, it is the amazing flavor that is the hallmark of this gift of the season so we must do all we can to preserve it.
The versatility of the tomato adds greatly to its current-day popularity. Whether you slice, dice, chop or puree, they add brightness and flavor to many preparations. It is clearly the season for garden abundance as everywhere you go it seems home gardeners are trying to unload their surplus. Recently I was given some of the heirloom and paste varieties and the wheels were turning on how best to use them. I decided to make one of my favorite summer recipes, Roasted Tomato Soup. I cannot adequately express how much flavor is packed into a bowl of this spectacular soup. Truly delicious! That took care of the paste but what about those heirlooms. I remembered my grandmother used to cut them in half, top them with breadcrumbs and cheese and bake them. I liked the idea but was looking for a heartier dish that would serve as a one pot meal. This is what led me to that jar of French green lentils in the pantry.
Here is how it went down.
TOMATOES GRATIN with FRENCH GREEN LENTILS Serves 4
Recipe by Jeanne Raffetto Tentis
1c French green lentils
1 small onion, peeled
3 cloves garlic, smashed
2 bay leaves
- Rinse lentils. In a medium pot add the lentils, water and remaining ingredients.
- Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered for 20 minutes or until soft but still firm. Drain any excess liquid.
- Remove and discard onion, garlic and bay leaves. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
3-4 firm ripe heirloom tomatoes
4T Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
2T Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
2 sprigs of fresh basil (I used green and purple)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
- Prepare a medium gratin dish by drizzling it with enough olive oil to liberally coat the bottom. Season it with salt and pepper. Spread the lentils on the bottom of the dish.
- Slice tomatoes, about ½-inch thick and place them on the bed of lentils, covering it entirely. Season with more salt and pepper and an additional drizzle of olive oil.
- Mix together the cheese and breadcrumbs. Distribute evenly over the tomatoes.
- Tear the basil into small pieces and sprinkle ¾ of it over the cheese mixture. Drizzle again with olive oil.
- Bake uncovered for 15-20 minutes or until it is hot and bubbly.
- Freshen it with an additional olive oil drizzle and the remaining fresh basil.
Do not let the simplicity of this dish fool you. The saltiness of the cheese paired with the sweetness and acidity of the tomatoes and finished with that pop from the basil came together with the lentils to make a seasonal dish that is bright and hearty. I cannot wait to make it again.
I do hope you are enjoying the tastes of summer. I can hardly contain myself when I view all the produce and the awe-inspiring colors that were born from the dirt and produced as a labor of love. My thanks to all of the farmers and home gardeners that make this possible. Whatever inspires you this season I hope you will continue to spread the love, one dish at a time. I am sending summer love from my kitchen to yours. Jeanne