Brunch is so popular in America that it's easy to assume we invented it. But, no. At the turn of the 19th century, a British gentleman coined the term to describe a new fashion among the privileged classes: lingering over a combined breakfast and lunch after their early-morning hunt. What we Americans did was turn brunch into a leisurely weekend tradition to be enjoyed by any and all. Inviting company is all very well, but it's equally nice to relax with family over an appetizing mid-day feast. So, what to eat? One of the best ideas to come along is a savory Tomato Gratin from the kitchen of celebrity chef Sara Moulton. Though the recipe appears in Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals (Broadway Books, 2005), it's an extremely brunchable dish. Vivid color and vibrant flavor are welcome on any brunch buffet, and cheery-red, tangy-sweet tomatoes deliver on both counts.
One of Moulton's "secrets" is pre-salting the tomatoes to release excess liquid and concentrate the flavor. Though red pepper flakes give this casserole contemporary zing, and the cheese of choice is Parmigiano-Reggiano, she tops it with an old-fashioned cracker crust. The Fresh Tomato Gratin is a fit for many menus; good pairings include quiche and salad greens, scrambled eggs and sausage, or sliced ham and steamed asparagus.
FRESH TOMATO GRATIN
* 2 pounds firm-ripe tomatoes, cut in wedges
* Salt (preferably coarse Kosher salt)
* 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
* 2 large garlic cloves, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
* 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
* Freshly ground black pepper
* 18 round butter-flavored crackers (about 1-1/4 inches in diameter)
* 1-1/2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated (about 1/2 cup)
* 2 tablespoons rinsed, dried, and chopped fresh herbs such as oregano, marjoram, thyme, basil or a mixture, or 2 teaspoons dried herbs
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Sprinkle tomatoes liberally with salt and let drain in a colander for 15 minutes. Transfer to paper towels and gently pat dry. While tomatoes are draining, combine oil, garlic and red pepper flakes, if using; set aside. Lightly oil a baking dish large enough to hold the tomatoes in a single layer. Arrange tomatoes in the dish, skin side down; drizzle reserved garlic oil over them and sprinkle with black pepper. Put crackers in a zippered plastic bag; crush with a rolling pin. Add cheese and herbs to crumbs in the bag; shake to combine; sprinkle the crumb mixture evenly over the tomatoes. Bake gratin in the upper third of the oven until the crumb topping browns and the tomatoes are heated through, 12 to 15 minutes.
Serves 6 to 8 portions.
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