As the weekend approaches in our house you can feel the mood shift. We laugh more, ease up on the work deadlines and start thinking about what we want to eat and drink. I've been cooking from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa cookbooks this week and wanted one of her dishes to have with our cocktails. These provençal tomatoes definitely kicked happy hour up a level, which is what my mom did with appetizers she used to make. Cocktail hour at her house always felt like a weekend, no matter what day it was.
Mom's influences on her cooking style were very Mediterranean, especially from countries in southern Europe. I know she must have made these tomatoes for us because she would often do stuffed and baked veggies. They fit with so many of the qualities she looked for in recipes - colorful, easy to make-ahead, bright flavors.
The original recipe uses lots of fresh herbs which tend to eat up my grocery budget so I settled on just getting the fresh basil and using a little dried thyme. Ina also recommends fresh bread crumbs from white bread which isn't something we buy so I substituted fresh whole wheat bread crumbs. They worked fine but when I make these again I will try panko for a lighter, crisper crumb. Also, this is a wonderful recipe for bringing out the best in store bought tomatoes.
Here's to the happiest of hours in your house this weekend!
Provençal tomatoes (adapted from recipe in Barefoot Contessa Family Style)
6-8 roma tomatoes, depending on size
Salt and pepper, to season the tomatoes
1 cup fresh bread crumbs or panko crumbs
3 tablespoons minced fresh basil
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese
Olive oil, good quality
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and lightly coat a baking dish with cooking spray.
Remove cores and cut tomoatoes in half lengthwise. Use your fingers to remove seeds and juice. Place tomato halves in prepared dish cut sides up and season with salt and pepper.
Combine bread crumbs, basil, thyme, garlic and 1 teaspoon salt. Mound the bread crumb mixture into the tomato halves. Bake the tomatoes for 15 minutes, or until they're tender. Sprinkle with the cheese, drizzle with olive oil, and bake for another minute to melt the cheese. Serve hot or at room temperature.
See step-by-step photos in this video: