- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Tomato crumble? I found that idea so enticing that my mouth watered at the thought.

I recently came across two recipes for such a dish. A friend sent me one, and I found the other in a French cookbook. In each version, diced tomatoes were seasoned with fresh herbs, covered with a combination of Parmesan cheese and bits of butter, then baked.

Tomatoes are at their peak now, so I came home from the grocery with a bagful and began cooking.

I halved and seeded the juicy red tomatoes, then cut them into chunks and spread them in a baking dish. Next I drizzled them with olive oil and tossed them with chopped basil and rosemary.

A topping of fresh bread crumbs, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, pine nuts and butter completed the dish. Baked until the tomatoes were warm and bubbling and the coating golden and crisp, the savory crumble exploded with flavor.

I knew this simple side dish was versatile enough to use often when entertaining. In fact, after offering a taste to a neighbor who loves to cook and entertain as much as I do, she suggested that we host a dinner party together and include this special tomato invention.

The main course for our soiree included grilled lamb chops sprinkled with bits of blue cheese, an arugula salad and the colorful tomato crumble, which I baked several hours ahead, then reheated at serving time.

Although the tomatoes made a fine garnish to lamb, they would have been just as tempting alongside roasted chicken, grilled steaks or even sauteed halibut or cod.

Fortunately, the tomato season isn’t over, so I am planning to use this easy recipe several more times in the days ahead.

Tomato crumble

Olive oil

2½ to 3 pounds summer tomatoes (see note)

3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, plus sprigs for garnish

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary, plus sprigs for garnish

1 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

3/4 cup fresh bread crumbs, made from day-old peasant white bread, including the crust

3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano

½ cup pine nuts

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small dice

Arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 375 degrees. Oil a shallow 2-quart baking dish and set aside.

Stem tomatoes, then halve horizontally. Squeeze halves lightly to extract juice, then scoop out seeds. Cut into 1-inch chunks and drain chunks in a colander for 20 minutes. (The amount of liquid that drains from the tomatoes will vary depending on the variety of tomato you use.)

Spread the tomato chunks in the baking dish. Add the basil, rosemary, salt and several grinds of black pepper, and toss. Mix together the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese and pine nuts in a large bowl. Add the butter and mix well with your hands until mixture is crumbly. Spread the mixture on top of the tomatoes.

Bake the tomato crumble until the topping is crisp and slightly browned and juices are bubbling, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven. Do not worry if there is liquid in the pan; you can spoon it out or leave as is. (The crumble can be prepared 3 hours ahead. Cool and leave at room temperature. Reheat in a preheated 350 degree oven until warm, about 15 minutes or longer.)

Garnish the center of the crumble with fresh basil and rosemary sprigs. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Note: I’ve used sweet, fruity red heirloom tomatoes (such as Brandy Boy) and good locally grown tomatoes in this crumble, both with great results.

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