Photo Copyright, Sandra Gutierrez 2009; All Rights Reserved.
Tomatoes spell summer in my neck of the woods. Plump, ripe, juicy, and red tomatoes are everywhere. Every year I come up with new ideas to cook with surplus tomatoes, whether it is a new raw sauce (sugo crudo) for pasta, or a fresh new gazpacho recipe; my mind is always playing with new possibilities.
This year my herb garden is giving me a bounty of luscious, tender herbs. I wake up every day eager to visit my herb garden, scissors in hand, and I trim them, collecting those I will use in my cooking and setting them in a glass of fresh water near my kitchen window. Luckily for me, tomatoes go well with almost every herb imaginable. Today my thyme and oregano were particularly beautiful and became part of my master plan.
Then I remembered a cobbler recipe I created for my weekly column in The Cary News in the nineties. It was a simple tomato cobbler. And I remembered the response. Surprised palates, pleased with unexpected flavors. Tastes they recognized, served in a new way.
In the South, cobblers are traditional sumer fare. Blueberry and Peach cobblers are favorites. Back then I wondered what would happen if I used tomatoes instead. It was not a far reach, considering that tomatoes are fruits and not vegetables. I could have gone for a sweet flavor but opted for something to serve as a side dish to the main meal instead. Thus, I made up my mind and baked a savory cobbler instead of a sweet one, for a change.
I learned that traditional is wonderful but that there is always room for experimentation in the kitchen. It hasn't stopped since. Throughout the years, I have played with my original recipe to make it less watery, adding a touch of sweetness, playing with the varieties of cheese. This is my latest version and I made it for friends this weekend.
Tasters were delighted with the flavors. This was popular with both adults and children too, who found its taste similar to pizza. I invite you to try this new recipe with your garden-grown tomatoes, or local tomatoes from your farmers' market stall.
I add tomato paste, as a thickener, in the same manner one would use cornstarch or flour in sweet cobblers. Instead of chopping the tomatoes finely, which when baked turns them into sauce, I prefer to leave them whole. This is a simple recipe; most cobblers are. Homey, bubbly and warm, it is summer's comfort food. Enjoy the flavors of summer. It's not a traditional cobbler. Then, neither am I. If you feel adventurous, try this.
I use lard in my cobbler topping. Breathe. It's okay, really. For an explanation of why I prefer lard read my previous post on Baking Biscuits (Baking Category). It's healthier and packs a lot of flavor. Breathe again...you may substitute with butter if you must. Only unsalted, only the freshest. That's my attempt to compromise. I still prefer lard. It tastes better; period.
And if like me, you love a touch of creaminess with your cobblers, try a dollop of creme fraiche or mascarpone cheese (in lieu of the ice cream reserved for sweet cobblers). This cobbler may please you. It will definitely surprise your palate.
Good. I like surprises. Hope you do too.
Tomato Cobbler with Farmers Cheese and Herbs
10 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 tablespoon fresh oregano (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup farmers cheese (or fresh mozarella) cubed into 1/2 in. pieces
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup lard, chilled (or butter)
1/2 cup shredded Monterrey Jack cheese 1/2 cup half and half
1/2 cup shredded Monterrey Jack cheese
1/2 cup half and half
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a large bowl, toss together the tomatoes, thyme, oregano, tomato paste, brown sugar, salt, and pepper; mix to combine. Place the tomatoes, tightly and cut side up, in a 9 by 9 inch baking pan; brush any remaining herb mixture over the tomatoes (use every bit). dot tomatoes with the farmers cheese and set aside while you make the topping. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt; using a pastry cutter or 2 knives, cut in the lard into the flour, until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Stir in the shredded Monterrey-Jack cheese and combine; add the half and half and using a spatula, stir until the mixture comes together (it will be lumpy). Scoop the topping over the tomatoes (I use a 2-inch ice cream scoop). Bake the cobbler for 30-35 minutes, or until the topping is a golden color. Serve immediately.
Yield: 6 servings.
Copyright Sandra A. Gutierrez, 2009; All Rights Reserved