It’s the last Summer Fest cross-blogging event, and this final week is all about tomatoes. The most joyous snack in the garden, right, the easiest slice of summer? Certainly, one can brush off a sun-warmed tomato and bite down right there, right there in the garden, like a drippy red apple. Unless you are me, in which case you are tumbling away from killer bees, compelled to sit inside with air conditioning and old cookbooks, sipping iced tea and pondering how to best cook that tomato.
“Why bake with tomatoes at all?” asked Greg. “What’s the point?” This was a stunning turn of events. My husband is a stellar judge of meals and a great finder of restaurants, but he is not kitchen curious, not ever. Was it the heat?
“I don’t know,” he said, and I gaped at him. “It just seems pointless.” Ah. There we are, that’s why, the point. My husband the attorney, the arrow thinker, does not like needless complication. He cannot grasp a situation that doesn’t have a point. I too like hitting the right note, but that’s not always been the case. There was a time, pre-culinary school-discipline-makeover, when I complicated all sorts of things. I frequently made simple things much harder than they had to be, things like:
That Medieval Times birthday cake: I’d already built battlements from a two-ton carrot cake. Did it really need that working gingerbread drawbridge and chocolate moat?
That six-tier wedding cake for the rabbit lovers: I agreed to carve bride and groom rabbits – they asked for black rabbits, a specific breed – out of Sculpey. Did she need that tiny strand of pearls, did he really need a rabbit tux? With a hole for his tail?
That banana tart for the Cuban-themed restaurant audition: did it really need rum, caramel, coconut, lime, white chocolate and a little umbrella? Perhaps I should have dressed it in a little marzipan t-shirt stamped “TROPICS?”
The overdoing went on a long time, until chef training beat it out of me. By necessity, I learned to create lovely things with speed and efficiency, things that didn’t stray. Lesson learned: if you don’t have two extra hours, don’t make a chocolate moat.
By now I should know, should know better. An unadorned tomato is best, but even in August I wanted to crank up the oven and bake – with tomatoes. The fact that it’s time for quick, cold and easy would, apparently, keep me from mixing bread dough, spreading filling, rolling and chopping and waiting for dough to rise. Twice.
Summer’s almost over, so a little side trip, one foot in the garden and one eye toward woolly fall, is no waste of time. Not the most efficient recipe, but so strong was the savory bread in my mind, a sort of deep dish-flavored sticky bun, that I bucked the heat to make it anyway and hope you will, too. It’s needlessly complicated, too true, but when you serve this edible centerpiece to oohs and ahhs, when they are reeling in tomato-steam and pulling apart crusty rolls, you might think: not complicated. Simply good, and worth it.
Summer Fest bounded through the season with a fabulous group of bloggers. What’s everyone cooked up for the finale?
♥ Diane & Todd at White on Rice Couple are showing off gorgeous Tomato Jam Recipes and tales of Kiddie Tomato Thieves
And also you! Summer Fest is a great way to explore new voices, get new ideas and contribute your own. Hopscotch around the blogs, find what you like and please leave something to share, like recipes, links or tips. Do you grow great tomatoes, have the perfect summer recipe? Introduce yourself, and comment away. Readers have exchanged so many delicious ideas – so swing by the blogs, and enjoy the best of summer.
UPSIDE-DOWN TOMATO BASIL BREAD
2 1/2 teaspoons (or 1 package) active dry yeast
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons warm water
4 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
3 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper (or three-pepper mix)
cornmeal, for sprinkling
4 – 5 tablespoons fresh basil, finely chopped (basil from store produce pkg, about 1 oz)
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper (or three-pepper mix)
fresh-ground red pepper flakes, to your more hot/less hot taste -or- 1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
3 large or 4 small-medium tomatoes
optional for sprinkling: 1/4 teaspoon each: sea salt, sugar, red pepper flakes
Make Bread Dough:
Using mixer: Stir the yeast into warm water in mixer bowl; let stand about 10 minutes, until yeast looks bubbled and creamy. Fit mixer with dough hook. Stir in olive oil first, combining with yeast, then mix in flour, Parmesan cheese, sea salt, ground black pepper and hot pepper flakes. Start mixing on low and increase to medium speed, kneading about 5 minutes, until dough is combined, soft and elastic.
If dough looks too dry: add water while mixer kneads, few drops at a time, until dough just combines. If dough looks too wet: add tiny dashes of flour while mixer kneads, sparingly, until sides of bowl look clean and dough combines.
Place dough in lightly oiled bowl; cover loosely with plastic wrap, then dish towel. Set aside and let rise until doubled, about 2 hours. Dough should feel very smooth, moist and soft.
While dough rises, make filling & tomato topping.
In small bowl, place chopped fresh basil, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, sea salt, ground pepper and red pepper flakes. Stir to combine well, and set aside.
Remove cores and chop tomatoes to small, rough pieces. Place in bowl (without accumulated liquid) and set aside.
Assemble Tomato Basil Bread
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
Lightly oil (with olive oil) bottom and sides of 10″ round cake or springform pan (can also use 9 x 13 metal pan, Pyrex dish, or similar). Drain any excess juices from chopped tomatoes, then spread evenly over bottom of pan. Set aside.
Turn risen bread dough out on lightly floured surface. Gently pull and stretch dough to a rough rectangle, approximately 11″ x 24″. Using spatula, gently spread Filling evenly across dough to cover, reaching edges. Starting at long edge, roll dough up jelly roll style, as for cinnamon rolls. Try to roll evenly and without air gaps. With seam side facing down, make sure filled roll is solid and combined by patting sides and edges.
Using a thin, sharp knife (serrated is best) cut 1″ slices from dough roll. Arrange slices, spiral side down, on top of chopped tomatoes in prepared pan. In a 10″ round pan, you will have little to no room between slices (if using a larger pan, arrange slices barely touching, with small amounts of space between them.) Cover lightly with plastic wrap and allow to rise slightly, about 20 minutes.
Place filled pan on wider sheet pan or foil (important – to catch drips!) Bake on lower rack 40 – 45 minutes, until top rolls are medium brown, feel hollow when tapped, and tomato juices have bubbled and thickened. Remove from oven and cool on rack for 5 minutes.
To unmold & serve: Have a platter or cake stand ready that is wider than the bread pan. Cover browned top of rolls with platter or stand (pan will still be warm, use oven mitt.) Holding platter to pan together, turn over in one motion until pan is upside down. Use a knife to carefully lift pan from bread, releasing steam slowly. After releasing initial steam, lift pan off completely, revealing tomato-topped bread. Serve immediately.
If you’d like darker edges and more caramelization - it’s beautiful and delicious that way – preheat the broiler. When hot, mix together optional sea salt, sugar and red pepper flakes. Slide whole bread onto a sheet pan, then sprinkle salt mixture over tomato topping. Place under broiler for 1 – 2 minutes, watching carefully, until tomatoes sizzle and edges blacken. Remove and serve.
bread dough inspired by Carol Field, The Italian Baker
What’s Summer Fest? The wonderful Margaret Roach, she of A Way to Garden and The Sister Project, invited me to participate in Summer Fest 2009, a regular cross-blogging party: every week a new food-from-the-garden theme meets several well-known bloggers, including Margaret, Matt Armendariz, Jaden Hair, and White on Rice Couple’s Todd and Diane. Also popping up: Shauna and Daniel Ahern from Gluten-Free Girl, Paige Smith Orloff of The Sister Project, and, for the love of pie crust, me.
Summer Fest 2009 Schedule
Tuesday, July 28: HERBS
Tuesday, August 4: FRUITS from TREES
Tuesday, August 11: BEANS-AND-GREENS WEEK
Tuesday, August 18: TOMATO WEEK
It’s Tomato Week! Drop by the blogs to share your own links, recipes, and ideas.