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When you think of a recipe that is easy to make with just a few simple ingredients, I think of cherry tomato au gratin as the perfect example. Try it, and you’ll see. There are no exact quantities, no precise method (everyone has their own recipe), but if you follow a few simple steps, you’ll get fantastic results.
Some time ago, when I started to dabble with cooking but especially with photography, I researched the most talented writers and photographic styles I could identify with. I literally fell in love with a series of books, and this one is definitely on the top of my favorites list: No-Recipe Recipes by Sam Sifton, the founding editor of the New York Times Cooking. It’s great because he explains how there are preparations that are difficult to quantify. Still, most importantly, it makes the concept of cooking something straightforward that everyone can put into practice improvising, simply with a shopping list in hand.
Improvising is good
Sometimes it’s necessary to standardize recipes and make them exactly as they are written (for example when baking). And as Sam Sifton writes, “…you don’t need a recipe…it makes improvisational cooking easier than you think.”
Get inspired and experiment
How often do you happen to be at the supermarket and see something so tempting that you can’t help but buy it? It happens to me a lot in front of the vegetable counter. I see colorful, fragrant, seasonal vegetables, and I can’t resist. They’re in my shopping cart in the blink of an eye: tomatoes, cabbages of all shapes, leeks, and asparagus. I buy them and then try to compose recipes with what I have in my fridge.
They come in various shapes and various colors. You can cook them in many ways. They can be in a pasta sauce, can enrich a baked fish fillet, or can become a colorful and tasty side dish.
I don’t remember if cherry tomato au gratin was my grandmother’s or my mom’s idea, but it was a taste I remember vividly. No one ever had an actual recipe. It was enough to evoke the memory and try to reproduce the taste. You combine various flavors, herbs, breadcrumbs, good extra virgin olive oil, and put it in the oven. That’s it.
When you combine the ingredients you like, the recipes always come out different and hopefully always good, especially when there are quantities to consider and when the proportions change from one time to another.
Cherry Tomato au Gratin
- Ripe cherry tomatoes, red and yellow (about a pint or ½ kilo)
- A bunch of basil
- A sprig of fresh thyme
- A few sage leaves
- Parmesan cheese
- Salt flakes
- Chili flakes
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Prepare the ingredients: carefully wash the cherry tomatoes and herbs. Wipe off excess water;
- Halve the cherry tomatoes, place them on a baking pan covered with baking paper, and sprinkle them with salt flakes;
- Let them stand for about 20 minutes to drain off the excess liquid and improve their flavor;
- Rinse the cherry tomatoes under running water and remove the seeds;
- Let them drain for a few minutes and blot up any excess water;
- In the meantime, prepare the filling: finely chop the basil, thyme (after removing the woody parts of the sprig), sage, and parsley;
- Add the aromatic mixture to the breadcrumbs, mix well and add the grated Parmesan cheese. Season with salt, pepper, and chili pepper flakes;
- Arrange the cherry tomatoes with the concave side up and cover with the breadcrumb mixture. Be very generous;
- Generously sprinkle grated Parmesan on top with a drizzle of oil;
- Bake in a hot oven at 350°F (180°C) for 15-20 minutes, then raise the temperature to 400°F (200°C ) in for 5 minutes to brown the top.
The Tomato au Gratin recipe is perfect for….
Any season as it goes well with any meat or fish dish or with very fresh mozzarella. It’s also a great way to get kids who don’t like vegetables to eat them.