Tomatoes a la Provençale
 

Tomatoes a la Provençale
from Olney, Richard. Lulu's Provencal Table (Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, c2002)

"After months of note-taking sessions with Lulu, I was struck by the absence, in my notes, of Tomatoes a la Provençale. I asked her if there was a reason. She said, "But everyone knows how to make Tomatoes a la Provençale -- I never thought to mention it." As usual, everyone does not make them quite like Lulu: "The tomatoes should be cut in two crosswise, the seed pockets loosened slightly with a fingertip, each half held cut side down and give a shake -- but only lightly, without squeezing, to rid it of enough loose seed to make some space in the pockets. Above all, you don't want to lose all the seeds -- or the jelly surrounding them, which is delicious when reduced. It is the excess water contained in the flesh that must first be drawn out, by salt and heat, for the tomatoes to cook correctly."
   The bread crumbs should be quite dry, but slightly coarse and crumbly; if the bread used for making them is too dry, it will be reduce to a powder in the food processor or, if underprocessed, it will form a mixture of too coarse and too fine. The best tomatoes are sweet and richly flavored with a good balance of acidity; when cut into, the scent should cause one's saliva to flow abundantly. Modern varieties are often sweet but bland-tasting and lacking in acidity.

8 medium-sized (about three pounds), regular-shaped, firm, garden-ripe tomatoes, stem pulled off but uncored, rinsed and dried.
Salt
6 garlic cloves, lightly crushed and peeled
Large handful of freshly picked flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 cup semidry bead crumbs, prepared in a food processor
Pepper
About 5 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat the oven to 450F

Cut the tomatoes in two, horizontally, to expose cross sections of the seed pockets. Loosen the seeds superficially with a fingertip and give each half a gentle, upside-down shake to rid it of loose seeds. Place the halves, cut sides up, on an oven tray, sprinkle the cut surfaces liberally with salt, and put the tray in the oven for 10 minutes, or until the tomato halves are visibly filled with liquid. They are already fragile at this point -- carefully remove each half with a apatula and place it, cut side down, on a wire rack to drain while preparing the persillade mixture.

 Finely chop the garlic cloves. Finely chop the parsley, then chop the two together. Add the mixture to a mixing bowl with the bread crumbs, salt lightly, and grind over pepper generously. Mix with a fork, first tossing repeatedly, then stirring, to keep light and airy.

Rub a large gratin dish with oil few drops of olive oil -- enough to form a film on the bottom and the sides. Arrange the tomato halves, cut sides up, barely touching, in the dish and, with a teaspoon, sprinkle the persillade-crumb mixture over each, at first gently pushing it with fingertips into the seed-pocket crevices, then mounding it lightly, without pressure, so that none of the cut surfaces remain visible. Dribble olive oil in a fine thread, back and forth and crisscross, over the crumbs and bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Serve hot or tepid, alone or with a roast. Served tepid, the tomatoes can only improve by being held in the cooling oven for half an hour.