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America’s Test Kitchen: Tomato gratin features bright flavor, no mush

A tomato gratin should burst with concentrated, bright tomato flavor. The bread should provide a contrasting firm texture, but most recipes lead to mushy results. Not this one.

Toasting large cubes of a crusty, artisan-style baguette ensured that the bread didn’t get too soggy once mixed with the tomatoes.

Precooking the tomatoes on the stovetop initiated the breakdown of the tomatoes, drove off some moisture that would otherwise have made the bread soggy, and shortened the overall cooking time. A small amount of sugar, garlic, salt and pepper was all we needed for flavoring.

Just before moving the skillet to the oven, we folded in most of the toasted bread and scattered the remainder over the top, along with some Parmesan cheese to create a crusty, savory topping that contrasted with the custardy interior. A scattering of fresh basil provided color and bright flavor. We finished the dish in the dry, even heat of the oven.

The success of this recipe depends on using ripe, in-season tomatoes. Do not use plum tomatoes, which contain less juice than regular round tomatoes and will result in a dry gratin. You can serve the gratin hot, warm or at room temperature.

BEST TOMATO GRATIN

By America’s Test Kitchen

  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 6 ounces crusty baguette, cut into 3/4-inch pieces (4 cups)
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced thin
  • 3 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1-1/2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (3/4 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat 4 tablespoons oil in 12-inch oven- safe skillet over medium-low until shimmering. Add bread and stir to coat. Cook, stirring constantly, until bread is browned and toasted, about 5 minutes; transfer to bowl.

Using the same skillet, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil and garlic over low, stirring constantly, until garlic is golden at edges, 30 to 60 seconds. Stir in tomatoes, sugar, salt and pepper. Increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes have started to break down and have released enough juice to be mostly submerged, 8 to 10 minutes.

Off heat, gently stir in 3 cups bread. Using spatula, press down on bread until completely submerged. Arrange remaining 1 cup bread evenly over surface, pressing to partially submerge. Sprinkle evenly with Parmesan.

Transfer skillet to oven. After 30 minutes, run spatula around edge of skillet to loosen crust and release any juice.

Continue baking until top of gratin is deeply browned, tomatoes are bubbling and juice has reduced, 40 to 45 minutes. (Gratin will appear loose and jiggle around outer edges but will thicken as it cools.)

Remove skillet from oven and let sit 15 minutes. Sprinkle with basil. Serves 6 to 8.

Approximate nutritional information, per serving: 301 calories, 16 g total fat, 3 g saturated fat, 6 mg cholesterol, 740 mg sodium, 31 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 7 g sugar, 8 g protein.

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