22 September 2010

"What’s between us? The red ink of the tomato?"

Once, in high and far-off times, there was a tomato casserole recipe in a magazine.

The details now are fuzzy. I think the magazine may have been Southern Living, and I remember the recipe called for an egg, cheese, and crumbled 'buttery' crackers. I also remember that I thought it sounded good, tried it, and was not that impressed. It was okay, but not as good as it should have been. It was runny, despite the egg. It was bland. It tasted tinned. I tinkered with it a bit and then forgot about it.

For some reason I thought of it recently and tried again. This time, I was informed by Marcella Hazan's famous tomato sauce recipe from The Essentials of Italian Cooking, the one with a can of tomatoes, half an onion, and butter.

This time, the casserole was better than okay. It was not runny. It did not taste tinned. I would not be ashamed to place it on the buffet table or to send it to a bereaved friend. It is good alongside meatloaf; it would be good as a main dish with a green salad and some crusty bread. You could make it with fresh tomatoes, but it's a perfect use for canned ones.

3.5 cups diced tomatoes (one 28-oz can)
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 egg, lightly beaten
4 tbs butter, divided
1 cup grated sharp cheese (cheddar or whatever you like), divided
1 cup crushed 'buttery' crackers (e.g. Ritz, Townhouse)

batterie de cuisine: knife, cutting board, small mixing bowl, 9-inch square baking dish.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Combine the tomatoes, onion, egg, and half the grated cheese in the baking dish. Stir to combine thoroughly, then dot the surface with 2 tbs of the butter. Baked in preheated oven until beginning to bubble at the sides, about 30-40 minutes.

In the meantime, combine the crushed crackers with the remaining cheese in a small mixing bowl. Melt the 2 tbs butter and toss with the crackers and cheese until coated. When the casserole has begun to bubble, sprinkle this mixture over the top and bake 10-15 minutes more, until the cheese has melted. Serve hot.

Peter Balakian


  1. This sounds like prime comfort food. I'm glad you found the secret of making it taste not-bland and not-tinned. Thanks for passing on the recipe!

  2. It is wonderfully comforting. I think it will be especially good for cold rainy days when the sun seems very far away.

    The fact that it goes together in a flash doesn't hurt.


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