This will be the first of several posts inspired by my recent vacation in Tuscany on a Jovial Culinary Getaway. During my week-long stay in the 18th century villa, I learned to cook, explored Tuscany, and ate a boat load of gelato. I was also more inspired in the kitchen and better fed than I have been in memorable history, and of course I kept a mental list of all the recipes I wanted to share here on the blog.
This was not my first trip to Italy; I had been to Rome several times to visit my college housemate, Marta, and her family who lived just outside of Rome. In a house full of novices, Marta’s love of the kitchen was appreciated. She always boasted that Italian food was the best cuisine in the world. “Why is it the best?” people would often ask. And her response was always the same, “Because it is simple food made with the freshest, best ingredients.” At the time I just thought, “You’re proud and nationalistic and that’s very endearing. And yes, we all love pizza and pasta, too.”
Our family had also gone on vacation to Italy one summer when I was in college, visiting Rome, Florence, and Milan. We ate at many excellent restaurants, and yes, the food was memorable, but this was my first time cooking in Italy, going to the market and seeing the quality of ingredients, then watching and assisting in the preparation of traditional dishes. I finally got what Marta was saying all those years ago. The folks at Jovial had the exact same culinary mantra:
1) Use the freshest, highest quality ingredients you can find.
2) Every time you have the urge add something to the recipe – resist and keep it simple.
Carla Bartolucci, founder of Jovial, a brand which makes organic pasta, einkorn, olive oil, and tomatoes, leads the cooking classes during the week sharing her brand’s simple, beautiful philosophy.
One night, as a side for roasted lamb, Carla prepared a tomato gratin that she’d learned to make at her mother’s elbow. It personified the Italian food philosophy perfectly – made with impossibly perfect tomatoes, homemade bread crumbs, fresh green garlic, parmigiano, and parsley just snipped from the garden, and Jovial’s own incredibly flavorful olive oil. Fresh ingredients, prepared simply with astounding results.
One bite and I knew that this is the recipe that would come to mind every time I had a surplus of tomatoes in my home. The tomatoes cook down and become sweet while the bread crumbs, cheese, and olive oil melt into a beautiful savory binder that balances the tomatoes perfectly. Without a dozen flavors confusing the palate, the fresh garlic and parsley shine bright.
Summer Tomato Gratin
Serves 6 to 8
Carla said this dish is even better the next day. When we were in Italy, there were no leftovers. But when we made it a home, we did have a small container left at the end of the night which was, as promised, even richer and more flavorful than the night before. If you’re serving this dish with fish, Italians would suggest you omit the parmigiano-reggiano cheese.
Salt and ground black pepper
3 pounds tomatoes, sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 cup dried breadcrumbs
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup parmigiano-reggiano, grated
7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Generously salt and pepper sliced tomatoes and let stand. Meanwhile, mix breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley and cheese in a medium bowl. Add 1/4 cup of the oil to the crumbs and toss to coat.
Brush a large gratin pan (or similar size pan) with another tablespoon of oil. Arrange a third of the tomatoes in the pan and sprinkle with a third of the breadcrumbs; repeat layering twice more. Drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons of oil.
Bake tomatoes until they have noticeably reduced in pan and top layer of bread crumbs are golden brown, about 1 hour. Let rest a few minutes and then serve.