On this Labor Day weekend I am remembering the amazing Sheila Lukins, who recently passed away. Take a look at this wonderful tribute in the New York Times, in case you missed it. Sheila was always one of my favorite food writers, and my tattered, dog-eared copy of the original Silver Palate Cookbook is certainly proof of that. My latest go-to recipe for parties is from her book Celebrate! (Workman, 2003). I adapted a recipe in a chapter entitled “Celebrate a Ripe Tomato” and it’s become my signature appetizer (or by default, it’s always requested when I’m hosting a party). This weekend we’re off to a Labor Day cookout and this is what I’m bringing.
So in memory of Sheila Lukins, I wanted to pass along this fabulous recipe. I don’t follow it exactly. It calls for a mint salad to serve on the side, but instead I top the tomatoes and goat cheese with slivers of fresh basil when they’re out of the oven. I slice a French baguette and toast , then instruct guests to spread with the roasted garlic, then top with the softened tomato and goat cheese (crostini-style). I also toss in more cloves of garlic so there’s plenty to spread on the toasted bread. The garlic becomes soft and caramelized, with a sweet, mild taste. (I cut corners by buying the fresh, peeled garlic and I’ll often roast separately so I can monitor the garlic more closely, then I add at the end with the cheese; you want it soft and caramelized, but watch so it doesn’t burn.) The dish is a fun, interactive appetizer and it’s a beautiful celebration of summer with the tomatoes still left on the vine.
Here’s the recipe as it appears in the book:
How many ways can you combine tomatoes and cheese and still come up with something special? That’s probably an unanswerable question, but I’m always glad to run across a new marriage of these favorite ingredients. This recipe is inspired by a real conversation-stopper at the restaurant St. John in London. Garlic, mint, cheese, olive oil and roasted tomatoes join forces here in a powerhouse dish.
12 cloves garlic
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
8 ripe tomatoes, sill connected on the vine
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
8 crottins de chevre (goat cheese rounds)
2 cups fresh mint leaves
Juice of 2 lemons
12 to 16 slices peasant bread, toasted
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 F.
2. Place the garlic cloves on a piece of aluminum foil and drizzle 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over them. Close the foil, forming a sealed packet and place it in a small ovenproof dish. Bake to soften slightly, 10 minutes. Remove the packet from the oven and set it aside. Raise the oven temperature to 400 F.
3. Carefully arrange the tomatoes (still on the vine) in an oven-to-table baking dish. Season them generously with salt and pepper. Arrange the garlic cloves around the tomatoes. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, and bake until the tomatoes are softened and runny, 25 minutes.
4. Arrange the crottins around the tomatoes, and return the dish to the oven. Bake until the cheese softens, another 5 minutes. Watch carefully — you don’t want them to melt.
5. Meanwhile, coarsely tear the mint leaves and place them in a bowl. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and the lemon juice.
6. To serve, pass the dish of tomatoes and cheese. Everybody helps themselves to a tomato and a cheese and plenty of the sauce. Spread the cheese and tomato on the toasts and pass the mint salad to scoop on top or eat on the side.