Caprese Gratin




So you know how in the middle of winter suddenly one day you just HAVE to have a slice of summer tomato? And nothing else will do?  The hothouse tomatoes I picked up yesterday can’t compare to those from the garden, but for the purposes of what I was after, it was a starting point. Cooking them – especially roasting or baking – will sweeten them up and deepen their flavor, making them more like the summer version. Adding flavors that evoke the fresh-tomato experience – basil, mozzarella, olive oil and balsamic – underscores the illusion. The bread crumbs transform the dish into comfort food. This recipe is so good, you almost believe you are eating the real thing.  It’s kind of a food hologram.  And it does the trick – for now.                                 — Adrienne

Caprese Gratin

1½ C coarse breadcrumbs, such as Panko, or home-made
2 t finely chopped garlic
1 T minced fresh basil
grated lemon rind from one lemon
½ t salt
¼ t pepper
3 T olive oil, divided
1 T white balsamic vinegar
8 oz excellent mozzarella, such as buffalo
1 T basil, cut into ribbons, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the tomatoes into thick slices to yield about nine slices.  Place tomato slices in a colander to drain while you assemble the remaining ingredients. In a large bowl, combine breadcrumbs, garlic, minced basil, lemon peel, salt, pepper and 2 T olive oil, reserving the remaining 1 T of olive oil.  Mix thoroughly. In a small bowl, whisk the remaining tablespoon olive oil with the balsamic vinegar. Set aside. Remove mozzarella from its liquid and gently pat dry with a paper towel. With a sharp knife, slice the mozzarella into thin slices, yielding eight or nine portions. Pat the slices with the paper towel to dry off. In a gratin dish, spread one-third of the bread crumb mixture.  Place drained tomato slices on top, overlapping slightly; tuck cheese slices in between the tomato slices. Spread the remaining bread crumb mixture over the top, drizzle with olive oil/balsamic dressing. Bake approximately 20 minutes until bubbling and the top is golden.  Remove and let sit for 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with basil ribbons. Yield, four servings.

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