This dish tastes best when the tomato season is at its height. As with almost any recipe featuring tomatoes, I pre-salt them to remove their excess liquid and concentrate their flavor. You can top them off with any kind of cracker—even plain old bread crumbs would be fine—but I like using Ritz crackers because their buttery taste reminds me of my grandmother Ruth Moulton. This is the kind of dish she would have served.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
Hands-on time: 10 minutes
Total preparation time: 35 minutes
2 pounds firm-ripe plum tomatoes, quartered lengthwise
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional
Freshly ground black pepper
18 round butter-flavored crackers, about 1 1/4-inch in diameter
1 1/2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated (about 1/2 cup)
2 tablespoons rinsed, dried, and chopped fresh herbs such as oregano, marjoram, thyme, or basil or a mixture
Preheat the oven to 425° F. Sprinkle the tomatoes liberally with salt and let drain in a colander for 15 minutes. Transfer to paper towels and gently pat dry. While tomatoes are draining, combine the oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes, if using.
Lightly oil a baking dish large enough to hold the tomatoes in a single layer. Arrange the tomatoes in the dish, skin side down; drizzle garlic oil over them and sprinkle with black pepper.
Put the crackers in a zippered plastic bag and crush them with a rolling pin. Add the cheese and herbs to the crumbs in the bag and shake to combine; sprinkle the crumb mixture evenly over the tomatoes.
Bake the gratin in the upper third of the oven 12 to 15 minutes, until the crumb topping browns and the tomatoes are hot through.