I've had two cobbler epiphanies in my life. The first was almost 30 years ago, when my friend and colleague John Willoughby found a recipe for blueberry cobbler in a Southern boardinghouse; it's basically perfect, and I've been making it ever since.
The second, which I had just a few years ago (I'm a slow thinker), was when it dawned on me that, as amazing as cobbler is with blueberries, it might be equally good — or perhaps even better — with tomatoes. I know this sounds sacrilegious at first, but I'm fairly convinced that there is no better ingredient on earth than a perfect, late-summer tomato. And technically, of course, tomatoes are fruit.
Furthermore, like blueberries, tomatoes are sweet and tart, and release addictive juices when baked in the oven. If you swap the sugar for garlic and onion, and the ubiquitous scoop of vanilla ice cream for a garnish of torn basil and freshly grated Parmesan, then the savory-cobbler experiment starts to make a lot of sense. I mean, it did to me, and it works.
Even the biscuit topping is a terrific fit. Consider the whole thing as an upside-down bruschetta where the tomatoes are roasted instead of raw and the bread is a luxuriously buttery crust laced with cornmeal to make it taste even more like summer. If tomatoes on top of bread are so damn good, what could be bad about tomatoes below biscuits?
This recipe, after much tinkering, has become one of my go-to dishes for the end of summer — prime tomato season — when the temperatures here in the Northeast can swing toward oppressive August heat or September chill. If it's sweltering, I serve the cobbler at room temperature and it's no worse for wear; if it's cold, a bowl of piping hot tomatoes and biscuits has all the trappings of fall comfort food.
I'd call this recipe "easy as pie," but it's way easier than that. Rolling out pie or tart dough often feels onerous to me, especially when the alternative is whipping up a quick batter in the food processor, spooning it over raw tomatoes and throwing it in the oven.
Try it if you don't believe me; an epiphany awaits.
Cherry Tomato Cobbler
- Olive oil
- 2 tablespoons cold butter
- 1 egg
- 3/4 cup flour
- 3/4 cup finely ground cornmeal 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- Salt and pepper
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 2 pints cherry tomatoes
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 medium red onion
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
- Several sprigs fresh basil, for garnish
1. Heat the oven to 425°F. Grease a medium ovenproof skillet (preferably one that is not cast iron) with olive oil or butter.
2. Cut the butter into cubes.
3. Beat the egg in a small bowl.
4. Put the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda and a sprinkle of salt in a food processor. Add the cubed butter and pulse until the mixture looks like coarse bread crumbs.
5. Add the beaten egg and buttermilk, and pulse until the mixture comes together in a thick, sticky batter.
6. Halve the cherry tomatoes; put them in a medium bowl.
7. Peel and thinly slice the garlic cloves, and add them to the tomatoes.
8. Trim, peel, halve and slice the red onion; add it to the tomato mixture.
9. Drizzle the tomato mixture with some olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss.
10. Put the tomato mixture in the skillet and spoon dollops of the biscuit batter across the top.
11. Bake until the biscuits are golden and cooked through, and the tomatoes and onion are softened, 20 to 25 minutes.
12. Strip the basil leaves from several sprigs.
13. When the cobbler is done, sprinkle the Parmesan on top and tear the basil leaves over all. Drizzle with a little olive oil. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.
Nutrients per serving: 311 calories, 9g protein, 47g carbohydrates, 5g dietary fiber, 11g fat (5g saturated fat), 69mg cholesterol, 572mg sodium
- 1 large or 2 small fennel bulbs (1 pound)
- 1 lemon
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and pepper
1. Trim the fennel, saving a few of the fronds for garnish. Thinly slice the fennel by hand or machine and put it in a large bowl.
2. Grate the lemon and add the zest to the bowl; cut the lemon in half and squeeze in the juice.
3. Add olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper; toss. Taste and adjust the seasonings; serve.
Substitute 1 pound celery, thinly sliced, for the fennel, or use a combination.
Fennel Salad With Olives
Use an orange instead of the lemon. Add 1/2 cup chopped green or black olives.
Fennel Salad With Capers and Dill
Substitute mayonnaise for the olive oil. Add 2 tablespoons capers and 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill.
Fennel Salad With Caraway Seeds
Use 2 tablespoons cider vinegar instead of the lemon zest and juice. Add 2 teaspoons caraway seeds.
Mark Bittman is the author of How to Cook Everything Fast (on sale October 7, 2014).
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