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Friday, September 12, 2014

Tomato Pudding

I peeled a lot of tomatoes the summer I moved back home to take care of my father. By golly, my dad loved his tomatoes. Bolstered by a sprawling garden tucked away in pasture just off the back deck, his tomato supply was endless. The garden fueled his need to have freshly picked sun-kissed sliced and peeled tomatoes with every meal. Yep, peeled tomatoes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. One by one, row by row, bushel by bushel, I peeled a gazillion tomatoes that summer....with a dull paring knife.

For most of the summer and fall, we simply ate tomatoes with a dusting of salt. Sometime along the way, I slipped a small canister of flaky sea salt onto the table for added crunch. A delicious small win. Cracked Tellicherry peppercorns would have been a stretch, so I didn't go there. One day, out of the blue, my dad requested his mother's tomato pudding. Tomato pudding? News to me. By the time I'd settled onto the farm as a kid, her beloved tomato pudding must have fallen out of favor or slipped through the cracks as a forgotten recipe from leaner times because it never made it onto our dinner table. I'm not sure what bolted him back to memories of his childhood on the farm and his need for her pudding. It simply happened. Just like that. Boom. He wanted his mother's tomato pudding. Alrighty, then. I tried to play along.

Apparently, back in the day, my grandmother fashioned her old fashioned tomato pudding with canned garden tomatoes from the cellar mixed with sugar and leftover breakfast biscuits. Much like other bread puddings, the bread soaked up the juices, disintegrated into the tomatoes, and turned into pudding.

Without the luxury of a dank dark cellar, I relied on the sea of fresh tomatoes at my fingertips combined with frozen Fort Knox commissary white bread. I kept the puddings basic for a while. Before long, I got a little uppity and started  adding stuff.  There were hits and misses along the way. Wild mushrooms? Miss. Anchovies? Big miss. Raisin bread? Nope. Goat cheese? Big mistake. Croissants? A one hit wonder. Through it all, he was a good sport. In the end, my tarted up  tomato puddings lacked soul, so I reversed course and went back to the basics by using leftover breakfast biscuits mixed with fresh garden tomatoes. Humble. Old school. Endearing.

When lusty tomatoes start fading into warm summer memories, tomato pudding is a great use for the seconds, culls, uglies, or end of season tomatoes. As unassuming as it might be, Michael and I still adore tomato pudding warmly wrapped up in hand-me-down memories.

Tomato Pudding.
Right off of the bat, I peeled the tomatoes the easy way.
After coring and scoring 5 large overly ripe Pulaski County Big Boy tomatoes, I plopped them into salted simmering water for 45 seconds.  When the skins started to curl away from the flesh, I fished the tomatoes out of the water with a wire spider, dropped them into ice water to cool, placed them onto a dish towel, and slipped off the skins. No fuss.

Without a shred of finesse, I chopped the tomatoes into juicy chunks, tumbled them into a bowl, and squished the wet fruit into a pulpy mess. Tomato carnage. Because they were packed with tons of juice, I sauteed the tomatoes with 1/2 cup minced candy onion, salt, pepper, and a pinch of brown sugar over medium heat to tighten up a bit before adding 3 large roughly crumbled  leftover buttermilk breakfast biscuits. When the biscuits softened and swirled through the pulp, I scooped the mix into a buttered Bybee Pottery baking dish.

For texture and crunch, I smashed 2 additional biscuits into crumbs with a rolling pin before tossing them with minced  fresh parsley and parmigiano reggiano ( sacrilege).  After lightly packing the breadcrumbs over the tomato pudding, I drizzled the topping with olive oil, and slid the pudding into a 350 degree oven (uncovered) to bake for 40 minutes.

When the crumb topping was nicely browned, I pulled the tomato pudding from the oven to rest.

As the pudding settled down from the heat, I cracked the biscuit shell with a spoon  to snag the ruby red filling. Sealed beneath the herbaceous parmigiano crust, the salty biscuits softened, plumped with the juices of the crushed tomatoes, and jiggled on the spoon like a proper pudding should.

Sweet and savory.
Soft and crunchy.
Old fashioned tomato pudding.

Simple country fare.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting concept. Good for someone like your dad who adores tomatoes and would probably eat them in most anything. Candy onions? Never heard of them, but they sound way more better tasting than your average brown or even red.