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.
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.
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.