Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Tomato Casserole

Fresh garden tomatoes, seasoned with salt, pepper, Cajun seasoning, fresh basil and brown sugar, in a casserole made with the trinity of Deep South veggies - onion, bell pepper and celery - and topped with shredded cheddar cheese and buttery cracker crumbs.
Fresh garden tomatoes, seasoned with salt, pepper, Cajun seasoning, fresh basil and brown sugar, in a casserole made with bacon, butter and the trinity of Deep South veggies - onion, bell pepper and celery - topped with shredded cheddar cheese and buttery cracker crumbs.

Tomato Casserole

I recently shared a recipe from one of my round-up lists of fresh tomato recipes over on our Best Southern Recipes Facebook page and Phyllis, one of our readers there, mentioned in comments that she was still waiting on tomatoes in the area where she lived.

I could not imagine having to wait this long to have that first decent tomato, because heaven knows, even though we have a wonderful long growing season in The South, once our tomatoes are gone, we get impatient anticipating the appearance of the next summer crop!

Of course, here in the heat and humidity of the Deep South, we've been enjoying locally grown tomatoes for months now, and, in fact, are winding down on the backside of our peak season, especially for Creoles, one of the most beloved tomato here in the Deep South. They are already harder to find.

If you are also a tomato lover who waits all year for those fresh from the garden tomatoes that actually taste like tomatoes, here's another way to enjoy them, in the form of a casserole.

Something akin to a Green Tomato Casserole, it's another great summer side dish that will go with many casseroles and meats.

Here's how to make it.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and butter a 9 x 9 inch baking pan. Place chopped tomatoes in a large colander to drain for about 10 minutes. Combine in a bowl with the salt, pepper, Cajun seasoning, basil and brown sugar. Mix well and set aside.

Now, I'm as big a bacon lover as the next person, but seriously y'all, I do not use bacon in everything I cook, I swear! But... that said, bacon and tomato pairs so nicely that I wrote it in the recipe for all you bacon lovers, because I know y'all will fuss at me if I don't. Simply cook off a few slices and use the drippings with a little butter to sauté the veggies in, then chop the cooked bacon and add that in with the tomatoes.

Wright brand bacon has become one of my top favorite bacon products. It costs a bit more compared to value brands but is the most consistent in quality that I've found in a long time.

As much as I love bacon, my preference is just simple, pure butter for this dish. It allows the natural, fresh tomato flavor to come through. If you use bacon, just add the butter to the skillet drippings, then add the onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic; sauté until tender, about 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and chop the bacon, returning it to the pan. Mix well and warm through. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Use a slotted spoon to transfer tomato mixture to the prepared pan. The tomatoes will still generate some liquid of course, but using a slotted spoon to transfer will at least eliminate some of that. Sprinkle with the shredded cheese.

Combine crushed crackers and melted butter and sprinkle on top. You can use whatever your favorite casserole topping is here - saltines, cheese crackers, seasoned bread crumbs, panko, or even just simply extra cheese... whatever you like.

Bake at 350 degrees F for about 30 minutes, or until casserole is bubbly and crumbs are browned. The casserole will generate some liquid while cooking, so use a slotted spoon again to dish out. Serve immediately as a side dish.

These tomatoes are also very good when scooped on toasted baguette slices.

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Posted by on July 16, 2013
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