published Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

Fresh take on bread-and-tomato sandwich

Toasted Parmesan tomato bread is a simple take on a Southern favorite — the tomato sandwich.
Toasted Parmesan tomato bread is a simple take on a Southern favorite — the tomato sandwich.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Obviously, the season has a role in this, but lately I've found myself craving bread and fresh tomatoes.

When I was a kid, my go-to summer sandwich -- and I always made it for myself because I was the only one who could make it right -- was slabs of whole-wheat bread smeared thickly with Miracle Whip and topped with hunks of extra-sharp cheddar cheese and a single, think slab of tomato. The slab had to be at least 1 inch thick and had to be cut from the center of the fruit. No ends or tops, please.

It was heaven. Rich and creamy and sharp and fresh. To this day, that sandwich remains a comfort food I return to. Usually around midnight.

By the time I was a tween, my family had moved to Germany and weekends were spent driving around various parts of Europe. We called it eating our way through the continent, for dining and planning on dining did seem to occupy much of our time. But no matter where we were, lunch always followed the same template.

We'd stop at a small, local bakery and grab a heavy loaf of rustic bread. Then on to a grocer for tomatoes, a hunk of cheese and a jar of blisteringly hot mustard. Then we'd find a park and sit down with our spread, tearing off hunks of bread, dabbing them with mustard and topping them with ragged chunks of cheese and slices of tomato.

As repetitive as that lunch sounds, it actually was a wonderfully delicious way to explore the different cuisines. The breads and cheeses vary so much between regions and countries.

I still crave -- particularly this time of year -- the simple pleasure of bread and tomato. So I decided to create a grown up version, rich with garlic and rosemary. But the focus, as it should be, remains on the bread and tomatoes.

TOASTED PARMESAN TOMATO BREAD

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 large sprig fresh rosemary, finely chopped

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 tablespoon kosher salt

Ground black pepper

4 large, thick slices sourdough bread

4 large tomatoes

3 ounces Parmesan cheese

Heat the oven to broil.

In a small, sturdy bowl, combine the garlic, rosemary, olive oil, salt and black pepper, to taste. Mix well, then use the back of a heavy spoon to mash the garlic and rosemary together to form a paste. This also can be done using a mortar and pestle, or a mini food processor. The rosemary won't mash well; this is fine.

Spread a quarter of the mixture over one side of each slice of bread.

Slice 2 thick slabs out of the center of each tomato. Reserve the tops and bottoms of the tomatoes for another use. Set 2 slabs over each piece of bread. Shave some of the Parmesan over the tomatoes on each slice. Set the assembled bread on a baking sheet and broil on the oven's middle rack until the cheese is just starting the brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

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