Julia Child’s Tomatoes Provencal

Today is Julia Child’s 100 birthday. One of the most influential people of the 20th century, Child made good food accessible to millions by translating lofty French techniques to a language that a home cook could understand. Her PBS show was a direct ancestor of the Food Network, and most importantly, led to this. (Never thought I’d say this, but with that and this and this, PBS wins the Internet.)

Julia completely won me over in My Life in France, where she described her journey from eater to cook and her time in Paris and the south of France. The book is charming, whether you care about the proper way to truss a chicken or not. Inspired by the book, I set out to make a Julia recipe a year ago, and promptly twisted and turned it around until it was nothing more than a “fancy omelet.”

Many of Julia’s most famous recipes (Boeuf Bourguignon, Coq au Vin, Filet de Boeuf en Croûte) involve many steps — well worth the effort, but not something you can whip together in a flash. These tomatoes Provencal,* on the other hand, are effortless. Julia, the genius, takes out the worst parts of a tomato (squishy, juicy seeds) and stuffs the hollowed-out cavities with breadcrumbs, cheese, shallots and herbs. They are the embodiment of one of my favorite Julia quotes:

You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.

*Why did I have tomatoes? Well. In order to get Fresh Direct delivered the next day, one must complete the order by 11 p.m. the night before. Naturally, I started ordering around 10:45 p.m., then panicked at 10:53 and in a frenzy, ordered a bunch of things I don’t need, including funny-shaped peaches and beefsteak tomatoes. Does anybody know what to do with gray zucchini?

Note: I recently did a video piece for City Spoonful about Muslim street food vendors who fast during Ramadan. I had a lot of fun on the shoot — check it out and let me know what you think!

Julia Child’s Tomatoes Provencal
Adapted from The Uneducated Palate, who’s recipe is, of course, from Julia Child

– 2 firm, ripe beefsteak tomatoes

– 1-1/4 cups whole wheat bread crumbs

– 2 small shallots, minced

– 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

– 1 teaspoon dried thyme

– 1 teaspoon dried rosemary

– 1/4 cup grated Parmesan (I used Pecorino instead)

– salt and pepper, to taste

– 3 or 4 tablespoons olive oil

1) Preheat the oven to 400 F. Slice the tops off of the tomatoes, and scoop out the innards. You can save these for stock or tomato sauce. Arrange the tomatoes cut side up in a baking dish.

2) Mix the bread crumbs, shallots, garlic powder, rosemary, thyme, cheese, salt and pepper. Add the olive oil a tablespoon at a time, tossing the breadcrumb mixture well so that everything is evenly moistened.

3) Scoop the stuffing into the tomatoes, pushing it down so that it’s packed. Top with additional cheese, if desired. (It should always be desired.)

4) Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the topping is browned and the tomatoes are beginning to peel. Serve immediately.

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