Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Tomato Casserole – A Healthy Alternative to Pizza . . . Really!

The inspiration behind this recipe is twofold. The first is that I love fresh ingredients - using them gives me the feeling all the organs in my body are turning properly, pumping adequately, and are continuously nourished. The second is more gastronomic and less A.P. Bio. I did a semester abroad in Paris last year and while living with a French family, I was often treated to this tomato dish that typifies French home-cuisine: fresh, easily prepared, and using basic ingredients. Upon my return, I tried to recreate this meal and came up with something slightly different, but more to my liking (and to that of my roommate - high praise!). It can be eaten either as an appetizer or as an entrée (whichever you prefer). I call it . . . tomato à la . . . well let’s call it a tomato casserole for now. When I officially name it, I’ll blog the name. Enjoy!

Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Lemon and herb seasoning (if unavailable, half of a lemon)
Olive oil
Garlic powder
1 cup chopped parsley or cilantro
2 pounds of fresh plum tomatoes
1 chopped jalapeno pepper (optional)
2 cups of Portobello or shitake mushrooms
1 vacuum sealed package of mozzarella cheese (or 3 egg-sized pieces)
1 baking dish or aluminum disposable pan

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Begin by cleaning the mushrooms with a wet cloth and slicing them into ¼ inch pieces. Place them in a mixing bowl and season with 1 teaspoon of olive oil, a pinch of salt, 1 teaspoon of paprika and 1 teaspoon of garlic powder; toss and leave to marinate.

Slice the mozzarella into thin, square-like strips (at least 2x2 inches) and set aside. Slice tomatoes in circular pieces; season with salt, pepper, and lemon & herb dressing (if not available, squeeze lemon over tomatoes) being sure to season both sides.

Coat your baking dish with about 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Begin layering your tomatoes (one overlapping the other) along the width of the pan going one row at a time; make sure there is a layer of cheese between each tomato as much as possible. Complete this until the entire pan is covered. Scatter or arrange the mushrooms over the tomatoes as you like. Continue this process on the second tier, evenly distributing the tomatoes, cheese, and mushrooms until all ingredients are used up.

Sprinkle the jalapeno and half of the parsley or cilantro over the casserole, then cook in the oven for about 25 minutes or until mushrooms are visibly browner and the cheese is melted. Garnish with the remaining herbs and serve with saltine crackers or bruschetta (or any grilled toasted pieces of bread seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic, and olive oil). The crunch is essential.

So you see, this casserole is somewhat like a deconstructed pizza . . . just fresher and not as greasy.

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