The start of March brings hope that spring and mild weather are just around the corner. The days are noticeably longer, but farmer’s market produce and warm temperatures are still far off. Canned tomatoes are a pantry staple offering the taste of hot August days and a welcome relief from the seemingly endless cold. A permanent spot on my shelf is reserved for canned tomatoes.
I am not the only one enamored with tinned tomatoes. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall devoted an entire article to them. He introduced me to mazzamurru, a Sardinian dish that is essentially bread tomato lasagna. Tomato sauce, mozzarella and Parmesan are layered between slices of stale crusty bread. I took some liberties with the recipe crisping the top under the broiler, which made for an appealing contrast of textures.
Bread and Tomato Gratin
Loosely adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
2 tablespoons olive oil plus more for drizzling
1 small onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 pinch red pepper flakes
1 pinch sugar
1 bay leaf
1/2 loaf country bread, slightly stale, cut into 1/2-slices (about 8 oz.)
6 oz. mozzarella ball, roughly torn into pieces
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion for 5-10 minutes until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for an additional 3 minutes. Carefully add the tomatoes, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, red pepper flakes, sugar and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes crushing the tomatoes with a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon.
Remove the bay leaf, and spread half the sauce in the bottom of an 8-inch square baking dish. Cover the sauce with a single layer of half the bread. Drizzle with olive oil and season with the half the remaining salt and pepper. Top with half the mozzarella and Parmesan. Repeat the same layering sequence with the remaining ingredients: spread the sauce, cover with bread, drizzle with oil, season with salt and pepper and finish with mozzarella and Parmesan.
Bake for 25 minutes until lightly browned. To further brown and crisp the top, remove the dish from the oven and heat the broiler on high. Broil for 2 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving with a green salad.