Standing in a garden with vines overflowing with colorful cherry tomatoes — green, red, orange, purple and yellow — is a little like walking into a candy store. The beautiful little gems of summer are so sweet and plentiful this time of year, it’s hard to resist popping a few in your mouth, savoring the taste of summer as you go along collecting the day’s harvest or grazing through the stands of local farmers at Chattanooga Market.
One of my favorite recipes, ideal for using a bumper crop of cherry tomatoes, is very simple to prepare, but the flavors are complex. It’s the kind of dish that makes you look like a pro — a person who can easily throw together a magazine-worthy meal in a snap.
Baked cheese with candied tomatoes makes a delicious vegetarian meal served with a salad or is a beautiful hors d’oeuvre to serve with a bold red wine at your next gathering.
Tangy goat cheese takes mild ricotta cheese to a new level of flavor and gives it a thicker texture when baked. Fresh basil rounds out the taste and blends perfectly with the candied tomatoes that will later top the cheese.
When caramelized with brown sugar and white wine, the tomatoes taste more like candy than ever. Their edges will pop and begin to fall, but that’s OK. This dish is supposed to look earthy and rustic with a delicate, understated elegance to it.
The entire dish comes together atop a sturdy baguette or pita chips with a slice of the velvety baked cheese topped with a tomato and some of the syrup drizzled over all. This is one recipe I enjoy serving as an appetizer when cherry tomatoes are at their best. But be forewarned, this recipe makes a lot, so it’s best saved for a large party, but can be easily divided for a smaller affair.
Baked Cheese With Candied Tomatoes
For the cheese:
1 (15-ounce) container whole-milk ricotta
8 ounces goat cheese
2 tablespoons fresh oregano or basil
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
For the tomatoes:
1 tablespoon olive oil
12 ounces cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup pinot gris or chardonnay
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 sprigs oregano or basil
Place the ricotta in a colander lined with cheesecloth, and leave to drain for about 30 minutes, pressing down to help extract liquid. It is important to get as much water out of the cheese as possible so it is not runny when baked. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush the inside of a 2-cup baking dish with olive oil.
Beat together the ricotta, goat cheese and egg until smooth. Beat in the chopped basil along with salt and pepper.
Spoon the cheese mixture into the prepared baking dish, and bake for 40 minutes or until puffed in the center and browning. Remove from oven, and let cool slightly, then invert it out onto a plate.
For the tomatoes: While the cheese is baking, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, then add tomatoes. Cook, stirring frequently, until the skins on the tomatoes start to split. Remove pan from stove, and add wine; return to heat. Add brown sugar and basil, and stir until the sugar is melted. Add a generous pinch of salt. Lower the heat, and cook gently until the liquid is reduced to a syrupy coating for the tomatoes. The tomatoes will collapse, and some may disintegrate. That’s fine.
When ready to serve, spoon the candied tomatoes over the warm baked cheese, and serve with sliced baguette or pita chips.
Note: The baked cheese can be prepared a few hours in advance and then baked before serving. It is best served warm, not hot. The tomatoes can be prepared a day ahead and gently reheated before serving.