Dinner and Dancing on the Delta (Heirloom Tomato Gratin)

Staycations are all the rage these days, but around here, every summer is a staycation. When the local motto is “Live Where You Play …” you know the summers are full of fun right in our own backyards. Literally.

We all headed out on the California Delta on a warm evening for a night of invigorating conversation, funny moments, varied libations, a pot luck meal, and dancing under the stars. The trip took ten couples out on two pontoon boats onto the delta for a glorious evening. Although our fine captain almost sunk us after the viewing the shining moon on the other boat, we made it to our secret location and tied the boats up to the tullies on the island. Break out the appetizers and bevvies, and let the good times roll. Everyone on this excursion has lived in town for years and years, and we all truly appreciate the good life that is here to enjoy. The evening included a pot luck dinner and then dancing on the famous Boat of Bling.

Knowing that I was signed up to bring a veggie side, and that this dish needed to hold up to just hanging out with no refrigeration during our journey to the tullies, I planned a simple black beans and corn kind of thing. But then, I saw the perfect recipe at Noble Pig‘s blog. “Solids and Stripes” is a perfectly simple heirloom gratin that would certainly hold up to these conditions. So, I headed out to Smith Family Farms to get the beautiful tomatoes, then to the local grocer for the remaining items. I arrived back home with a mere 60 minutes to wash the tomatoes, prepare the dish, shower, and be at our friend’s boat dock. And … success!

This recipe is pulled straight from the Noble Pig blog, with the author’s blessing. I was out the door so quickly that I didn’t get any photos of mine, but I assure you that it looked *cough cough* exactly like the pics on her blog, and that if I had actually taken photos myself they would have been *cough cough* equally beautiful. In the end, the boat trip was fantastic, the dinner refreshing, and the dancing on the delta a blast. Many friends from the trip keep asking for the recipe, so here you go:

Heirloom Tomato Gratin

1 clove garlic, cut in half
3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large Vidalia or other sweet onion
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
3 Tablespoons fresh orange juice
2 teaspoons honey
3 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
4 lbs mixed heirloom tomatoes, thickly sliced
1-1/2 teaspoons each salt and pepper, divided
2 cups fresh bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated Pecorino-Romano cheese

Prepare an oven-safe, shallow, 2 quart baking dish by rubbing the inside with garlic. Paint the dish with 1-1/2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil.

Heat 1-1/2 Tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook for about five minutes or until onions are translucent, not brown. Remove from heat, stir in orange zest, fresh orange juice, honey and 1-1/2 teaspoons thyme.

Add half of the onion mixture to the bottom of the baking dish and half the tomatoes. Season with half the salt and pepper and add the rest of the onion mixture, tomatoes, salt and pepper. Overlap the tomato slices to fit.

In a separate bowl, mix together bread crumbs, 2 Tablespoons oil, 1-1/2 teaspoons thyme and cheese. Mix until all crumbs are moistened.

Bake at 425 degrees for 24 minutes or until crumbs are golden and juices are bubbling.

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