Mother Nature has been a real flirt around here lately. One minute she’s beguiling us with warm breezes and sunshine, and the next she’s giving us the cold shoulder with low temperatures and even s-n-o-w. Where’s a cook to take her inspiration from? Am I to plan a Spring menu or wintry comfort food? Sometimes you just have to go with the flow and combine both.
On a recent warm Saturday we went to the market, all jacketless and giddy with the promise of Spring. The butcher had some nice steaks, so, Aha! let’s barbecue tonight, we declared, all excited at the prospect. By the time that tonight rolled around, the air was bitter with cold. We would barbecue alright, but the inspiration for our side dish was anything but springlike. No French potato salad for us, no indeed, not with having to wear a heavy jacket at the barbecue. Instead, I turned to a rustic potato and tomato dish, what I like to think of as Italian-style scalloped potatoes.
Just think of what it’s like to come into the house from the nippy great outdoors, to warm air redolent of tomatoes, onions, garlic, potatoes. Mmmm, don’t you want a taste of this right now?
It’s as simple as anything to throw together, but does take a goodly long time in the oven. All the better to fill every nook and cranny of your home with its tantalizing aroma, and welcome in whoever got the short end of the stick and had to tend to the steaks on the grill out in the blasted chilly air.
Rustic Potato and Tomato Casserole
Serves 3 or 4. Pre-heat oven to 400º.
Peel two large baking potatoes, halve lengthwise then slice thinly crosswise. Halve and thinly slice a medium onion. Chop two or three cloves of garlic. Place all vegetables in an 11 x 7 casserole dish, and pour over a 28 oz can of diced tomatoes (or whole tomatoes smushed – a technical term). Add a teaspoon or so of dried oregano, some fresh thyme leaves, and salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle over a tablespoon of olive oil. Carefully mix it all together, and ensure no potatoes are sticking up. If you have the time and are feeling artistique, it’s nice to arrange a couple of layers of the potatoes, onion, garlic, tomato, oil and seasonings, but that’s up to you. Strew a few sprigs of thyme over the top if you have them. Cover with foil and bake for at least an hour. Once the potatoes feel fork tender, remove the foil and leave in the oven a while longer to brown and reduce the liquid a little bit. If you have a convection oven, the fan can help out with that.
If you’re not the person on barbecue duty, I recommend lounging in your favourite chair to read a book while these are baking. A glass of wine is a good idea too. I love the method of cooking whereby the oven does a lot of the work!