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The Saturday Cook: Cherry tomatoes star in a savory custard for a post-farmers market brunch

The Saturday Cook: Cherry tomatoes star in a savory custard for a post-farmers market brunch
This savory clafoutis transforms the traditional sweet baked custard dessert with whole cherries into a breakfast dish using cherry tomatoes instead. (Leslie Grow / For The Times)

One of the most jarring things I’ve seen at the farmers markets since I moved here from New York hasn’t been some strange fruit or oddball vegetable. Indeed it has been something that, until I moved to L.A., was only ever good for a few weeks from late July through September in the Northeast: cherry tomatoes. As I saw them sitting on tables in their teal cardboard containers, looking like tiny orange marbles, I was perplexed and delighted at the same time.

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Yes, I know, you can buy cherry tomatoes year-round in grocery stores, and yes, they are very good, thanks to mostly being grown in greenhouses. But there is still that first-of-the-season thrill you get when you see them pop up in farmers markets, which doesn’t happen when you see their grocery store cousins. They’re also the most perfect type of tomato, in my humble opinion. They’re super-sweet, low in acidity and easy to pop in your mouth as a snack (and better for you than chips or actual candy, of course). I love the ritual of slicing them in half and tossing them in pasta salads, mixing them into gazpacho or salsas, or piling them on a hoagie roll with lots of fresh mayo for a hero sandwich version of my favorite Southern snack.

Minced soft herbs and two cheeses flavor the custard for this savory clafoutis, dotted with tiny cherry tomatoes.
Minced soft herbs and two cheeses flavor the custard for this savory clafoutis, dotted with tiny cherry tomatoes. (Leslie Grow / For The Times)

But, taking a cue from their name, I decided to try out a new idea and came up with this, a savory clafoutis made with the tiny tomato orbs. Traditionally a baked sweet egg custard that’s dotted with whole, unpitted cherries (the pits are said to perfume the dish, and leaving the cherries whole keeps their juices from bleeding into the custard), I decided to swap out sugar for cheese and minced herbs, then dot the tiny tomatoes throughout, their inherent fruity sweetness mimicking the cherry’s but with their characteristic acidity to balance it.

One could call this a frittata, but that would be boring. I like this name better, allowing me license to leave the tomatoes whole, their juices remaining inside and ready to burst (bite carefully!) when you eat the pillowy-soft, cheesy eggs that surround them. It’s a jarring sensation, but one that’s pure delight.

Tiny cherry tomatoes perfume a savory cheese custard in this breakfast version of a classic French clafoutis dessert.
Tiny cherry tomatoes perfume a savory cheese custard in this breakfast version of a classic French clafoutis dessert. (Leslie Grow / For The Times)

Savory Cherry Tomato Clafoutis

35 minutes. Serves 4.

Farmers market cherry tomatoes — typically no bigger than marbles — work perfectly here, but so do grocery store grape and cherry varieties; just use the smallest ones you can find. Serve this dish for breakfast or with a salad for lunch. And feel free to switch up the cheeses here too, using pecorino or another hard cheese instead of Parmesan, and cheddar or raclette instead of the Gruyère.

1/2 cup whole milk

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1/2 cup finely shredded Gruyère

3 tablespoons minced mixed herbs, such as chives, parsley, tarragon or thyme

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 teaspoon kosher salt

4 large eggs

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

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10 ounces small cherry tomatoes (1 1/2 to 2 cups)

Flaky sea salt

1 Heat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, Parmesan, quarter-cup Gruyère, 2 tablespoons of the mixed herbs, the butter, salt and eggs. Add the flour and whisk until just combined (the batter will be lumpy; that’s OK).

2 Pour the batter into a 10-inch round baking dish or pie pan. Sprinkle the tomatoes evenly in the batter, then sprinkle the remaining quarter-cup Gruyère over the top.

3 Bake until the clafoutis is just barely set in the center and the edges are golden brown, 15 minutes. Remove the dish from the oven, arrange a rack just below the broiler, and heat the broiler to high. Place the dish under the broiler and cook until the cheese on top is golden in spots, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.

4 Transfer the skillet or dish to a rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Sprinkle the remaining 1 tablespoon minced herbs and a pinch of flaky sea salt over the clafoutis to serve. Cut it into wedges or scoop it into bowls and serve with more Parmesan.

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