Sunday, September 13, 2015

Cook: Tomato Casserole with White Beans and Croutons

During my elementary years, long before I knew what a vegetarian was, salad meant one thing: croutons. I loved those little crispy cubes of flavorful bread. They offered a lovely contrast to the soft beds of spinach and chewy chicken pieces that made up the remainder of my salad. I couldn't get enough of them. Since I wasn't yet in love with vegetables, there were actually times where I told my mom that I just wanted a salad of croutons and dressing.

About five years ago I discovered that croutons weren't just a salad thing. I fell in love with a cauliflower soup from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian? In his recipe notes, Bittman suggests pairing the soup with some homemade croutons. Originally I scoffed at the idea. Isn't it some sort of law that croutons need to be covered by salad dressing? J-Fur wanted to try it so I reluctantly went along with it. One taste and we were both hooked. The soup actually loses a lot of its luster without those freshly peppered croutons floating in it. Last year I came across a soup in Veganomicon that includes potato wedge croutons (seriously the best invention I've ever heard). Me and croutons, we've come a long way baby.

Three weeks ago I brought croutons into the world of skillet bakes. What inspired this? Erin from Well Plated.  She created a recipe for Skillet Tomato Casserole, White Beans and Parmesean Croutons that mimics all the finest parts of Italian cuisine (tomatoes, basil, bread and olive oil). An endless supply of dried baguettes and white beans has made this bake a part of our menu four times over the last twenty one days. Believe me, I'm already dreaming about the fifth time.

Tomato Casserole with White Beans and Croutons (adapted slightly from Well Plated by Erin)
(printable version)

-olive oil
-1/2 of a day old crusty baguette cut into cubes
-4 tomatoes
-3 garlic cloves
-2 tsp. sugar
-2 1/2 tsp. salt
-1 tsp. fresh black pepper
-1 1/2 cups Great Northern Beans
-10 ounces of spinach/kale mixture
-1/2 cup basil, julienned
-nutritional yeast

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Heat three tablespoons of olive oil in a large, oven proof skillet. Add the bread cubes and stir them to coat with oil. Cook over medium-high heat for five minutes, stirring often, until the cubes are evenly browned.

3. Place the tomatoes and garlic in a food processor. Process a few times so that the tomatoes have been broken down. Pour the tomato/garlic mixture into the pan with bread cubes. Stir in the sugar, pepper and salt. Heat for five minutes.

4. Turn off the heat and add the beans, spinach/kale mixture and basil to the skillet. Stir until everything has been nicely combined. Sprinkle the nutritional yeast overtop of the skillet. Stir to incorporate it.

5. Place the skillet in the oven and bake until the top is beginning to brown and the tomatoes have bubbled (about 50 minutes). Serve at once to any crouton lover amongst you.