Now that tomato season is underway and they’re popping up in your local farmers market, it’s time to get creative with summer recipes. While the classic tomato sandwich never gets old, Zane Hedgecock, the N.C. Department of Agriculture chief of staff, has a unique twist on the traditional favorite to share.
North Carolina ranks seventh nationally for tomatoes with nearly 3,000 acres of plants. All in-state tomatoes are grown for the fresh market, so you’re in luck — August brings more tomato events for you to grab your fill before the season ends later this fall. The Henderson County Tailgate Market is holding their 14th annual Tomato Festival on Saturday, Aug. 4, where you can enjoy a free tomato sandwich, a photo with Tommie Tomato and other fresh produce from farmers. While Henderson County is known for being the number one apple-producing county in the state, it also comes in second for tomato production. The WNC Farmers Market is honoring the versatile crop with a Tomato Tasting Day on Friday, Aug. 10, from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. Whether you like them cooked into soup or straight off the plant, farmers at this market provide tons of vine-ripened varieties to fit all your tomato needs.
Hedgecock has been making his tomato casserole for years using all the elements of a tomato sandwich and more baked into juicy, cheesy goodness. He even uses his family’s homemade ingredients for a little added North Carolina charm. Whose farm-fresh tomatoes will you use for your casserole?
Don’t worry about specific numbers — you can vary the amounts of each ingredient to your liking. Rest assured, Hedgecock said, you can’t mess up as long as you don’t overcook it!
Zane’s Tomato Casserole
- Thin slices of any type of soft bread
- Cheddar cheese (shredded)
- Sliced tomatoes
- Salt & pepper
- Cream cheese
- Duke’s Mayonnaise
- Soft breadcrumbs from a sweet bread
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and grease the bottom and sides of a casserole dish. Line the bottom of pan with slices of bread. (I use my mother’s made-to-order sourdough bread.) Next, add a light layer of cheddar cheese. Then, two layers of sliced tomatoes and salt & pepper to taste. On top of the tomatoes, add on dots of cream cheese and another light layer of cheddar. Place in the oven until the cheese is melted — not toasted — and the tomatoes are soft. After it has been in the oven for approximately 20 to 30 minutes, in a separate bowl, lightly fold together breadcrumbs (I prefer to use crumbs from the same sourdough), shredded cheddar and Duke’s Mayonnaise — heavy on the mayo. Do not over-mix or mush together. Then, add the breadcrumb mixture to the top of the heated casserole, return to the 350-degree oven and watch closely! Remove from the oven once the cheese has melted a little but before the mayonnaise melts, or approximately 5 to 10 minutes.