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Favorite savory cobbler gets a Southwest remake

Recipe: Roasted chilies add spark to tomato dish

Casserole dish with red and yellow tomatoes
This is the cheese-less version of the cobbler favorite; the filling and topping both include Hatch chilies. (Photos: Kathy Morrison)


Tomato cobbler is a perennial summer dish in my house, ever since my friend Dixie came across the Martha Stewart version and gave me a copy.

The cobbler takes (uses up!) 8 cups of tomatoes. Martha's version was written for cherry tomatoes, but I prefer to make it with a mix of cut-up regular tomatoes and halved Juliets (cherries that look like small Romas). This creates some juiciness from the regulars and avoids the problem of too many skins from the cherries.

I planned to finally make this year's cobbler for this last summer weekend,  incorporating another late crop: Hatch chilies, which have been all over the produce sections the past few weeks. Grilling the chilies adds another step for the cobbler, but I wanted to try it at least once. (If you'd rather not do this, using canned chopped chilies is just fine.) I've also cut back the calories a bit here and there, subbing milk where the original called for cream, and oil spray instead of butter for the dish.

My one misstep in this adaptation: Forgetting to buy Cheddar cheese for the cobbler's biscuit topping. I don't often eat cheese, and only realized the problem this morning. But I decided to forge ahead, rather than make a Sunday morning dash to the store while the half-finished recipe sat on the counter.

So, cheese lovers, go ahead and add the cheddar or Gruyere or Monterey jack. It's not in the pictured version of the cobbler, but it's wonderful in the biscuit topping. And leave the chilies out completely if they're not your thing. The tomatoes will carry the day, believe me.

Glass bowl with yellow and red tomatoes
I like to mix sizes and types of tomatoes.

Southwest tomato cobbler

Serve 8

Ingredients:

3 Hatch or similar-size chili peppers, blistered, skinned, seeded and chopped (See note below on how to do this) OR 3/4 cup canned roasted chilies, chopped, divided

1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium onions, slivered or chopped

4 garlic cloves, sliced

8 cups prepared tomatoes, a mix of full-size tomatoes that have been cored and quartered, and cherry tomatoes, halved if they are large

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

For the biscuit topping:

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour (add 1/4 cup more flour if not using cheese)

1/2 cup cornmeal, or another 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, as desired

2 teaspoons baking powder

Coarse salt

1 stick (8 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (put in the freezer briefly if it's too soft)

1 cup grated cheese, such as Cheddar, Gruyere or Monterey jack, plus 1 tablespoon for sprinkling on top, optional

1-1/2 cups milk or half and half, or a combination (use just 1-1/4 cups if not using cheese)

Oil spray, for baking dish

Pan with cooked onions, chilies and  garlic
Cook the onions, chopped chilies and garlic.

Instructions:

Make the filling: Heat oil in a large, high-sided skillet over medium heat. Sauté the onions, stirring occasionally, until very soft, about 10 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of the chopped chilies, and cook another 5 minutes, then stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

In the skillet or a large bowl, toss the onion-chilies mixture with the tomatoes, 3 tablespoons flour and the red pepper flakes, then add several grinds of pepper and 1-1/2 teaspoons salt.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Make the biscuit topping:  Whisk together the 1-1/2 cups flour, the cornmeal, baking powder and 1 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. (Add the extra 1/4 cup flour if you're not using cheese.) Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or two knives until the mixture looks like coarse meal with some small clumps.

Stir in 1/4 cup chopped chilies (if desired) and the grated cheese (if using), then add most of the milk, stirring with a fork to combine until a soft dough forms. Add more milk if needed to get to that point; the dough should be slightly sticky and form mounds. (I added the milk all at once in my cheese-less version, and it was too liquidy, which is why I suggest the above procedure.)

Lightly grease a deep 2-1/2-quart baking dish with cooking spray. Transfer the tomato mixture to the dish. Spoon clumps of biscuit dough over the top around the edge, leaving the center open. (Depending on the shape of your dish, you may not need all the dough; bake the rest as drop biscuits.) Sprinkle the dough with the remaining 1 tablespoon of cheese, if using. Bake until the tomatoes are bubbling in the center and biscuits are golden brown, 45-50 minutes.

Casserole dish with tomato filling
The filling is ready for the biscuit topping.

Remove the dish from the oven to a wire rack and allow to cool 20 minutes before serving. The cobbler also may be baked earlier in the day and reheated briefly if desired.

How to prepare chilies: Rinse and, if desired, lightly oil the 3 or more chilies. Prepare grill and heat on high, or heat the oven broiler on high. Place the chilies on the grill, or on a pan under the broiler. Turn the chilies often so the skins become blistered on all sides. Place the chilies in a brown paper bag, and roll the top to seal it. Allow the chilies to cool. When ready to use them, cut the stem end off the chilies. The skins should peel off easily. Split the chilies and scrape out the seeds, then slice or chop and use as desired.

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Garden Checklist for week of June 23

Get to work in the mornings while it’s still cool.

* Irrigate early in the day; your plants will appreciate it.

* Generally, tomatoes need deep watering two to three times a week, but don't let them dry out completely. That can encourage blossom-end rot.

* Let the grass grow longer. Set the mower blades high to reduce stress on your lawn during summer heat. To cut down on evaporation, water your lawn deeply during the early hours of the morning, between 2 and 8 a.m.

* Tie up vines and stake tall plants such as gladiolus and lilies. That gives their heavy flowers some support.

* Dig and divide crowded bulbs after the tops have died down.

* Feed summer flowers with a slow-release fertilizer.

* Mulch, mulch, mulch! This “blanket” keeps moisture in the soil longer and helps your plants cope during hot weather.

* Avoid pot “hot feet.” Place a 1-inch-thick board under container plants sitting on pavement. This little cushion helps insulate them from radiated heat.

* Thin grapes on the vine for bigger, better clusters later this summer.

* Cut back fruit-bearing canes on berries.

* Feed camellias, azaleas and other acid-loving plants. Mulch to conserve moisture and reduce heat stress.

* Cut back Shasta daisies after flowering to encourage a second bloom in the fall.

* Trim off dead flowers from rose bushes to keep them blooming through the summer. Roses also benefit from deep watering and feeding now. A top dressing of aged compost will keep them happy. It feeds as well as keeps roots moist.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushier plants with many more flowers in September.

* From seed, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, melons, squash and sunflowers.

* Plant basil to go with your tomatoes. 

* Transplant summer annuals such as petunias, marigolds and zinnias.

* It’s also a good time to transplant perennial flowers including astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia, salvia and verbena.

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