Savory side dish brightens a winter meal

Bright red and juicy, cherry tomatoes are usually tossed into salads, eaten out of hand as a snack or used for a cheery garnish. But there's no reason you can't work the tiny tomatoes into a savory side dish.

This recipe for warm tomato crisp is an unusual way to add a fresh burst of flavor to the depths of winter. The savory crisp makes the perfect accompaniment to roasted chicken. And when it comes to balanced nutrition, tomatoes are certainly better for you than another wad of stuffing or piles of mashed potatoes.

According to the USDA Nutrient Database, 1 cup of cherry tomatoes has fewer than 30 calories. They're also an excellent source of vitamin C and rate high in fiber.

All shapes and sizes of tomatoes have caught the attention of researchers in recent years, thanks to the presence of lycopene, an antioxidant that is thought to protect the heart and reduce the incidence of cancers, particularly prostate cancer.

Lycopene is more available for the body to use when tomatoes are cooked. Cooking also tempers the acidity in tomatoes to bring out their natural sweetness.

Although some might call the recipe a twist on a classic Provencal dish, it also compares to a savory version of a summer fruit crisp: the tomatoes serve as the star, while whole-wheat bread crumbs mixed with Parmesan cheese, parsley, thyme and garlic sprinkled on top help soak up the good-for-you juices.

Shopping tip: Grape tomatoes are half the size of cherry tomatoes. Other differences: the grape tomato is sweeter but also has a thicker skin and contains less liquid.

Storage tip: Never refrigerate tomatoes; the chill gives a mealy texture.

Warm Tomato Crisps

3 cups cherry tomatoes, stems removed, divided

2 slices whole-wheat bread

3 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese

3 tablespoons Italian parsley leaves

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

2 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray an 8-inch square baking dish with nonstick spray.

Place 2 1/2 cups tomatoes in a single layer in prepared baking dish.

Place bread, Parmesan, parsley, thyme and garlic in work bowl of food processor. Pulse quickly to coarsely chop the bread. Add olive oil and pulse quickly. Sprinkle mixture evenly over tomatoes. Top with remaining 1/2 cup tomatoes and tuck into crumb mixture.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until crust is browned and tomatoes are tender. Makes 6 servings

Per serving: 80 calories (42 percent from fat), 4 grams total fat (1 gram saturated), 2 milligrams cholesterol, 8 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, 100 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.

The Wichita Eagle—03/09/10