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Remembering Julia Child

With long-awaited arrival of “Julie & Julia” in theaters this month, foodies can’t help but remember the one and only Julia Child, who inspired legions to cook with confidence and daring-do in their own kitchens.

I haven’t had the pleasure yet of seeing the movie, though I was fortunate to get a quick peek at a preview clip at this year’s James Beard Awards Gala in New York. Of course, it only left me hungry for more. As a long-time food writer, I had the pleasure of interviewing Julia a number of times. She was always gracious and charming. It was a true pleasure to interact with her in any shape or form. That familiar lilting, bird-like voice never ceased to make me smile every time I heard it.

I still have a couple of menus, souvenirs from lunches and dinners hosted in her honor. There’s the one from her 90th birthday party at the Fifth Floor in San Francisco, when illustrious chefs Laurent Gras and Ron Siegel cooked dishes such as “Corn Vichyssoise with Caviar” and “Duck A La Julia Child” to commemorate the grand occasion.

There’s another menu from a lunch in 2000 to debut her cookbook with Jacques Pepin, “Julia and Jacques Cooking At Home” (Alfred A. Knopf). The three-course lunch was made up of dishes from the book, including “Avocado and Grapefruit Salad with Belgian Endive, Frisee, Toasted Hazelnuts, and Champagne Vinaigrette.”

I started leafing through that book, only to realize I had forgotten that both Julia and Jacques had signed the inside page. Her signature was clear and straightforward, much like the woman, herself.

I turned on my oven, and set about making her “Provencal Tomatoes,” the traditional French accompaniment of roasted tomatoes stuffed with herbs and bread crumbs — a true classic just like Julia was.

In the book, Julia writes that it’s an especially good dish to make when tomatoes aren’t yet fully in season. The high heat caramelizes the natural sugars, making the tomatoes much more flavorful than they would have been otherwise.

I used heirloom tomatoes from the farmers’ market. Because they already have a lovely flavor, the high heat only intensifed their sweetness, making them almost candy-like. The crisp topping, hiding salty Parmesan cheese, added a wonderful textural contrast to the soft, jammy tomatoes.

See the movie, then come home and enjoy this simple dish. It’s one that continues to stand the test of time, just┬álike the woman who loved it so.

For more of my remembrances of Julia Child, including my first encounter with her when I was just in college, go to ProjectFoodie.com.

Julia’s Stuffed Tomatoes Provencal

(yields 6 tomato halves)

3 large firm ripe tomatoes

Salt and freshly ground pepper

For the stuffing:

1 to 1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs

2 tablespoons minced shallots

1 teaspoon dried herbes de Provence

3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2 to 3 tablespoons chopped parsley

3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil

Set a rack on the upper-middle level and preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Core tomatoes and cut them in half crosswise. Over a plate or bowl, squeeze each half gently to force out seeds and juice (reserve for making stock). With your fingers, clean the cavities of any clinging seeds. Arrange in a shallow baking dish, lightly brushed with olive oil, cut side up. If any halves are wobbly or tilted, trim a bit off the bottom so that they sit flat in the pan. Season with a sprinkling of salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Stir together bread crumbs, shallots, dried herbs, grated cheese, and chopped parsley in a small bowl. Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil, tossing well to moisten crumbs evenly.

Spoon stuffing into tomato halves, pushing it down into the cavities and mounding on top. Drizzle a scant teaspoon of olive oil over the top of each half.

Bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until topping has browned and tomatoes are hot but still keep their shape. Serve hot in the baking dish, or move them carefully to a clean platter.

Note: The tomato halves can be stuffed several hours in advance and refrigerated before baking.

From “Julia and Jacques Cooking At Home”