Baked Goat Cheese and Tomato “Fondue”

This post comes from the California Olive Ranch, and it will be yummy once our local tomatoes are ripe. Make this with ripe, warm-from-the-garden tomatoes and treat yourself to something spectacular!
Cabecou is an aged goat cheese that is formed in disks. If you can find Laura Chenel’s Cabecou, use that. If we have any Baby Cakes aged fresh crottins, they are ideal, as well. Drain your tomatoes if they are too juicy. And don’t let the sauce cook too much: you just want to warm the tomatoes. You don’t want them to break down and become saucelike.
You can make one large serving of this or six individual ones. Terra-cotta baking dishes would be ideal, but any ovenproof dishes will work. If you have one, we recommend using a convection oven for the baking; just watch your time, as the fondue will cook faster.

6 thin slices sturdy bread
Extra virgin olive oil, to drizzle
2 lbs fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes or 2 16-oz cans diced tomatoes
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
2 large shallots, sliced
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 fresh bay leaf or 1 sprig fresh basil
2 Tbs white wine
2 Tbs sliced dates, prunes, or dried apricots
1 9-oz jar Cabecou or Birchbark Baby Cakes cheese, at room temperature
Directions

Peel and seed tomatoes.  If they are extremely juicy, drain in a colander to 20 mins or so, then chop into 1/2-inch pieces. (Canned tomatoes should be drained, too.)  Heat olive oil in a heavy, wide pan over medium heat.  Add shallots and garlic and cook slowly until very tender, 8 to 10 mins.  Increase heat and add tomatoes, salt, pepper and bay leaf; cook another 30 seconds or so.  Add wine and cook until it has evaporated. Add the dried fruit and remove pan from heat. (The dish can be held at this point and finished later.)

Preheat oven to 500F. Cut cheese disks in half horizontally, making 6 small rounds. Spoon tomatoes into a baking dish and top with cheese. Bake until the top of the cheese is golden and tomato sauce is heated through, looking rich and thick.  Depending on your oven, this should take 6 to 8 minutes.  Set baking dish on a napkin-lined plate (to keep it from sliding around) with the “croutons” alongside, so your guests can make their own toasts.  It’s best to spread a bit of cheese first, then spoon tomatoes on top.  Alternatively, cut bread into bite-sized cubes, toast till crispy, and have your guests skewer them with fondue forks and coat them with the cheese and tomato fondue.

If you prefer a spicier “fondue”, feel free to sprinkle dried or fresh chili peppers, chopped, into the sauce or atop the finished servings. You can also use a prepared sauce like Sriracha to drizzle over each serving. Scrumptious. Just remember to have a cold drink handy!

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