Cezanne’s Tomatoes

Cezanne? Tomatoes? Come again. The apple after all is the fruit most associated with the French painter. As a brash young artist Cezanne had declared, “I will astonish Paris with an apple.” He was true to his word, even if it did take him a few decades. Many of his 270 still-lifes feature apples, and among them are some of his finest canvasses.

There is one tasty tale about tomatoes though, which I came across in Alex Danchev’s biography, Cezanne: A Life. The reclusive artist from Aix-en-Provence (1839-1906) loved the way his housekeeper, Madame Bremond, made baked tomatoes.

Not known for intimate friendships, Cezanne did get along with Renoir. (Cezanne’s closest friend was the artist Camille Pissarro). One time while visiting Cezannne, Renoir was served Madame Bremond’s tomatoes. Seeing how Renoir enjoyed them, Cezanne shared the recipe so that he could make them at home. The way the story comes down to us is that Renoir’s wife Aline jiggled the recipe, deciding to be “a little more generous with the olive oil.”

I had been reading Cezanne’s biography as research for a play about the artist. Indulging in some magical thinking, I figured if I prepared tomatoes Cezanne’s way, they just might feed my play with inspiration. I found the recipe on the Internet and have now made Cezanne’s tomatoes some half-dozen times. They’ve never failed to please. (A taste for garlic is a prerequisite.)

My play (working title Visiting Cezanne) did get written and director Andrew McGinn and I are now putting the script through its development paces in preparation for a full production next March. One step in that development process is a public reading at the 18th & Union Arts Space on Capitol Hill in Seattle, Monday evening, Nov. 13, 7:00. Actors will read the script, followed by a short discussion with the audience. The reading is free but seating is limited so a reservation is required. To reserve your free seat click here.

As for Cezanne’s tomatoes, the ones destined for the stomach instead of the canvas, below is the recipe.

8 firm tomatoes
2 tablespoons salt
4 garlic cloves
1 bunch flat leaf parsley
fresh-ground black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs

● Preheat oven to 400° F.
● Cut tomatoes in half.
● Sprinkle the salt over the tomato halves, lay them salt-side down on a rack over a dish, and allow to drain.
● After 10 minutes squeeze them gently to remove excess water and seeds.
● Spray a baking dish with oil. It should be large enough to hold all 16 tomato halves.
● Peel, crush and finely chop the garlic.
● Remove parsley from the stalks and chop the leaves finely.
● Combine garlic, parsley and pepper (pat yourself on the back, you just made a persillade).
● Arrange tomato halves in dish.
● Brush top of tomato halves with olive oil.
● Coat top of each tomato half with persillade.
● Pour a generous helping of olive oil over tomatoes (per Aline Renoir, don’t hold back).
● Sprinkle with the breadcrumbs.
● Bake for 20 – 25 minutes, keeping a watchful eye to prevent burning.
● Serve with lots of French bread to mop up the juices.

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