Girl-on-a-bicycle-with-a-pet-monkey inspired Stuffed Tomatoes
Ever feel like you don’t have time to breathe let alone cook? That’s when you need your list of fast, easy comfort food dishes that require no thinking and no particular talent to make and always taste great. Big giant Romanian tomatoes and peppers are at their best in late summer and early autumn and provide the original convenience food – scoop them out, fill with your filling of choice , bake, pour a glass of wine and eat!
Fillings? I love a green lentil and bulgur filling (although its not a super fast one as you need to cook the lentils first) or the classic rice and sultana filling and to serve with a garlic and mint yoghurt sauce Turkish style. But for convenience and speed the way of cooking stuffed tomatoes in the South of France cannot be beaten.
My love of stuffed tomatoes started young. On a holiday to France we were driving through Marseilles. I think I was nine. My mum stopped at a charcuterie and as we waited in the car a girl rode by with a pet monkey on the child’s seat of her bicycle. The small black monkey, the smell of those still warm stuffed tomatoes, eating them as a picnic lunch…I can still taste how good they were. It’s funny how certain memories are etched on your brain forever. So here is a recipe that I make over and over again whenever I see giant tomatoes. Bon appetit!
Gadgets & Gizmos
Deep baking tray
Ingredients: serves four
4 x 200g of big fat tomatoes
200g minced pork (I prefer with pork but beef works just as well)
60g breadcrumbs or 20g raw rice
1 small onion finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 bunch of parsley, chopped roughly
A little fresh thyme if you have some
Olive oil for brushing and drizzling
60g hard cheese (optional)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
If you are using rice then this adds a little time because you need to par- cook it first. I like my stuffed tomatoes with rice but the breadcrumb route is the fastest!
If using rice: Fry the rice, onions and garlic in olive oil until the onions are transparent. Add a very small cup of water or leftover wine or wine and martini mixed (150ml) and boil until the rice absorbs the water but is not quite cooked through. (If you do cook it through its not a disaster). If you have a lot of juice from the tomatoes then use this.
Trim the bases of the tomatoes so they sit flat on the work surface. Slice off the top of the tomatoes and reserve (this will serve as the ‘lid’ for the stuffed tomatoes).
With a spoon, scoop out the pulp and juices of the tomatoes into a bowl. Discard any woody bits which can occur in really big tomatoes. I like to add this pulp to the meat and rice/or breadcrumbs.
Mix all of the remaining stuffed tomato ingredients, except the cheese if you are using it, together in a bowl until well combined.
Season the insides of the tomatoes with a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Divide the stuffing mix among the tomatoes, pressing it in lightly. Sprinkle over the cheese if you are using. Top each stuffed tomato with the reserved tomato ‘lids’.
Brush a baking dish with a little olive oil (I usually put some baling paper or foil in to stop them caramelizing onto the baking dish directly) then place the tomatoes on top. Drizzle with some more olive oil and cook in the oven for 25 minutes at 180C, or until the tomatoes are tender and the stuffing is cooked through.
You can serve these with a tomato sauce or just plain with a salad. I think that last time I made them I made a salad with a yoghurt dressing and sprinkled some sumac over. I might have made the stuffing Turkish style too with some sultanas, cinnamon and allspice but that’s the thing with stuffed tomatoes… each time it’s a little bit different. Enjoy!