I have to confess that until a few months ago I had never eaten a stuffed tomato. It’s not that I’d never heard of stuffed tomatoes (hey – I’ve been around….well, at least, nearby), it’s just that they never sounded very appealing. I guess I must have thought they’d be bland and mushy.
For an upcoming dinner party I had planned on making Spinach And Mushrooms Topped Polenta. This was a mixed group (i.e., vegetarians and carnivores) so I wanted something that appealed to both groups. I always feel like the pressure is on when cooking for carnivores – I want to show them vegetarian cooking is more than tofu and sprouts.
I was racking my brain for the perfect side dish for this entree. It had to be visually appealing as well as have a taste that complimented the rather bland polenta, spinach, and mushrooms. Something red, I decided, which pretty much meant carrots, red peppers, or tomatoes. Tomatoes seemed like a perfect match. Not only are they a vibrant red, but their flavor would play well against the polenta dish.
In thumbing through several cookbooks (to those of you under 30: yes, in the old days we used actual books for recipes), I found tomato aspic, soup, stewed, stuffed, and tarts. I honed in on ‘Stuffed’. Hmmm! I liked the idea of a contained side dish since the mushrooms were going to be scattered with a brown sauce on top. A nice, bright, plump tomato would do very well, visually. Taste-wise, I still had my doubts.
After reading a few stuffed tomato recipes, I came up with own. Holy Moly! When I took my first bite, my mouth was aglow with delite. I actually said, ‘Where has this been all my life?’ I couldn’t believe how powerful the tomato flavor was, balanced perfectly with the garlic, seasoned bread crumbs, spices, and Romano cheese. Plus these Stuffed Tomatoes formed a perfect marriage with the Spinach And Mushrooms Topped Polenta.
Not only are Stuffed Tomatoes easy to prepare, pretty as a picture, and so tasty you’ll swear you’re hearing angels singing ‘Alleluia’ as you take your first bite, but they can also be prepared (but not baked) ahead of time so that’s one less thing to do as you’re trying to get your meal timed right. (Stay out of my way during the last 20 minutes of dinner prep!)
It doesn’t matter what variety of tomato you choose, but it’s best to use one that’s broader than it is tall. Tall, thin tomatoes, such as Roma, tend to fall over and spill their contents thus producing an unstuffed Stuffed Tomato. Not good! Also, choose ones that are flat on the stem end as this will become the bottom. For variety, you can also choose a gold or yellow heirloom – what’s life without shaking it up a bit?!
If you’d like to watch me make these delicious Stuffed Tomatoes, click on Stuffed Tomatoes.
STUFFED TOMATOES – makes 2
- 2 tomatoes (intact and blemish-free)
- ½ T olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, pressed
- 1/4 tsp dried oregano
- 1/8 tsp dried basil
- pinch cayenne pepper (also called red pepper spice)
- 1 small bay leaf or ½ large one
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 T seasoned bread crumbs
- ¼ cup Romano cheese, finely shredded
- 2 T additional Romano cheese, finely shredded
Slice 1/3″ from BOTTOM of tomatoes. (The stem end will become the bottom of the Stuffed Tomato). Carefully scoop out and save the pulp, leaving the sides and skin intact. Use a spoon for this task – you don’t want to pierce the sides of the tomato. Clean out all the nooks and crannies of seeds and goo, and give the tomatoes a few good shakes over the sink. Set aside, letting them drain upside down.
Dice the tomato tops and meatier pulp.
In a small saucepan over a low/medium heat, sautè olive oil, garlic, oregano, basil, cayenne pepper, bay leaf, and salt for 1 minute. Take care not to burn the garlic. Add in the diced tomatoes, turn up the heat to a medium flame, and cook for about 2 minutes. You want the tomato pieces cooked but not mushy. What you’ll notice is the pieces have still retained their shape but quite a bit of liquid has been released. Turn off the burner.
Quickly strain the liquid using a small strainer, if you have one, or carefully pouring off as much liquid as you can into the sink (use a lid to prevent solids from slipping through. Empty any solids in the strainer back into the saucepan. You don’t want to get rid of all of the liquid, just most of it – that’s why you need to do this step quickly. REMOVE AND DISCARD BAY LEAF!!!
Preheat oven to 350º Fahrenheit.
Stir in the bread crumbs and ¼ cup Romano. Stuff the tomatoes with the mixture, packing it down. There should be exactly enough filling for 2 tomatoes. Top each tomato with 1 T shredded Romano.
Place Stuffed Tomatoes on a greased cookie sheet that has sides (in case of leakage) and bake for 20 minutes. Then turn on broiler (leaving tomatoes where they are) and broil for another 2 minutes, until tops are browned. Keep an eye on them – you don’t want to burn them! Serve hot.