Regular readers of this column know that I’ve often written about Italians’ love of stuffing things, especially vegetables.
I grew up with my mother’s peppers and eggplant filled with a savory mixture of ground beef, onion, parsley and Parmesan cheese—hot work on a summer day but so delicious when these vegetables are in season.
The humble and often bland zucchini (why does everyone have so many of them?) takes on a whole new life when stuffed with sausage, breadcrumbs and chopped, fresh basil. And, sometimes, one’s spouse will eat more than just the filling!
If you are ever lucky enough to dine at Mangia Qui, the little restaurant on North Street in Harrisburg, chef Qui Qui Musarra’s mid-summer menu often includes zucchini blossoms stuffed with ricotta cheese and deep-fried. Heavenly!
But my favorite vessel for stuffing is the bright red and ripe tomato of late summer. Stuffed and roasted tomatoes are my go-to side dish for company. They are a perfect accompaniment to grilled food such as lamb chops, steaks and chicken.
I like to try various ingredients and combinations for stuffing—fresh breadcrumbs versus dried breadcrumbs, grated cheeses like Parmesan and Romano, cubed or shredded cheeses like fontina or cheddar, chopped parsley, sweet basil and fresh thyme. Cooked rice often stands in for the breadcrumbs, but there is always chopped garlic and lots of olive oil.
The recipe that follows is from the region of Lazio, Italy, where the city of Rome is located. Stuffed tomatoes are usually found on the antipasto table, but they can also be served as a first course or, as discussed above, a vegetable side. In this version of stuffed tomatoes, rice is used instead of bread or breadcrumbs. If you have leftover rice around, which I often do, this recipe will come together quickly.
Tomatoes Stuffed with Green Rice
(Pomodori Ripieni di Riso Verde)
- ½ cup medium-grain white rice such as arborio (or 2 cups leftover cooked rice)
- Salt to taste
- 4 medium, ripe, red tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup chopped fresh basil, plus extra leaves for garnish
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan-Reggiano cheese
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
- If cooking rice, prepare the rice according to package directions until the rice is half-cooked, about 9-10 minutes. Drain and place the rice in a large bowl.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Oil a baking dish just large enough to hold the tomatoes snugly.
- Cut off a half-inch slice from the top of each tomato and reserve.
- Using a small spoon, scoop out the flesh from the inside of each tomato and place the pulp in a bowl. (I try to discard any visible seeds and use a paper towel to absorb excess moisture.)
- Chop the tomato flesh, continuing to dab at excess moisture and add the olive oil, chopped basil and parsley, cheese, garlic, salt, pepper and cooked rice.
- Place the rice mixture into each of the 4 hollowed-out tomatoes, dividing equally. (I often add extra olive oil and grated cheese on top.)
- Cover each tomato with its top.
- Bake until the rice is tender, about 20 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature, garnished with fresh basil leaves.
Summer is about to leave us, but the markets are still brimming with beautiful tomatoes. You can mix yellow or orange tomatoes with traditional red ones for a pretty contrast. I encourage you to try substituting breadcrumbs from fresh Italian bread in place of the rice. The bread soaks up the olive oil and is just luscious.
You can take the tomato stuffing and place it in parboiled green pepper halves or large white mushrooms and bake as you would the tomatoes. So many ideas!
Enjoy the remaining days of summer. And just keep on stuffing!
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