Guys. Let’s talk for a second about fresh summer tomatoes. How incredible they are. How versatile they are. How it doesn’t matter which kind you get– the big juicy ones, the misshapen funny-looking ones, or the pop-’ems– because no matter their size/shape/flavor, they always taste the way I imagine sunshine tastes: bright, warm, and tangy-sweet.
Now imagine that you took these perfect little orbs and filled them with your favorite grain, arborio rice, the kind used to make risotto. Imagine the rice cooking into a saucy, smooth, and creamy mixture in the bright tomatoes. Imagine topping them with some breadcrumbs, toasting them in the oven and getting crispy. And right– cheese. Finish those imaginary bursts of sunshine with a healthy sprinkle of parmigiana and basil. Now imagine sinking your teeth into one.
Are you drooling yet? Are you ready to make those imaginary stuffed tomatoes a reality? Because it’s time. Find your tomatoes and take the journey. I will admit one thing, though: I was wrong. You will most definitely want the big tomatoes for this. And you’re going to want a lot of them.
I will be the first person to admit that the photos in this post aren’t really doing these tomatoes any justice. But I promise that they are flavorful, summery, and as easy as they are delicious. They would make a lovely weeknight meal in addition to something for a special occasion. They’re healthy and simple (in every sense but flavor), and while making them is not lightning fast (it’ll probably take you an hour to pull together from start to digging in), it makes up for this misdemeanor with flavor and sophistication.
Basically the only way to make these tomatoes better is to roast them alla romana, or Roman-style, which means cooking potatoes in the same pan as the stuffed beauties. Cut the potatoes small and they’ll turn into crisp little tomato-scented nubbins. I, obviously, did not have the patience for that, but they still turned out great. They really were the perfect roasty accompaniment to soak up the stray tomato juices and risotto spills that occasionally– and briefly– appeared on our plates.
I promise you. You will want to make these. You will want to stuff tomatoes to the brim with this creamy, summery filling and eat them day in and day out. But hurry! It is already August and summer days are dwindling fast. Enjoy the tomatoes while they are still fresh off the vine and summer-beautiful.
P.S. Sorry for the posting delay. I’d been having some technical difficlties with my photo uploads, which took a little while to resolve. Everything is now up and running again!
Rice-Stuffed Tomatoes alla Romana
adapted from this Smitten Kitchen recipe
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus some
6 medium-large tomatoes
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
Red pepper to taste
9 tablespoons arborio rice
A small handful of chopped basil
Handful of breadcrumbs
4 large potatoes
Salt to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cut the tops off the tomatoes and scoop out the core, juices, seeds, and fleshy bits into a non-reactive bowl. Be careful to not pierce the bottom of the tomatoes or to rip the top of the tomato in the first scoop with your spoon or knife. Once you get into the tomato, though, don’t be shy about scraping the ribbed parts out of the fruit and into the bowl.
When the juices and fleshy bits have been cleared from the tomatoes, salt the insides of the shells and turn them upside down on a plate to drain. Pulse the scooped-out tomato bits in a blender until smoother but still a bit chunky.
Heat a skillet with two tablespoons of olive oil until hot and fragrant, then add the onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Cook together for about two minutes or until the onion is soft, then add the dry rice to the pan. Toast the rice, stirring occasionally, for about three minutes. Pour the tomato puree into the pan and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then reduce heat to medium-low. Season with about 3/4 teaspoon salt or to taste, then cover the skillet with a lid and let simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. The rice is done when it can be chewed but remains al dente, or retains a bit of tooth.
While the rice is cooking, prepare your potatoes. Wash thoroughly to remove all dirt and then cut them up. There are two ways to do this– in cubes or in spears (like home fries). I personally think the spears would be better. Whichever way you do it, though, make sure that your potato pieces are thin– you want them to cook in the same amount of time as the tomatoes. Toss your potatoes in a bit of olive oil and salt before putting them onto the baking sheet.
Nestle the tomato cups into the potatoes. Stir the basil into the rice and puree mixture and adjust seasoning if necessary. Fill each tomato with the rice mixture, leaving only a hair’s breadth of space at the top for any expansion that may happen while baking. Sprinkle a layer of breadcrumbs onto the top of the rice and drizzle lightly with olive oil.
Bake the tomatoes and potatoes for 30 minutes, or until the tomato walls are soft and the rice inside has finished cooking. The potatoes should also be cooked and browning. Top each tomato with a sprinkle of parmigiana cheese and a spritz of chopped basil before serving.