Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Stuffing a Tomato

When I was growing up in Pennsylvania, fresh tomatoes were for eating whole or cut up in salads.  Somehow cooking them didn’t occur to my mother.  If she wanted tomato sauce, she opened a can or she used ketchup. 

Imagine my surprise when I went to Greece as a high school exchange student and had my first Stuffed Tomato.  Everything about it was exotic—the herbs and spices, the crunchy breadcrumbs on top drizzled with something called olive oil? 

Okay, I was 16 and pretty ignorant about cooking, but that summer in Greece changed everything.  For one thing, I gained 15 pounds because I liked the food so much.  More importantly, I realized that I could have an impact on what I ate.  If I wanted a Stuffed Tomato, a Stuffed Grape Leaf or some Taramasalata (a Greek dip made from fish roe), I could learn to make it myself.

During the next few years I had many disasters and occasional triumphs in the kitchen.  I have never made a decent Stuffed Grape Leaf, and only once did my Taramasalata work out.  However, I can make a killer Stuffed Tomato. 

It helps to have tomatoes that taste like tomatoes, but a spicy stuffing can work wonders.  I tend to use Roma (plum) tomatoes, which are less watery and cook faster because they are small.  Also, you can eat more without appearing greedy.

Uncooked Stuffed Tomatoes
Cooked Stuffed Tomatoes
Stuffed Tomatoes – makes 6 
Olive oil 
6 medium tomatoes 
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs 
3 scallions, thinly sliced 
2 tablespoons chopped parsley 
1 tablespoon chopped garlic 
1 teaspoon za’atar spice (or 1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds, 1/2 teaspoon ground
          thyme, 1/4 teaspoon salt) – see NOTE below 
1/4 teaspoon black pepper 
Heat oven to 375 degrees.  Grease one 6-cup muffin pan with oil and set aside. 
Slice a very thin sliver from the stem end of each tomato so it will stand up straight. Hollow out each tomato with a spoon, saving the insides of the tomatoes for another use.  Set the tomato shells into the muffin pan. 
Combine the breadcrumbs, scallions, parsley, garlic, za’tar (or other spices) and black pepper in a bowl.  Stuff the tomatoes with this mixture and pour 1 teaspoon olive oil over each tomato’s breadcrumb mixture. 
Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the tomatoes start to slump.  Serve immediately or let cool and serve at room temperature. 
NOTE: Za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice mixture available at gourmet food stores and online.  It traditionally includes thyme, toasted sesame seeds, salt and sumac.  If you have never used za’atar and don’t want to buy it, forget about the sumac and instead combine 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano or dried basil, 1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds and 1/4 teaspoon salt.  The whole idea is to give an interesting flavor to the breadcrumbs. 
           For easy-to-make recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"