Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tomatoes Stuffed with Rice

Worldwide shipping and high-tech storage technology permit a yearlong availability of formerly seasonal fruits and vegetables. Even so, certain dishes demand a flavor that only produce that is truly in season provides. Otherwise, you risk a bland imitation of a flavorful dish. We all have a list of favorite seasonal fare. My summer collection includes a deceptively humble offering: tomatoes stuffed with rice.
Tomatoes came late this year in my corner of the US, so it is not too late to share one of my favorite summer dishes. If you tend a garden, you might already have ripe tomatoes and fresh basil and parsley at hand. (If gardenless, visit your farmer’s market or any good market for local produce.) A well-stocked pantry often holds the dish’s other ingredients (Italian risotto rice, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper). These common ingredients come together with great produce to create something both simple and sublime.
Countless variations of stuffed tomatoes exist in Spanish, French, Italian and other Mediterranean cooking traditions. I clipped the following Italian version from Saveur over ten years ago and it continues to impress me.
  • 8 firm, ripe medium tomatoes
  • ½ cup Italian risotto rice (preferably Vialone Nano)
  • 2 tbsp. finely chopped parsley
  • 2 tbsp. finely chopped basil
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Position oven rack in top third of oven, then preheat oven to 400° F. Pull stems off tomato tops, then trim about ¾” from bottom of each one and set aside. Working over a medium bowl, use a small spoon to carefully scoop out inner pulp without puncturing the walls of the tomatoes. Arrange scooped-out tomatoes in a medium baking dish, and set aside.
2. Pass tomato pulp through a food mill or pulse in the bowl of a food processor to a chunky purée, then transfer back into bowl. Add rice, parsley, basil, garlic, and oil; liberally season with salt and pepper. Mix well. Spoon filing into prepared tomatoes (there may be a little filling left over), and place a reserved tomato end on top of each stuffed tomato. Drizzle a little oil over tomatoes, and bake until rice is swollen and tender and tomatoes are soft and well browned, about 50 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool to room temperature.

Ayumi Horie

A few notes and thoughts. Do not forgo this dish if you do not have or cannot find Vialone Nano rice—Arborio or Carnaroli rice will also work. Why use Vialone Nano? It cooks more quickly than most risotto rice and retains its characteristically round, short shape.

I must admit that I can take or leave the garlic here. I often leave it out and substitute a shallot or a bit of red onion.

I fill the uncooked tomatoes with the rice mixture until each is about three-quarters full; I then skim liquid from the rice mixture to top off each tomato. This extra liquid helps the rice to properly cook.

This dish, although simple and comforting, can hold its own at either a family meal or a more considered party. Serving these baked tomatoes at room temperature makes this a particularly convenient dish when entertaining. After preparing, let them rest on the counter until serving. This allows you to spend more time with family, guests and those with whom you choose to Bunbury.