I’ve found that one of the nicest things about living abroad is that I now have more than one place to call home – though the U.S is where I was born and raised, and will always be my original home, Rome has become my sort of adopted home in the past three years I have been living here, a place that I feel now incredibly attached to and very lucky to have the chance to live in. While I hope to contribute as many American recipes as possible to the blog, (like this cheesecake or these pancakes) I also want to be sure to post some recipes from my second home, to share some of the dishes I eat encounter on a daily basis here. Plus, I’d like to diversify the selection of Italian recipes on the blog, giving you recipes from my part of Italy here in the south as Gloria has been doing for Emilia Romagna in the north.
Today’s recipe is for pomodori ripieni col riso, or rather, rice stuffed tomatoes served with roasted potatoes, a Roman classic that is a staple at tavole calde here. For those of you who are unfamiliar, a tavola calda (which literally means hot table) is kind of an Italian take on fast food, a place where you can find a variety of high quality prepared foods –pastas, vegetables, meat, fish, and pizza al taglio – that you can either order and eat right away, or take to go. I’ve noticed that it is where many Italians eat during their lunch break at work, but it is also a great meal option if you don’t have time to cook a meal but still want to eat well. These tomatoes are my go to option whenever I eat at a tavola calda in Rome – the best ones I’ve tried so far come from La Molisana, a tavola calda conveniently located five minutes from my house. If you don’t live in Rome and aren’t lucky enough to have a Roman tavola calda close by, don’t worry -- I decided to try and develop my own recipe for these tomatoes so that you can give this dish a try at home.
Don’t let the simplicity of this dish fool you – it definitely packs a flavor punch, as the rice absorbs the flavor of the tomatoes while it cooks, and gets a healthy dose of fresh parmesan and herbs -- and as if that weren’t good enough, the tomatoes cook right alongside everyone’s favorite side dish, crispy salty roast potatoes (can you tell that it is almost time for lunch as I’m writing this??)
This recipe is a perfect way to use up all the summer tomatoes in your garden, and can be served room temperature (ideal for summer when the idea of eating anything too hot seems less than ideal). I’ve added cheese to the center of the tomatoes for my take on the recipe (just because cheese makes everything better,) but it is not traditionally part of the classic recipe, so feel free to leave it out if you’d like. Though I tend to eat these tomatoes as they are -- the rice and potatoes make them quite substantial -- you can also serve them as a side dish with grilled meat, or with a green salad if you’d like. Enjoy!
RICE STUFFED TOMATOES WITH POTATOES
Ingredients (makes five tomatoes):
5 large to medium tomatoes
¾ cup of rice
½ of a small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic
Fresh oregano, chopped (to taste)
5 or so basil leaves
½ cup parmesan cheese
5 cubes of mozzarella cheese
3 medium potatoes, peeled
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Cut the tops off the tomatoes and using a spoon and set aside. Carefully scoop out the tomato juices, seeds and flesh (make sure you don’t pierce the bottom of the tomatoes) and put everything into a bowl. Salt the cavities of the tomatoes and turn them upside down on a plate to drain.
Process the tomato flesh and juices in a food processor until it is mostly smooth. Next, heat some olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, and sauté the onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes, and cook until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the rice and stir everything together for about three minutes to toast the rice. Add the tomato puree to the rice and stir everything together well, then bring the mixture to a simmer and reduce the heat to medium low. Season with 3/4 teaspoon salt and a little pepper, then cover the skillet with a lid, and let the rice and tomatoes simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the rice is par-cooked. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
Meanwhile, slice your potatoes and toss with salt, pepper, and olive oil, and a clove or smashed garlic if you want. Lay the potatoes in your baking dish.
Stir the herbs into the rice, and then the parmesan cheese. Arrange tomatoes right-side-up in baking pan with the potatoes (move the potatoes around a bit so that the tomatoes can lie flat) then spoon the rice mixture into the tomatoes, putting a cube of cheese in the middle of the rice if you want. Be sure to leave a little space between the top of the tomato and the rice, as it will expand when it finishes cooking in the oven. Take your reserved tomato lids and place them back on the top of the tomatoes.
Bake uncovered for 30-40 minutes, until tomato walls are soft, the rice inside has finished cooking, and the potatoes are cooked. Serve hot or room temperature.