Rice-Stuffed Tomatoes with Potatoes

In a city where even the simplest things become difficult -- going to the bank to pay rent or the post office to send a package is always an adventure, public transportation is touch-and-go, and customer service is non-existent -- I've learned to appreciate the little things in Rome that make life just a tiny bit easier. There are the incredibly convenient negozi cinesi, small, crowded shops where you can buy literally everything you could ever need -- cleaning products, office supplies, light bulbs, headphones, make up, nail polish, Christmas decorations, baking supplies, toiletries, luggage, to name just a few -- making one-stop shopping a breeze. There's the fact that traveling out of the city, when you've had enough of it, is easily done, too -- thanks to Trenitalia you can hop on a train from Termini station and be out of the city to somewhere quieter and calmer in just an hour or two, with tickets purchased easily online. There is also the tavola calda.

If you're not familiar -- the tavola calda is fast food, done the Italian way, a magical place that sells prepared food to-go -- pastas, veggies, meat, fish, pizza by the slice, you name it -- that makes for a delicious, fresh, home-cooked meal, all without ever lifting a finger. The tavola calda is a lifesaver for anyone who 1.) has no time to cook or 2.) doesn't want to cook, but 3.) still wants to eat well. The tavola calda is also perfect for lunch on-the-go, when you have to bring something to a dinner party but don't know how to cook, or if you're feeding a big group. I happen to love a good tavola calda -- my favorite one is La Molisana, right near my apartment -- and my favorite tavola calda offering is pomodori ripieni di riso alla romana, or rather, rice-stuffed tomatoes served with roast potatoes, a Roman classic. They are typical of tavole calde -- they're in every one I've ever come across in Rome -- but if you're not living in or traveling to the Eternal City any time soon, here's how to make them at home. 

So! These rice-stuffed tomatoes are one of the few vegan recipes I have on the blog, and its lack of pancetta or Parmesan or cream allows each individual ingredient to shine its brightest, with none of the flavor lost. This dish is simple and straight-forward, no nonsense -- the rice is intensely tomato-y, allowing the Summer tomato to show off a little, the basil is bright and flowery, and the potatoes are seasoned with nothing more than a little olive oil and salt, which is all they ever really need. Of course if you really wanted to, you could dress things up with some cheese -- cheese is always tempting -- but I don't think you much need to here. Bonus: these are excellent served room temperature on those Summer days where the idea of eating anything more than tepid is overwhelming. PLUS, each tomato has its own little tomato hat-lid, which I find pretty adorable. 

A couple of notes: I'm not a huge fan of garlic, so I just let a clove or two marinate in the tomato/rice mixture for half an hour, then removed it. If you like garlic, feel free to very finely chop the clove, add it to the rice/tomato mixture, and leave it there. Feel free to also double the recipe if you are serving a bigger crowd. You can also use bell peppers instead of tomatoes if you want, or a combination of both, and I think zucchine would actually work here too. Finally, these are great served at room temperature or warm. 

Looking for other tomato-y recipes? I've got this Spaghetti with Tomatoes and Basil, this Tomato Cobbler, these Tomato Basil Shortcakes, this Cherry Tomato Crostata, this Fettuccine with Brie, Tomatoes, and Basil, Roasted Tomato Basil Soup, and Sun-dried Tomato Pesto. For more stuffed veggies -- I have these Zucchine Ripiene.


4 large tomatoes (pomodori da riso if you're shopping in Italy)
10 tablespoons (100 grams) Arborio rice, rinsed under water
6 basil leaves, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt and then a little more to taste
2 garlic cloves, cut in to large pieces
1 teaspoon olive oil

4 potatoes
Olive oil

Start with your tomatoes. Using a sharp knife, cut the "lid" off the tomato (the part with the green leaves) and set it aside. Use a spoon to hollow out the tomato, putting the juices and pulp in a bowl. Be careful not to break the tomato when you do this. When the tomato is completely hollowed out, turn it over on a paper towel lined plate or cutting board to let them drain. Repeat with all the tomatoes.
Next, blend the tomato pulp and juice in a blender or food processor until everything is pureed. Don't worry if there are seeds in the tomato mixture -- they blend in just fine. Once you have a tomato puree, put it in a bowl along with the rice, 1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper, garlic basil leaves, and 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Let the rice sit there for half an hour to absorb all the flavors and soften up a little. Taste the tomato mixture and add more salt to taste, if you'd like (I think I ended up using 1/2 a teaspoon and a tiny bit more).
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). While the rice is doing its thing and the oven is heating up, start with the potatoes. Peel four potatoes (I used Russet) and cut them in to chunks, putting them in the baking pan as you go. Toss them with a little olive oil to coat and salt to taste and toss everything together directly in the baking pan. Once the half an hour is up, take your tomatoes that have been draining, place them among the potatoes in the baking pan, and fill them with the tomato/rice mixture, being sure to include some juice in each tomato so the rice has liquid to cook in.
Place the reserved tomato lids on their respective tomatoes, drizzle everything with a little olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and place in the oven to bake.
Bake the tomatoes and potatoes for about 45 minutes, or until the potatoes and rice are cooked through, and the tomatoes are soft. Serve warm or room temperature with some potatoes alongside. Serves 4.

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