Stuffed Tomatoes: Pomodori Ripieni
At least twice every summer when I was growing up my mother would make an entire meal of stuffed vegetables: onion and pepper halves stuffed with seasoned breadcrumbs, zucchini hollowed out and packed with a savory meat filling, and tomatoes brimming with rice.
I loved them all but for me the rice-stuffed tomatoes remain the quintessential summer comfort food: a one-dish meal that is satisfying but not too heavy, delicious straight out of the oven but just as welcomed the next day as cold leftovers.
My version, in which sliced potatoes form a scaffolding of sorts to hold the tomatoes in place as they bake, is based on a classic Roman preparation. Not all recipes call for cooking the rice in advance, but I prefer it so, as the twice-cooked rice is both tender (but not mushy) and richly flavored.
This dish serves six or more: six if it’s 2 per person (main course); 8 to 12 if it’s served as a side.
Heat the oven to 400° F (200° C).
Bring a medium saucepot of water to a rolling boil and salt it generously. Stir in the rice. Return the water to a boil, cover, and cook for 15 to 17 minutes, until the rice is al dente. Reduce the heat under the pot if necessary to prevent the water from boiling over. Drain the rice in a colander set in the sink and then transfer it to a bowl. Drizzle in 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil and stir to prevent the rice from sticking.
Coat the bottom and sides of a baking dish just large enough to fit the tomatoes and potatoes with olive oil.
Slice the top off each tomato to create a lid. Set a colander over a bowl and scoop out the insides of the tomatoes, leaving a wall about 1/4 inch thick. I use a melon baller but a spoon or small knife will also work; just be sure not to pierce through the tomato. Set the tomatoes upside-down on a dish or tray. Press the pulp and seeds to extract as much tomato juice as possible into the bowl. Discard the solids that remain in the colander. Fold the juice into rice. Stir in the mozzarella and Parmigiano cheeses, along with the mixed herbs (except the rosemary). Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour in 1/4 cup olive oil and fold everything together.
Peel the potatoes and slice about 1/4 inch thick. In a bowl, toss them with 1/4 cup olive oil and 1 teaspoon of the rosemary. Arrange a layer of potatoes in the bottom of the baking dish. Set the hollowed-out tomatoes, cut side up, on top of the potatoes. Spoon the rice mixture into each tomato, filling to the top without overstuffing (see Cook’s Note for what to do with any leftover rice). Set each lid on top of its tomato. Snuggle the remaining potatoes around the tomatoes and around the edges of the baking dish; the whole thing should be tightly packed. Sprinkle the chopped rosemary over the tomatoes and potatoes and season with a little more salt. Drizzle a little more olive oil on top.
Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 40 minutes; uncover and continue to bake until the tomatoes are nicely roasted and browned on top, about 40 minutes more. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature. (Leftovers are delicious straight from the fridge.)
Cook’s Note: If there is rice mixture left over after stuffing the tomatoes, put it in an oiled baking dish just large enough to hold it, cover with foil, and bake for 15 minutes alongside the tomatoes; uncover and bake 15 minutes more, until heated through and lightly browned on top.