A staple of summer picnics and tavole calde, pomodori ripieni di riso, or Baked Tomatoes with Rice, make for a simple and relatively quick weekend dinner, part of a buffet or a tasty antipasto for a summer dinner for guests. Here’s the recipe:
- 4-6 large, ripe tomatoes
- 100g (3-1/2 oz) rice
- 1-2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
- A pinch of oregano, a few basil leaves and/or a sprig or two of fresh parsley
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil
Take as many tomatoes as you have dining companions, cut off (but don’t discard) the tops. Scoop out the insides of the tomatoes and chop them up, making sure you don’t lose the juices. Mix the chopped up insides with some rice, which you will have parboiled until they are about half-tender. Season the rice mixture with salt, pepper, a drizzle of olive oil, just a bit of finely minced garlic and some minced herbs, typically oregano, basil and/or parsley.
Spoon the seasoned rice mixture into the insides of the tomatoes, taking care not to pack them too tightly, and place their tops back on top of the rice stuffing. Place them in a well-oiled baking pan and scatter some wedges of potato around the tomatoes. Season the dish with salt and pepper and, if you like, a sprinkling of oregano. Drizzle everything with some more olive oil.
Roast in a hot oven (200C, 400F) for about 45 minutes, or until the rice and potatoes are fully cooked, the tomatoes nicely roasted—they will crinkle up and their edges will char a bit. Check on the dish from time to time while it is roasting. If it seems dry, drizzle over a bit more oil. You can also move the potatoes around so they cook evenly and are well coated with the oil.
The dish is usually left to cool and eaten at room temperature or just slightly warm.
In Rome at least, Baked Tomatoes with Rice are invariably served with potatoes but if this is too much carb for your taste, you can omit them. Some recipes call for reserving a bit of the tomato pulp and mixing it with the potatoes so they too get some tomato flavor and a bit of color.You can also play with the rice stuffing. As indicated, the herbs can vary with your taste. Some recipes omit the garlic, others call for some grated pecorino or parmigiano. Some add capers, olives and/or chopped anchovy, although these ingredients would change the character of the dish pretty radically and, in my humble opinion, upset the balance of flavors.
Needless to say, the success of this simple dish will depend on the quality of its ingredients, especially the tomatoes. This is really something you should save for the best, tastiest summer tomatoes you can find. The tomatoes themselves should be large enough to stuff, of course, but should not be gigantic, either, or you will wind up with too much stuffing, making for a rather stodgy dish. The tomatoes should be fully ripe, but not at all mushy, or they will disintegrate in the roasting process.As far as the rice is concerned, the typical rice would be short-grained, but this is a forgiving recipe. You can even use leftover Chinese take-away, which is what I used tonight!
Some recipes calls for adding raw rice, but in my experience this inevitably leads to a dry, chalky filling. As mentioned, it is important not to pack the stuffing too tightly or to overstuff the tomatoes; they will otherwise expand and rip open the tomatoes—not the end of the world by any means, and your Baked Tomatoes with Rice will still taste good, but you may fare una brutta figura (make a bad impression) if company is coming…
A few Greek followers tweeted me recently to say that they have the same dish, called Gemista, often made from other veggies, too, like zucchini, eggplant, peppers and so on. You learn something new every day!