Thursday, February 17, 2022

Italian Rice Stuffed Tomatoes

This is a delicious and healthy vegetarian dish perfect for Meat Free Monday

Tomatoes are the hero of this vegetarian dish, and whether you bake these with mushrooms or roast potatoes, the latter will also measure up and absorb all of the beautiful flavours from the tomatoes. The second vegetable also keeps the tomatoes from toppling over if necessary. This was a spur of the moment meal I decided to make late one afternoon, when I felt like something really healthy and vegetable based to serve with grilled pork chops. However, this is a simple and slightly retro dish than can also be served as a  delicious Meat Free Monday dinner, accompanied by a green salad, as a side dish as part of a Sunday roast which is how I remember it, or as a light lunch with some crusty sourdough bread. These little beauties are ideal for entertaining, as they can be prepared in advance and and then popped into the oven just  before your guests arrive. They are also very patient when cooked, and will happily wait whilst the rest of the food is being prepared. The whole dish is probably best served just warm rather than hot, so that guests don't burn their mouths.

 I am slightly challenged by cooking at the moment, but becoming very used to the new kitchen in my daughter's new home. I am missing my herb garden at home, as normally I would have added some fresh oregano or basil to this dish and garnished it with fresh parsley for presentation purposes. I'm trying not to drive to the supermarket every time I need an ingredient, particularly for an unplanned dish like this one. However dried oregano seasons the brown rice stuffing beautifully, and I love the nutty flavour of the rice. We have a very good selection of dried herbs and spices in the pantry which are so useful for all kinds of dishes. As I mentioned in my last February In My Kitchen post, much of my cooking at the moment whilst we enjoy a "working holiday" in Cairns is improvisatory, making do with what I have on hand. At the time I wasn't even thinking that this "recipe" would be bloggable, however as I started preparing the tomatoes and the stuffing, my cooking mojo came on board, and  I realised that this dish would be delicious and might be blog worthy. Mr. HRK loved them, but I wasn't sure if our daughter would as she doesn't like cooked tomato generally,  particularly not if they are grilled or fried with eggs and bacon, unlike moi. However she was impressed, which was a great recommendation. The tomatoes tasted fresh and delicious and kept their shape, and the rice stuffing was full of delicious Italian flavours. 

The key to any healthy vegetarian dish is quality produce, and we had four perfectly firm and beautifully red tomatoes in our fruit bowl. These tomatoes came from Jonsson's Farm Market, a local Cairns business in the suburb of Stratford, which specialises in  providing fresh local produce, vegetables, fruit and meat, from paddock to plate. These tomatoes probably came from Mareeba, the food bowl of the Atherton Tablelands near Cairns. The quality of produce available at Jonsson's  is superior to what I have found in the supermarkets here, as some of the supermarket vegetables and fruit has by the time it has been unpacked and reshelved, endured a lot of road miles. Whilst I only used 4 tomatoes for this dish, the stuffing recipe will fill 6.


Serves 6

6 large firm ripe tomatoes

3 cups cooked brown rice

1 cup grated parmesan

2 teaspoons dried oregano, or 2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves

1/2 teaspoon dried chilli flakes, if you like a little heat

2 cloves garlic finely chopped

2 teaspoons finely chopped black olives, or use capers (washed well if salted)

3 tablespoons fresh breadcrumbs

1 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Handful of cap mushrooms


Before you start preparing, preheat the oven to 180 deg. C or 350 deg. F.

I won't beat around the bush, hollowing out the tomatoes can be fiddly, but very rewarding, and this can be done well in advance when you have some time. Slice off the caps from the tomatoes, at the widest part just below the top as this will become their lid when they are baked. Remove the pulp from the inside of the tomatoes. I used a small sharp knife to carefully cut about 1 cm inside the the outer skin of the tomato, and then I spooned out the pulp. There needs to be enough tomato skin and pulp left in tact so that the tomatoes remain firm when stuffed and cooked. Chop the tomato pulp that you have removed, into small pieces.Some people remove the seeds, but I can't see the point of doing that.

Place the cooked rice in a medium sized bowl and add the chopped tomato pulp, dried oregano, chilli flakes, garlic, salt, and chopped black olives or capers. Anchovies also make a delicious addition if they suit your taste.

If the rice mixture is too moist, mix 1 tablespoon or even more fresh breadcrumbs through it, remembering though that the rice will continue to absorb some liquid and flavours during the cooking process. Spoon the rice mixture into the tomatoes, pressing down gently, piling the mixture as high as you dare. 

Now let's dress up these babies. I like to top the stuffed tomatoes with a layer of breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese, and then add their lid.

Pour a very light layer of olive oil into the baking dish. Carefully place the tomatoes in the baking dish and add the tomato lids to the top.I used a Pyrex dish which would easily hold six tomatoes, but as I only had four I packed the cap mushrooms in between the tomatoes and baked them with the tomatoes. The mushrooms were delicious, absorbed the flavours of the tomatoes,  and also kept the tomatoes in position.

If you have potatoes on hand, cut them into small chunks, bake them first, and then bake them again with the tomatoes instead of the mushrooms, or serve both separately.

Pour a little olive oil over the mushrooms and the tomatoes, sprinkle with more fresh grated parmesan cheese and ground black  pepper, and a little more dried oregano.

Cook's notes:
  • The quantities I have given are suggestions only depending on what you have on hand. Hopefully all of your tomatoes will be the same size. However if they're not that doesn't matter, as this is a rustic dish. If your tomatoes are smaller, you will just need more of them.
  • If you grow your own herbs that's wonderful. Use fresh parsley, basil or oregano, to season your rice, and for garnishing. The more fresh herbs the better.
  • I cooked the brown rice first so that it was ready to eat, and that worked perfectly for a stuffing. 
  • If you cook with rice, brown or white, during the week make some extra, and then it can be easily used for baked tomatoes later in the week.
  • Did you know that rice which has been chilled in the refrigerator after cooking, and then reheated in another dish contains less calories? I'm sticking with that theory anyway.
  • Leftover Stuffed Tomatoes can be stored in the refrigerator in a covered container and reheated in the oven or the microwave until just warm. Delicious.
These tomatoes will become a family favourite in no time, and you will know that you are serving a healthy and tasty dish that will accompany most food already on the table.

Happy Friday, and have a nice weekend everyone, thanks for dropping by.



Friday, February 11, 2022

In My Kitchen, February 2022

It's been a topsy turvy time for us since before Christmas. I have been cooking in three different kitchens, one after the other, in addition to my kitchen in Mackay. We have recently helped our daughter move house, and she is now settling in well. So the last month has been a mixture of packing up, moving, storing furniture and possessions, and unpacking, and other things mixed in as well, whilst she kept working. The three of us have been quite peripatetic, and have met some genuinely very helpful and lovely people along the way which really helped.