This week’s recipe is another veggie delight, the theme of this month’s cooking column. Simon Hopkinson focuses on vegetables in The Vegetarian Option (Stewart, Tabori & Chang), his follow-up to the entertaining Roast Chicken and Other Stories. Cookbook columnist Sybil Pratt says, “Whether your leanings are strictly veg or happily omnivorous, Hopkinson’s options will expand your repertoire of delectable meatless dishes.” Do vegetarian dishes regularly make the table at your house?
Baked stuffed tomatoes “paella style”
Although the flavors in this dish are those of Spanish paella, the rice I have chosen is Italian carnaroli; other risotto rice may be employed (a simple arborio or vialone nano), but I find carnaroli swells more evenly and tenderly for the stuffing.
These tomatoes may also be served alongside other small dishes as part of a buffet lunch (in which case, one each is sufficient). For a first course, as here, you will need two.
8 firm, ripe medium-small tomatoes
½ small green bell pepper, seeded, pith removed, and coarsely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
large pinch of dried chili flakes
handful of Italian parsley leaves
1 teaspoon Spanish paprika
1 teaspoon saffron threads, steeped in 1 tablespoon boiling water
1/2 cup olive oil, plus a little more, if liked
1/3 cup carnaroli rice
Maldon sea salt
Remove the stalks from the tomatoes and then turn them over. Using a small, sharp knife, slice through about a fifth of the way down the tomato, to give little caps. Reserve these for later. Now, using a teaspoon, carefully scoop out all of the tomato innards into a bowl. Place the hollowed-out shells in a roasting dish that will accommodate them snugly.
Put the green bell pepper, garlic, chili, parsley, paprika, and infused saffron (with its water) into a food processor and pulse until the ingredients are evenly but coarsely chopped. Now tip in the tomato pulp with a generous 1/3 cup of the olive oil and process further until the entire mixture is a sloppy, seedy, and oily tomato pap, with the other solids now more finely processed and in suspension. Put the rice into the bowl that previously held the tomato pulp. Pour the tomato pap from the food processor over it, mix well, and season with salt to taste. Leave to soak for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Fill the tomatoes with the rice mixture. Don’t be tempted to overfill—there may be a little left over—but do make sure that as much liquid as possible is included, even if it overflows into the dish. Replace the little caps onto the tomatoes and trickle the remaining oil over (plus a little more, if you like).
Bake in the oven for about 45 minutes, turning the heat down a touch if the tomatoes are browning too much—but browned and blistered they certainly must be! Taste a little of the rice to make sure it is fully cooked, although it will also continue to swell and tenderize as it cools. Serve at room temperature, for preference, basting well with the juices and oil just before serving.
Reprinted from The Vegetarian Option by Simon Hopkinson. Copyright (c) 2010. Published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang.