One of my fondest childhood memories of my sister, Veronica, involves her gleefully eating tomatoes straight off of the vine. Our grandfather was quite the gardener, and kept strawberries, pomegranates, apples, mandarins, plums, and tomatoes growing around our house in San Diego. Veronica was our grandfather’s shadow – wherever he was, she was – so she naturally followed him around, eating whatever he offered her that had been growing under his watchful eye. And thus, it wasn’t uncommon to see my sister eating a tomato like she would eat an apple!
When we moved to Hawaii, our grandfather planted different things in the backyard of our house – Asian vegetables like Filipino eggplants, bok choy, ong choy, kamote (Google it), and tropical fruits like cherimoya, kalamansi, and papaya (I never paid for papaya or mango until I moved back to California in 2001). While I had a great appreciation and understanding of how those things were supposed to taste, we also got used to eating under-ripe and watery-tasting stone fruits and tomatoes that were shipped to Hawaii – things that don’t grow well in a tropical climate. When I finally moved to San Francisco, I was amazed at what a dry-farmed Early Girl or heirloom tomato grown just 50 miles outside of the city tasted like. Heavenly.
Tomato season is in full swing right now in the Bay Area. With such lovely aromas and robust flavor, I wanted to make something that celebrated the tomato. Last weekend when I was down in LA, I had a whole roasted tomato for the first time at a Persian restaurant in Glendale, and I wanted to capture that rich taste. That’s how I ended up making Tomates Farcies.
6 vine-ripened tomatoes or heirlooms (medium sized)
1/2 lb. ground pork
1/2 lb. ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped finely
6 large cremini mushrooms, chopped finely
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1/4 c. chopped Italian parsley
1/4 c. breadcrumbs, soaked in 1/4 c. milk
1/2 c. basmati rice
3/4 c. water
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
To start, trim the tomatoes off the vine, leaving a little bit of stem at the top (it makes for a nice presentation). Rinse and pat dry. Slice the tops off of the tomatoes; this will become the little “hat” on the top of your stuffed tomato. Using a spoon, scoop out the insides of the tomatoes and reserve them for other use. (I like to make marinara sauce with mine. No wasting food!) Sprinkle the hollowed out tomatoes with salt and set aside – the salt will help pull some moisture out of the tomatoes.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the pork and beef, onions, mushrooms, garlic, and parsley. Using clean hands, mix everything together until well blended. Add breadcrumbs with milk, and an egg. Incorporate all the ingredients well, and season generously with salt and pepper.
What I like to do at this point is to test the mixture. Heat a skillet on medium high and then cook a small (maybe a teaspoon) amount of meat mixture as you would a burger. Taste the cooked meat and see if it is seasoned enough, and adjust your seasonings accordingly. That way, you are assured that your meat mixture is delicious!
When your mixture is ready, empty out the excess water from your tomatoes, and stuff them with meat mixture. You want to overstuff them so that a good amount of filling puffs out over the tops, and then top with the little tomato “hat”.
In your baking dish, put the basmati rice, and then sit the tomatoes on top. Add the water, then bake for 45 minutes. The rice and tomatoes will cook together, and then, voila, you have your tomato and rice to accompany it!