I can be a creature of habit when it comes to urges of the gastronomic variety. Most of the time, the BSG doesn’t even have to ask me what I’d like on my toast of a morning, instead he reaches knowingly for the black stuff, all dressed up as it is at the moment in its special Jubilee jar. So I am in good company there, then.
For instance, I happen to have had smoked mackerel pate and oatcakes pretty much exclusively for the last three lunches – and I don’t mind, because just thinking about it now makes me want to make it a fourth. I like to think of these not as imaginative ruts I’m stuck in, but little enclaves of comfort; the marmite and lettuce sandwich with the glass (had to be glass, not plastic, you understand) of milk I always had doing my homework at my gran’s house; the fish fingers Mum would give us, their crunchy orange crumb skin in curling and crisp disarray, for breakfast on cold wintry mornings when she wanted us off to school without any fuss. Once I’d found a hit I saw no reason to divert from it, and I suppose I am still like that to an extent. Goodness knows what I’d be like as a pregnant person, legitimately allowed to indulge such cravings. Or perhaps I would eat normally….
On holidays as children, we all clung doggedly to anything familiar in the eating department. Menus were Greek to us, in every sense, and we gave the Souvlaki and Moussaka a wide berth in favour of stale basket bread, cucumber salad drenched in olive oil and vinegar and wine diluted with water (which was foul but delicious to us as it was so grown up). There was, however, one exception: the stuffed tomato. I can still remember the first one I had, and none since has ever been as good in my mind. They have stuck firmly on the holiday repertoire ever since, though I am a little more adventurous now.
I know they might be a little bit 70’s, but who said that oldies aren’t goodies? Just look at HRH – she just gets better, in my view.
I am yet to find a brilliant recipe for this but summer(!) seems the perfect time to make the most of these amazing fruits, with their greenhouse smell and plump redness. The BSG and I tried this week, and we’ll keep on trying. The following recipe is from the book Twelve: A Tuscan Cookbook, by Tessa Kiros. We added cinnamon and used orzo pasta instead of rice, bundling it up with a whole load of spare soft green herbs and a dollop of creme fraiche to finish. But the search for that perfect stuffed tomato continues…
Pomodori con Riso
6 medium sized ripe, round tomatoes
5 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, chopped
250g long-grain rice (e.g. basmati)
250 ml (1 cup) water
1 stalk celery, trimmed and finely chopped
Good pinch ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
10 basil leaves , roughly chopped and any other soft green herbs you can lay your hands on
Preheat the oven to 180C. Slice the tops off of the tomatoes and set aside. Carefully, scoop out the flesh of the tomatoes with a spoon, taking care not to break the tomato shells. Put the tomato shells into a baking dish, without overlapping and leaving a little space between. Using a little salt, season inside and outside the shells. Puree the tomato flesh with a stick blender or in a blender.
Heat 2 tbsps of the oil in a small saucepan with the garlic. Add the rice and the celery, and stir in the oil for a minute. Add half a cup of water and the tomato puree and cinnamon and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 10 minutes on medium heat. Remove from the heat, add the parmesan and the basil and stir through gently.
Fill the tomato shells with the mixture. The rice will swell a little during cooking so do not overfill the tomatoes. Replace the tomato tops and splash with a little more oil. If desired, sprinkle the tops of the tomatoes with breadcrumbs. Add the remaining half cup of water to the oven dish. Cook in the preheated oven for 40 minutes, until the rice is cooked, most of the liquid has been absorbed, and the outside of the tomatoes are lightly and lightly golden.