Vegetarian: Provençal Tomatoes

[Photographs: Lauren Rothman]

Tomatoes are at their absolute peak at this time of year: deeply red, insanely juicy, and full of flavor. Given how wonderful they are right now, it seems almost crazy not to incorporate them into every single summertime dish, from simple pastas to veggie-heavy sides like ratatouille to how I, personally, like them best: sliced thick, perched atop a piece of excellent bread, salted generously and slicked with olive oil.

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But for those times when you need a little more than a tomato sandwich for dinner, I've got just the thing: Provençal-style stuffed tomatoes. They're named, of course, for Provence, the region of southeastern France that's located on the Mediterranean coast, right near Italy. That proximity to Italy means that Provençal agriculture produces many of the ingredients that we typically associate with Italian cuisine: eggplants, squash, olives, capers and, of course, tomatoes and basil.

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Provençal tomatoes couldn't be simpler to make: cut tomatoes in half, scoop out their innards (ever frugal, I save them and blend them with salt, pepper, olive oil, garlic and paprika for an ultra-fast riff on gazpacho), and fill them with a quick but flavor-packed stuffing made of fresh bread crumbs, grated Gruyere cheese, garlic and fresh or dried herbs. I like to brighten up the filling with a little lemon zest and crushed red pepper, and I add fresh parsley and dried thyme, both of which complement the citrus nicely. Drizzled with a little olive oil, they bake in the oven until the stuffing soaks up those wonderful tomato juices, becoming soft and tender, yet brown and crusty on top. The fragrance that emanates from the oven while these bake is heavenly, rich from the cheese and a little piquant from the garlic. Best of all, these make a filling main dish when eaten alongside a simple green salad.

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