Summer starts on June 21st! In honor of all the BBQing, sprinkler-hopping, and ice cream truck-chasing to come, we give you Hello, Summer, a picnic basket full of easy-breezy recipes and tips to help you make the most of every minute this season.
This Roman dish of rice-stuffed tomatoes on a bed of potato wedges will have you looking forward to good tomatoes all summer long. It was one of the first dishes I tried from Rachel Roddy's first cookbook, My Kitchen in Rome (also known as Five Quarters). Roddy cooks and writes from her adopted home in Rome's Testaccio neighborhood.
Stuffed and baked tomatoes come in all kinds of guises in regional Italian cooking; after all, round, juicy tomatoes make the perfect receptacle for minced meat or tinned tuna or fresh breadcrumbs, all of which can be boosted with anchovies, capers, dried porcini mushrooms, or herbs. But what I love about Rachel's Roman pomodori al riso (“tomatoes with rice”) is that they are, as Rachel promises, “without frills, simple and delicious.”
In this recipes, ripe, firm tomatoes get their tops cut off and set aside as lids while the juicy insides are scooped out and pureed. Garlic, torn basil, and a seemingly indecent amount of extra virgin olive oil (which turns out to be perfect—you may even want more) are added to the tomatoes. At this point my Tuscan husband notices the bowl and comments, “I could drink this entire thing.” I have to shoo him away.
Arborio rice, the kind you would use for risotto—a.k.a. something that won't go too soft and will stay al dente—is best, and here is the trick: Let it soak in the tomato juice for around 45 minutes. Then fill the tomatoes, pop the “lids” back on (important, so the rice cooks evenly), and lay them on a bed of potato wedges, which get crisp and browned on top and soak up the tomato flavors on their sticky bottoms.
They're excellent just out of the oven, or at least the hot potato wedges stolen out of the pan are, but as Rachel says, “Good stuffed tomatoes come to those who wait." Let the tomatoes rest for half an hour or so for the flavors to settle.
Roman cookbook writer Ada Boni says even they're better cold, which is great news: You can prepare this dish in advance, and I'm all for only turning the oven on at night when it's cooler. In sweltering Italian summers, there's nothing better than eating cold food, especially if it involves tomatoes, garlic, and basil.
- 8 firm, tasty round tomatoes
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 8 basil leaves, torn (and/or mint, parsley or oregano)
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) extra virgin olive oil
- 8 tablespoons arborio rice (or other risotto rice)
- 1 pound roasting potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
- 2 pinches salt and pepper, to taste
And If You're Looking to Avoid the Oven...
What's your favorite (tomato) thing to make in a sweltering kitchen? Let us know in the comments!