My Family Recipe

The French Tomato Dish Daniel Boulud's Mom Made for Him Growing Up

September 11, 2018

Good food is worth a thousand words—sometimes more. In My Family Recipe, a writer shares the story of a single dish that's meaningful to them and their loved ones.


Photo by Ty Mecham

Daniel Boulud remembers fondly the late summer season in Lyon, when the tomatoes are firm and bulging and brighter, redder, sweeter than they will be for a long, long time.

“Like St. Louis is the gate to the West, Lyon is the gate to Provence,” the chef and restaurateur tells me over the phone. As the heat swells for one final wave in New York, he remembers the French family dish that summer’s last sputter always makes him crave. “My mother, my grandmother, everyone has their own interpretation of tomates farcies."

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The dish, which is essentially stuffed tomatoes, is a Provençal classic. It’s a rather simple recipe coming from the Michelin star–winning chef, known for his towering, complex, and composed French dishes. Still, tomato farcie awakens in him something a more classically elegant meal could never.

"Even I had stuffed tomatoes growing up," says Executive Chef Chris Stam of db Bistro Moderne. "But the American ones are very different."

My mother, my grandmother, everyone has their own interpretation of tomates farcies.
Daniel Boulud

To make the French dish, you start by gathering eight ripe, red, thick-skinned tomatoes and cutting of their tops, careful to save them on the side. Out comes the flesh of each one and in goes a mixture of pork, mushrooms, breadcrumbs, and a medley of herbs and spices.

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“The finished stuffed tomatoes were then doused with a good pour of soy sauce. This reminds me to make them again :)”
— HalfPint
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“My mother made it with a lot of greens and ground meat," Boulud remembers. "There was a little bit of egg inside in the middle, as well as garlic and onions and seasoning. Sometimes a little bit of cheese. Then she bakes the tomato in a dish with rice and creates almost like a pilaf." Sometimes, he says, he even likes to include a little pre-cooked rice in the stuffing mixture.

Boulud plays liberally with his own recipe today. He recommends changing out the pork for ground beef or shredded rabbit, even liver. Or throwing some sautéed red peppers and zucchini into the mix. Even some ripped bread. The only thing he asserts is to make sure the tomatoes are round and thick and easy to core—like vine-ripened tomatoes.

As for how he would serve it, Boulud mentions a big friendly salad or some sturdy green vegetables like summer beans.

And the best part? The tomatoes are just as good cold the next day.

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Tomatoes Forever

6 Comments

dinaofdoom September 12, 2018
If anyone tries this without the breadcrumbs (adding egg or something similar as binder) please report back. And if I do, I will :-)
 
HalfPint September 12, 2018
My mother's Vietnamese version does not include breadcrumbs or any binder. It doesn't really need it. The ground meat (pork) is stuffed into the tomato cavity and cooked. It doesn't fall apart. It won't be as tender, more on the chewier side. It's one of my favorite childhood dishes.
 
MarieGlobetrotter September 11, 2018
This was a staple in our household in France and Belgian. You can also buy these at the butcher or even in the frozen section at the supermarket. My mother’s were homemade. Over the years, we also sometimes replaced the meat with rice.
 
HalfPint September 11, 2018
These tomato farcies made it to Vietnam too. My mother made her version with local seasonings (with salt, black pepper and onions) and shallow-fried them. The finished stuffed tomatoes were then doused with a good pour of soy sauce. This reminds me to make them again :)
 
Eric K. September 11, 2018
Oh my goodness, that sounds so wonderful. With a bowl of rice rice on the side?
 
HalfPint September 12, 2018
Eric, but of course rice :)