Saturday, February 18, 2012

Stuffed Baked Tomatoes

As  I was preparing Lena’s recipe for “Creole Cooked Red Beans,” I could not help but glance to a recipe on the opposite page, “Stuffed Baked Tomatoes.”  I have a soft spot for heirloom tomatoes.  Above all, I love their sweet, earthy smell and their jewel tone colors.  They are a best-of-both-worlds ingredient because they have dynamic flavor and visual appeal.  I was in luck!  My local grocery store had a beautiful selection of heirlooms when I was shopping last week.  I could not pass up the opportunity to try this dish, which reads in Lena’s cookbook as follows:

6 medium sized tomatoes
½ cup soft bread crumbs
1 tablespoon chopped onion
2 tablespoons finely chopped celery
½ cup cooked and chopped meat or shrimp
2 tablespoons melted butter or substitute
Salt and pepper to taste

            Wash but do not peel the tomatoes.  Cut slice from stem end of each tomato and scoop out centers.  Mix centers with other ingredients.  Sprinkle inner sides of tomatoes with salt and fill with the mixture.  Top with dried crumbs and dot with butter.  Place in a shallow greased pan and bake in a moderate oven 350°, from twenty to twenty-five minutes.

I started off this recipe by peeling the shrimp and sautéing them in 2 teaspoons of olive oil with a pinch of salt and pepper for 3 minutes on each side.  I finished the shrimp with 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice, gently swirling the sauté pan so that the juices coated all of the shrimp. 

I placed the shrimp immediately onto a dish and set aside while I prepared the vegetables.  Using a sharp chef’s knife, I sliced off the top of the stem end of each tomato and used a teaspoon to scoop out the centers into a bowl.  

After finely dicing the onion and celery, I added them to the bowl of tomato centers.  The heirloom tomatoes were quite juicy, so I drained the vegetable mixture and set the juices aside (which I later added to a bean dish I was making for dinner).  I used a fresh French roll for my breadcrumbs, and simply tore the roll into pieces and crumbled to a fine consistency.  To the strained vegetables I added 2 tablespoons of melted butter, most of the breadcrumbs and the shrimp (which I had sliced into small pieces), folding the mixture together.  Then I added a dash of salt and pepper to the inside of each hollowed tomato and stuffed with filling, topping each tomato with the remainder of the dry breadcrumbs and a small pat of butter.  

I baked the tomatoes in a large skillet in the oven for 45 minutes, moving the skillet to the top rack of the oven for the last 20 minutes so that the breadcrumbs browned and the tomato skins puckered slightly at the edges.

The tomatoes were wonderful!  The cooking process slowly unveiled the natural sweetness of the heirlooms, caramelizing the sugars slightly.  The shrimp filling was simply delicious, and quite moist.  Overall, this is a solid, balanced dish.

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