Late September presents the sweet spot between seasons when tomatoes are gifting their last bulbs of fruit yet one’s shoulders beg for a soft sweater. We shopped for late harvest tomatoes at the farmer’s market then were gifted an infant sized zucchini that I was determined to utilize. Visions of roasted vegetables stuffed with herbed rice filled my psyche. And the cooking began…
A special thank you to Martha Rose Schulman, who published this recipe in The New York Times. The flavors of warm mint and dill reminded me of blustery Seattle Sundays when my Greek mama would roast peppers stuffed with savory rice and vegetables.
Foodie note: After reading the comment section of this recipe on The New York Times website, I decided to partially cook the rice before adding it to the tomatoes. I’ve added that step in the recipe below.
6 large, firm tomatoes (heirloom, if they are in season)
1 small zucchini, shredded
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1/2 cup arborio rice
Freshly ground pepper
1) Prepare the tomatoes. With a sharp paring knife, cut out the top of the tomatoes as you would a jack-o’-lantern, leaving tops intact so you can replace them when you bake the tomatoes. Cut away the woody core and reserve the tops. Using a small spoon, preferably a grapefruit spoon, scoop out the insides of the tomatoes into a strainer placed over a bowl. Rub the seed pods agains the strainer. Pour half the tomato juice into a small bowl. (You may not need it all, depending upon how juicy your tomatoes are.) Discard the seeds.
Finely chop the pulp and add to the bowl with half the juice. Salt the tomato shells, place them upside down on a baking sheet, and let drain while you prepare the remaining ingredients.
2) Bring 1 cup of water to a boil. Add a pinch of salt. Rinse rice and add to boiling water, reduce heat to medium, cooking partially for 4 minutes. Tip rice into a strainer, add rice to tomato mixture. Toss the shredded zucchini with a generous amount of salt and let drain in a colander for 10 minutes. Spread shredded zucchini onto a clean dish towel and strongly wring out excess moisture. Add zucchini to rice/tomato mixture. Add the garlic, mint and dill. Season generously with salt, pepper and 2 tablespoons of olive oil; let sit for 30 minutes. Taste mixture and adjust seasoning as needed.
3) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Oil a baking dish to accommodate all of the tomatoes. Put the tomato shells in the baking pan and use a small spoon to fill the tomatoes almost to the top, drizzle each with a touch of olive oil and replace tomato tops. If you have excess rice mixture, fill the pan around the tomatoes. Place in the oven, and bake for 30-40 minutes if using heirloom tomatoes, 45 minutes to an hour, if using beef steak or another sturdy variety. Tomatoes should be almost collapsing. Remove from the heat and serve at room temperature or hot.