Scott Daigre, author of "Tomatomania: A Fresh Approach to Celebrating Tomatoes in the Garden and in the Kitchen," shares tips and tricks for growing, cooking with, and eating tomatoes - plus 3 tasty recipes.
New Tomatoes Rockefeller
Makes 6 to 8 servings (10 tomato halves)
Maybe it’s lingering images of mushy 1950s-era stuffed tomatoes, but I have trouble convincing people to grow paste varieties like red and yellow Striped Caverns, one of the most prolific “stuffer” varieties I know. They’re bell pepper–shaped, with sturdy walls, few seeds, drier flesh, and a cavity that can hold an impressive amount of filling. (You do have a few of these in your backyard right now, don’t you?)
But by now, you probably also know what I am going to say next: Any tomatoes work well for stuffing. Super-firm paste varieties need a little longer in the oven than soft, ripe beef steaks. The key is to avoid overbaking the tomatoes so they retain their shape.
This is essentially a baked salad-like take on Oysters Rockefeller, here with arugula and tossed in a super-lemony fennel vinaigrette. I like to make a big batch of croutons from Sam’s leftover sourdough and keep them in the freezer for those impromptu New Orleans–like summer nights.
- 2 pounds ripe but firm tomatoes (about 5 medium)
- 1 cup day-old country-style bread such as Sam’s Tomato Sourdough (page 173 of the cookbook), diced into ¼-inch cubes
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 medium clove garlic, minced
- 1 medium bunch green onions, roughly chopped, including tender green stems (about ¾ cup)
- ¾ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, more for drizzling
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 4 cups baby arugula, loosely packed (about 1 large bunch), tough stems removed and torn into 1-inch pieces
- 2 ounces well-chilled goat cheese, crumbled
- Kosher salt
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Slice the tomatoes in half, length- or width-wise, to make little tomato “boats.” Roma-style varieties tend to work well length-wise, and beefsteaks width-wise, but it varies depending on the size and shape.
If your tomatoes are too narrow to slice in half, slice the top third off of each. Scoop out the insides with a spoon and smash the flesh over a colander-lined bowl. Place the tomato halves upside down on paper towels to drain.
Place the cubed bread on a baking sheet and bake until lightly toasted (about 5 to 6 minutes), stirring occasionally. Set aside to cool.
Heat a small saucepan over medium-high heat and toast the fennel seeds, shaking the pan occasionally, until the seeds just begin to brown (about 2 minutes_; note that they will not darken significantly. Coarsely grind the seeds in a mortar and pestle with a generous pinch of salt. Add the garlic, 1 tablespoon chopped green onions, and Worcestershire sauce, and continue to grind until you have a rough paste. Stir in the lemon juice, olive oil, and pepper. Set the dressing aside.
Lightly drizzle a 9- or 10-inch baking dish with olive oil. Snugly arrange the tomatoes side-by-side, cut side up, in the dish. Sprinkle the tomatoes lightly with salt and bake until the flesh just begins to soften (bout 5 to 6 minutes for juicy varieties such as beef steaks, and 7 to 9 minutes for firmer varieties such as paste tomatoes.) Remove the tomatoes from the oven and reduce the temperature to 350°F.
Meanwhile, combine the arugula, remaining green onions, ½ cup drained tomato flesh (reserve the tomato water for another use), toasted croutons, and lemon-fennel dressing in a medium bowl. Mix well and fold in all but 2 tablespoons of the goat cheese.
As soon as you remove the tomatoes from the oven, divide the mixture evenly between them, packing each tomato tightly with filling. Sprinkle the remaining goat cheese on top. Bake until tomatoes are tender, but still hold their shape when pierced with a sharp knife, and the arugula has wilted slightly (about 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the size and variety of tomato.) Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately.
Scott's Prime Picks for this dish: Stuffers such as Striped Caverns, Yellow Stuffer, Liberty Bells, and Dad’s Mug; paste or Roma varieties such as Enchantment, Polish Linguisa, Striped Roma, Opalka, or Big Mama. Beefsteaks and many other heirlooms also work well, as long as they are not overly ripe.
And what's best left on the vine? Seconds or overly-ripe tomatoes. The excess moisture can make the filling soggy.
Recipes reprinted courtesy of St. Martin's Press. Photographs by Staci Valentine.