This month’s Random Recipe was to be chosen from our favourite cookery book, which posed me a slight problem because I have lots of favourite books! In the end, I chose La Popote des potes, a French book (bet you hadn’t guessed) which, minus the word play, roughly translates as “Food for friends,” and I think might have been based around a TV series, but I’m not sure. I decided to go for this book because although the recipes range from quick and easy mid-week meals to more elaborate dishes, they all seem straightforward and achievable (assuming you can acquire the ingredients – certain easy-to-find foods in France sometimes require some serious hunting down over here), it has a fun style, and I love flicking through it for inspiration because it has wonderful photos for every recipe, which I’m a big fan of.
So, out came the calculator and it’s wonderful random number generator, which directed me to page 172, which happened to be the photo accompanying a recipe for “les incontournables tomates farcies” or “unmissable baked stuffed tomatoes.” When we can get large tomatoes, my mum often makes this dish, though using a different recipe (it’s quite a popular dish in France), and I love it, although I wasn’t such a fan when I was younger because, much to the dismay of my French grandfather, I detested tomatoes. Anyway, luckily, I am (mostly) over my dislike of tomatoes and it also happens to be tomato season at the moment, which means that large tomatoes are available. What a perfect choice! Even though I love baked stuffed tomatoes, I’d never actually made them before for the simple reason that I only had a mini blender in St Andrews, and I deemed it too time-consuming to have to blend the stuffing in at least six batches. My mum has a proper blender though, so problem solved!
The recipe required ham and minced veal, which isn’t exactly widely available in the UK, but the note at the bottom said that using beef and sausage meat also worked perfectly. We decided to use just beef, since neither my mum nor I are particular fans of the fattiness of sausage meat, but of course the fattiness is partly what holds the stuffing together, so based on my mum’s usual recipe, I added an egg to compensate for that. I also added a bit of bread soaked in milk to keep the stuffing moist, also a tip from my mum’s recipe. Just before popping the tomatoes in the oven, in a moment of inspiration I decided to top the stuffed tomatoes off with breadcrumbs, which meant that the top of the stuffing didn’t go all crispy and burnt as it sometimes does. So although it turned into a bit of an amalgamation of two recipes rather than really testing the one from La Popote des potes, the tomatoes turned out absolutely delicious, and I will definitely be adding this recipe to my list of regular recipes. And buying a blender when I move out again (whenever that may be).
Baked beef-stuffed tomatoes
Adapted from La Popote des potes
If you have any leftover stuffing, butter a little ramekin, fill it with the remaining stuffing, cover with breadcrumbs and a few shavings of butter and bake for the same length of time as the tomatoes. It’s super yummy and moist and is delicious served hot or cold with a tomato sauce and rice, couscous or pasta. For the tomatoes, try and pick large, fairly firm ones, and if you can get beef tomatoes, those are really good for stuffing.
8 large tomatoes
2 garlic cloves
3 slices bread
Several tbsp milk
500g lean minced beef
3 tbsp chopped parsley
2 tbsp rosemary
7-8 tbsp breadcrumbs
1. Wash the tomatoes and remove their lids, setting them aside for later. Scoop out the pulp from the tomatoes, and reserve. Sprinkle some salt inside each tomato and turn upside down, allowing to drain on some kitchen roll for about an hour.
2. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C. Finely chop the onions and garlic cloves, and sauté them in some olive oil for about 5 mins.
3. In a small bowl, tear up the slices of bread and cover with some milk. Add the soggy bread, minced beef, chopped herbs, egg, salt and pepper to a blender and blend well. Remove to a large bowl, add the onion and garlic mix and mix well.
4. Dab the inside of the tomatoes with kitchen roll to remove any remaining juice, and place them in an oven-proof dish just large enough for them to all fit (it’s best if it’s a tight fit, otherwise if there’s too much space between the tomatoes, they’re more likely to collapse a bit). Fill the tomatoes with the meat mixture (pat the stuffing down well to ensure that the tomatoes are properly stuffed). Sprinkle each tomato with breadcrumbs and add a few slivers of butter over the top. Spoon some of the reserved pulp into the dish between the tomatoes.
5. Bake for 45-50 mins, adding a lid to each tomato about 10 mins before the end of baking. Serve hot, with rice or couscous to soak up the juice.