This recipe for rice-stuffed tomatoes was originally my Nonna Wanda’s recipe, with the addition of potatoes made by my Zia Emilia to make it more authentically Roman.
Here is a photo of the recipe as cooked by my Zia Emilia in Rome on my last visit, in May 2017:
And here is my latest rendition of this delicious dish:
The quantities and timings etc in this recipe are, as many of the recipes passed down from generation to generation in our family, vague and open to interpretation / personal touch, but I’ve tried to be a bit more precise so you can follow it, too 🙂
Ingredients (for 3-6 people, depending on whether it is a starter, main course, or side dish):
- 6 large beef tomatoes
- Arborio rice (approximately 2 small fistfuls per tomato)
- Fresh flat-leaf parsley (a good handful)
- Fresh basil (a good handful)
- Half a medium onion
- Freshly-grated parmesan cheese (a couple of handfuls)
- Potatoes (5-6 medium sized ones) – watch this video for the best way to cut potatoes the Italian way
- Olive oil
- Sea salt
Here is the hand-written recipe written down by my Zia Emilia as dictated by her mum, my Nonna Wanda, when Zia Emilia was preparing to get married and leave home. You can see the addition of the potatoes on page 2:
Start by cutting the potatoes. Ideally, do these the Italian way (watch video) – this allows them to cook slightly unevenly, giving you lovely crispy edges and soft centres.
Tip: Cutting potatoes this way and roasting them with rosemary and olive oil is a delicious Italian way to do roast potatoes!
Place these into an oven dish and set aside for now.
Then cut the tops off the tomatoes (think little ‘hats’). Slice two thin strips off the ‘discarded’ tomato tops and set aside (you’ll use these later for decoration, to top your stuffed tomatoes), and chop up the remaining ‘discarded’ tops into small pieces. Add these small pieces to the potatoes. Season the potatoes and tomato pieces with a generous sprinkling of sea salt, add a generous glug of olive oil, toss, and place in a pre-heated oven (fan-assisted 180°C) for 25 minutes.
While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the rice:
Place the rice in cold water, add a generous sprinkling of sea salt, and bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes or so (check this as not all rice cooks at the same rate – you want to make sure the rice is still a little bit uncooked at the end of this stage).
While the rice is cooking, finely chop the half onion and soften it in a pan with a generous amount of olive oil, over a low heat (let the onion soften slowly, making sure it does not go brown). Finely chop the parsley and basil, and add these to the onion just as the rice is nearly ready at the not quite cooked stage. Make sure you don’t fry the herbs for too long.
Drain the rice, leaving it quite wet, and saving the cooking water. Add the rice to the pan with the olive oil, onion and herbs and stir, letting the rice continue to cook like a risotto. You may need to add some of the cooking water to allow it to remain moist and cook until it is cooked, but still ‘al dente’. Make sure you don’t over-stir as this breaks up the rice grains.
Take it off the heat once it’s cooked and stir in about 2/3rds of the parmesan cheese. Set aside.
Return to the tomatoes you previously removed the tops from. Carefully hollow these out with a spoon (the insides with the seeds are my favourite part of the tomato – I always used to eagerly await this stage when my Nonna made stuffed tomatoes, and still do when my Zia does them, so I could eat them, seasoned with a bit of salt).
Lightly season the insides of the hollow tomatoes with a sprinkling of sea salt.
Once the potatoes have had about 25 minutes in the oven, take the oven dish out and give them a bit of a stir. Turn the oven down to 150°C (fan).
Take each hollow tomato and fill it as high as you can with the cooked rice mixture. Make a space amongst the potatoes and place the tomato in that space. Repeat with each tomato, then sprinkle some parmesan onto each stuffed tomato and, finally, top each one with two strips of the tomato ‘lids’ you cut out earlier.
Place the dish back into the oven and bake until the tomatoes are very soft and the rice has a crispy parmesan topping. The potatoes should be cooked and golden, not overly brown. This takes approximately 40-45 minutes.
Serve on their own, as a side-dish, or as a starter. These are also delicious once they’ve cooled down a little to luke-warm.
Gloriously simple, gloriously good!