The good stuff.
Yes, people, that’s exactly the kind of stuff I’m talking about right now. Literally good stuff. Yummy stuff. Delish stuff. (You get my drift 😆 ).
But before I get to the good stuff, a little back story to explain why I think this stuff is good.
The hubs and I were talking over dinner last night (regular food for him and diet food for me) and I learned from him that studies say that people’s choice of food is a largely influenced by emotional experience. (Did I ever mention how I love being married to a guy who makes a living studying people? There’s always something new to discover each day!). I thought this made a lot of sense: think of two guys in a pizza joint with two girls they’re crazy for. One guy gets the girl; the other guy gets the bill. 😆 That would certainly explain why the guy who got the girl might develop an intense liking for pizza for the rest of his life, while the other guy might not ever touch pizza with a 10-foot pole.
But I mention that food-preference-emotional connection because it leads to this full disclosure: the reason I love stuffed tomatoes is not just because they taste dang good but also because they stir wonderful 14-year-old memories.
Back in 1997, when we only had 2 (of what subsequently grew into 5) boys, the hubs and I went to Paris… but we didn’t have much money back then, so we would content ourselves with eating hotdogs from stands and an occasional meal in a resto. (Hahaha! Yeah, life was pretty REAL back then).
Well, one evening, we discovered a resto that was tucked in the basement of one of the buildings near the hotel we were staying at, and the French guy was selling… (wait for it)… stuffed tomatoes! Man, I died. They were soooo good. Seriously. I was in stuffed-tomato heaven. And since then, I’ve always loved stuffed tomatoes.
So after experimenting in an attempt to recreate the taste in my kitchen recently, I was pretty thrilled to find out that my kids now share my hankering for stuffed tomatoes as well!
And just in case you’d like to get hooked on this good stuff too, I decided to share the process with you (note: make sure you have good experiences while preparing and eating this, because I wouldn’t want you to end up like the 2nd pizza guy :lol:).
The Essential Goods
What you’ll need to have on hand:
- fresh tomatoes
- ground meat
- herbs and spices, including onion and garlic (chopped)
- asparagus (optional, for those who’d like something to add color and more “chews” to the meal)
- Use the biggest tomatoes you can find. You’ll want as much space as you can get for stuffing them. Plus (dieters, pay attention!) – there is as much sugar content in a big tomato as there is in a cherry tomato. So in this case, bigger is definitely better.
- Make sure the tomatoes are freshly-ripened, with nice taut skins. It can be a total bummer to have to stuff tomatoes that are overripe and have flimsy skins, trust me.
- If you’re dieting, you’ll want to consider buying meat at the butcher’s shop and having them grind it in front of you. That way you can make sure that you’re getting real lean beef instead of fat-laden beef or a mixture of pork and beef. If you’re not on a diet, then you really don’t need to care about this, lucky you! 😆
Alright. All set? Now, on to the process!
Stuff It… Stuff It Good!
1. Wash all vegetables thoroughly. Then slice the tomatoes in half.
2. With a spoon, core each tomato half. Don’t throw away the stuff that you remove! Just set that aside because, as your momma and mine always said, “waste not, want not!” 😉
3. Season your ground beef liberally with herbs and spices that make your heart sing. Mix well.
I like herbs a lot, so I threw in Italian and Provence herbs, basil leaves, rosemary, toasted garlic bits, sea salt, pepper, and thyme.
4. On a hot pan with a bit of olive oil, sauté freshly-chopped garlic and onions.
It shouldn’t take long till the garlic and onions turn golden.
Tip: Olive oil in spray bottles is convenient and great to cook with, but I prefer to use Extra Virgin Olive Oil which I transfer into this neat little gadget called Misto. You fill the Misto canister halfway with your olive oil, pump the cover a few times, and you have a wonderful, very light coating to fry and sauté with. (And it’s more cost-efficient since you don’t have to buy olive oil in spray bottles, which are usually more expensive than their bottled-liquid counterparts).
5. Remember the tomato insides that we scooped out? Now’s the time to use them! Drop them right on top of your golden garlic and onions.
Mix them as you continue sautéing. (The smells should make you swoon with joy right about now).
6. When the tomatoes, garlic and onions are all mashed and mixed and exuding that wonderful autumn glow 😉 …
Drop in your ground beef (which you already mixed with all your herbs and spices).
7. Mix the beef well with the tomatoes, onions, and garlic, tossing and turning till the beef is no longer red but not quite brown (more like a light orange color?). Take care that the beef doesn’t overcook. It should be juicy and soft (it’s going to be cooked well enough once it goes into the oven). Trust me, you don’t want well-done beef at this stage.
Once the beef is a nice orange-y color, take the pan off the fire and transfer the beefy goodness to a plate (a hot pan continues to fry even when the flame is gone… but of course you knew that. 🙂 )
8. Take the empty tomato shells and start scooping spoonfuls of the ground beef concoction into them. Pat down to make sure every available space in the tomato shell is filled.
Tip: Use the spoon to shape the top portion of the ground-beef filling into nice round domes. Just cos they’re cute that way. 😀
9. Gently lay the stuffed tomatoes in your baking trays and sprinkle parmesan cheese on top.
Sprinkle the cheese stingily if you’re on a diet…
… or liberally if you’re not on a diet (lucky you).
10. Bake in the oven at about 180ºC (or 356ºF) for about 20 minutes.
If you’d like to add a touch of spring color to your predominantly fall-colored baked and stuffed tomatoes, I highly recommend this:
Steam or lightly boil a few asparagus spears in water sprinkled with herbs. This is super-easy to do and it’s a quick way to get more veggies in your meal!
11. Serve the baked stuffed tomatoes while hot with a side of herbed asparagus.
Want to know the best part of it? This stuff is not just good, it’s healthy too! Yep, we’re talking about no unwanted baggage! Sure, you’ll lick your lips and pat your tummy when you’re done eating this, but you’re definitely not going to end up stuffing yourself with unwanted weight gain in the process, I promise.
Bon appétit without guilt! 😀
PS. If you’re a food lover who happens to be on a diet, you might want to check out the brand-new blog of one of my dear friends (we shared many crazy adventures in college 😉 ). Click on the image below to get to her blog, dietribe (which has awesome photos of food, lemme tell ya).
Enjoy! (And if you end up trying this at home, I’d love to know how it turned out for you, so do feel most welcome to come back and hit that little comment box over on the left, right below this. 😉 You are awesome. )