A summer tomato is a thing of incomparable beauty. Even the gnarliest scarred heirloom of late August tastes divine, sweet and acidic and intensely like a tomato—entirely different from the bland specimens we make do with the rest of the year. But even when they’re not quite at their peak, roasting them is an easy way to concentrate their flavor. And stuffing them is a good move in any case.
My grandmother used to hollow out raw tomatoes and pack them with cheese, which was a simple and delicious summer snack I don’t revisit often enough. I should, because eating as many raw tomatoes as humanly possible is the closest I come to participating in a summer sport, but aside from making sandwiches, tossing them in salads, and devouring them right out of hand with a sprinkle of salt, it’s nice to find other ways to enjoy them. Really good raw tomatoes make great edible bowls for all sorts of things, from tuna salad to Texas caviar. They’re fairly self-explanatory and easy-going, but here are the basic steps:
1. Pick tomatoes that are large enough to easily work with even once you cut the tops off, and that sit relatively flat so they don’t roll all over the place. (That said, you can totally stuff tiny cherry tomatoes if you don’t mind the tedium!)
2. Peel them if you prefer. This is completely optional, but if you’re sensitive to the skins, cut a small x into the bottom of each tomato, gently drop them into a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds, then lift them out with a slotted spoon into a bowl of ice water. The skins should slip right off. This makes handling the tomatoes a more delicate operation, so be extra careful not to puncture their sides, and don’t stuff in too much filling lest it pull a Kool-Aid Man and burst right through. If you’re baking the tomatoes after stuffing them, skip this step, since the skin will help hold them together but be easy to peel away from each tomato once they’re cooked.
3. Carve the tops off and scoop the insides out. Think of each tomato as a mini pumpkin; you can slice the top clean off (in which case, save the “hats” for A+ presentation), but if you want to keep more of the tomato intact, carve out a plug shape with a sharp paring knife, making it larger than the natural scar from where the stem was attached, but stopping short of the total circumference of the fruit. Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and discard them (or save them to use as “tomato caviar”), being careful not to scrape too deep. You may need to use your knife to cut through the inner membranes attached to the walls of the tomato first if your spoon isn’t, er, cutting it—but again, be gentle. Set the hollow tomatoes upside down on paper towels to drain the juice, or if it’s too tasty to waste, drain them over a rack set on a rimmed baking sheet so you can collect the nectar and add it to sauces, dressings, or drinks.
4. Stuff them! Use your spoon to gently pack in whatever filling sounds good to you, from herb-flecked cream cheese to raw corn and avocado. Or go with cooked ground beef or turkey, and/or cooked rice or quinoa, even crack an egg in there (if you’re baking them).
5. Bake them if you want to. While stuffed raw tomatoes are perfect during peak season, cooked stuffed tomatoes taste great even when the star ingredient isn’t all that stellar (but even better if they are ripe, of course). If you want to bake them, especially if you’re using wan winter tomatoes, roast the tomato “shells” on their own for about 10 minutes, then stuff them and finish baking, to ensure they soften and intensify in flavor. Sprinkling salt and pepper inside the tomato cavity before stuffing doesn’t hurt either.
Check out some of these delicious ways to enjoy stuffed tomatoes.
My grandma had the right idea; stuffing sweet, acidic raw tomatoes with any cheese is fantastic, especially if it’s soft and tangy. This version adds toasted panko and parsley to the sharp, creamy goat cheese filling, with a touch of honey to mellow it out a bit. Get the recipe.
Another great filling for raw stuffed tomatoes? Basically any salad, especially if it’s creamy. This egg salad uses avocado in place of mayo and adds crisp bacon and asparagus, but they’re really optional. (The asparagus more so than the bacon…) Get the recipe.
Moving on to cooked stuffed tomatoes, cheese is still a fabulous filling option. Here, goat cheese, crème fraîche, and thyme get beautifully gooey, with a sprinkle of garlic butter breadcrumbs for crisp contrast. This is definitely a lovely way to honor the last heirlooms of the season. Get the recipe.
Sweet corn is another summer superstar, and it makes a great partner to tomatoes, especially with fresh basil and cheese as supporting players. Cooked brown rice adds enough heft to make these a meal with a green salad on the side. Get the recipe.
You’ve probably never had stuffed tomatoes like this—they’re steamed, for one thing, and filled with tofu, shiitakes, and ginger, with a sweet and sour sauce that cleverly utilizes the tomato seeds and juice, so nothing is wasted! Get the recipe.
Rice-stuffed tomatoes are always delicious. You can add beef to the mix if you wish, but either way, don’t skimp on the herbs. Tossing cubes of potato in the pan is a smart move too, since they soak up some of the juice. Get the recipe.
This recipe happens to be vegan, but you can use traditional cream cheese and sour cream if you prefer; either way, you get what is basically spinach artichoke dip-stuffed tomatoes, complete with crunchy crumbs on top. Get the recipe.
You truly can stuff a tomato with anything, including pasta, from spaghetti to macaroni. If you have leftover homemade mac and cheese, try scooping it into tomatoes and baking it, or make a quick batch of the stovetop stuff doctored up with spices and black beans before stuffing and baking away. Get the recipe.
Related Video: How to Peel Tomatoes
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