For the past few years, I have cultivated fresh herbs and vegetables in my backyard garden. Though it has been a dry summer in Southwestern Ontario, with careful attention to morning and evening watering, I ended up with a treasure trove of fresh produce.
Fresh herbs have always been a success and as they are preferable in most dishes to dried herbs, it is such a pleasure to pick just what you need instead of buying a huge bunch of herbs from the market that you know will likely go to waste. It is such a shame to see food go bad, even if the bunch only costs a few dollars. Really, for most dishes do we really require a bushel of dill, cilantro or parsley? As it doesn’t keep for all that long in the fridge, into the bin it often sadly goes.
Another pleasure is the variety of hot peppers can grow during the summer months. Spicy foods are so often on the menu in my kitchen and chilies are a must. The ones from the garden plants are far superior in flavour and texture to the ones found at your local markets and they last well into the season and longer in the fridge for that matter after picked from the vine. It is frustrating during the spring and winter months trying to find just the right fresh hot peppers for your dishes.
This brings me to my next favorite part of this summer’s harvest: fresh juicy tomatoes. I have had very little success until this year. The variety I planted were Early Girls. Bright red, meaty and especially suited to climates with shorter-frost free seasons, the plants bear fruit early and keep going until late in the growing season. With such an abundance on hand, those not cooked into various dishes, tossed into salads, turned into rich sauces and chutneys, roasted in the oven, or just sliced and eaten with some freshly cracked black pepper were shared with some of my eager and expectant friends.
Wishing to pay homage to my harvested beauties, I stuffed them with quinoa, cornmeal, olives, and chilies and fresh herbs from my garden. These baked delights make for a wonderful appetizer or take my advice and turn them into a light meal served with a warm goat cheese salad on toasted crusty bread with pesto made with fresh basil. This is my tribute to produce grown with love and to the waning days of outdoor summer dining.
*Vegetarian and Vegan Friendly*
5 medium large ripe but firm tomatoes, well washed
1/2 cup quinoa, well rinsed and soaked overnight in 1 cup of water
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 – 3 hot red chilies, seeded and finely chopped (or a few jalapeno peppers)
1 teaspoon kashmiri chili powder*
juice from one lemon
1 2/3 cup cornmeal
1/2 – 2/3 cup pitted black olives, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
generous half cup fresh parsley, trimmed and chopped
1 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped
sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
Begin by greasing a large casserole dish with olive oil.
In a small pot, bring the quinoa to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until the liquid is absorbed, roughly 20 minutes. Let sit for five minutes, fluff with a fork and let cool.
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the onion to the pan and cook, stirring often, until the onion is soft and begins to brown, roughly 10 minutes. Toss in the hot chilies and spice, stir and fry for another minute and remove from the heat.
Transfer the cooked quinoa to a medium-large bowl, stir in the onion and chili mixture, lemon juice, cornmeal, olives, herbs and salt and black pepper to taste.
To prepare the tomatoes, slice about 1/2 inch off the top of the tomato and discard. Gently, using a spoon and with the aid of a serrated knife, scoop out the seeds and most of the pulp until you have a hollow shell. Separate a bit of the pulp from the seeds and mix into the stuffing mixture. The shell should be about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Turn the shells upside down to drain off any excess liquid.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Stir in a bit of olive to the stuffing if too dry. Lightly salt the inside of the tomato shells. Using a spoon, stuff the tomato shells, pushing the mixture down gently. Repeat until each shell is full and transfer to the prepared casserole dish. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil.
Bake for 30 – 40 minutes or until the tops are brown and the tomatoes are softened. Garnish with some more fresh herbs. Serve hot or warm or even at room temperature if desired.
*Note: Kashmiri chili powder is milder than cayenne, but with a fuller flavor, like paprika. If you don’t have it on hand, use more cayenne along with some paprika and chili powder.
If you prefer a stuffed tomato with cheese, you may want to try this recipe.
5 large beefsteak tomatoes
1 cup of chopped fresh parsley
3/4 cup of bread crumbs or cornmeal
3/4 cup of grated cheddar cheese
1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon of freshly cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Butter a large casserole dish and set aside.
Cut the tops of the tomatoes off. Using a small spoon, gently hollow out the inside of the tomatoes. Discard the seeds, and reserve the pulp.
Chop up the reserve tomato pulp, and put in a medium sized bowl. Add the parsley, bread crumbs or cornmeal, cheese, lemon juice and pepper and stir to combine.
Put the tomato halves into the casserole dish and fill with the cheese and crumb mixture. Drizzle a bit of olive oil on each tomato.
Bake until the tops are browned, about 20 – 25 minutes.