Stuffed Tomatoes with Brown Rice, Oregano, and Pine Nuts

It’s tomato season again! Sure, you can get them year-round, but they certainly are better when they’re fresh from the vine, ripened by the sun. Again this year, I have a couple sad little plants I’ve tried to nurture along—one in a pot on the deck and one in the ground—but while the backyard bunnies that live and multiply under said deck haven’t seemed to bother the plants, my 19-month-old miniature human has been a bit too curious! One day he said, “Apple!” and proceeded to try to bite one of three precious green orbs dangling from the plant on the deck, but luckily I was right there and could stop him and turn the plant around with the tomatoes out of reach. (No, “tomato,” I pointed out—but don’t bite them!) The spindly plant in the ground was not so lucky as my five-year-old son ran into the house a few days later with a small orangey orb in his hand noting that his little brother had picked it. I had such high hopes they would escape the wrath of the toddler, but, alas, they did not. I noticed the second tomato on that plant was mysteriously absent a day or so later.

Luckily for me—and other garden-challenged folks, there’s a bounty of bright red tomatoes of all sizes available at the farmers’ market and also often locally-grown produce is available in some grocery stores.

This very useful recipe that celebrates tomato season is good for vegetarians, good for making in the morning and serving in the evening, good for serving with fish, meat, or chicken—and good for surprising your friends and family with what tomatoes and brown rice can become, notes its developer chef and caterer to the stars, Serena Bass, a frequent contributor to Real Food. That sounds like many a good reason to try this Greek-inspired dish, wherever your tomatoes may come from.

And if you’d like to pair it with wine, try Italian reds based on the Sangiovese grape such as Chianti, which offer bold fruit flavors and mouth-watering acidity, perfect for standing up to high acid foods like tomatoes and strong flavors such as oregano.

Stuffed Tomatoes with Brown Rice, Oregano, and Pine Nuts

Serves 8

Vegetable oil for the baking dish
3/4 c. short-grain brown rice
1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 c. Greek or extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 large onion, diced
8 firm ripe tomatoes, cut from the vine leaving a little stalk
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. minced fresh oregano (or 2 tsp. dried)
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
13 c. pine nuts (sometimes called pignoli nuts)

Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Oil a 13×9-inch heavy metal or ceramic baking dish and set aside.

Put the rice and one tablespoon of salt in a saucepan, cover with cold water by 4 inches and bring to a simmer. Cook approximately 40 minutes, until the rice is still a little chewy. Drain and set aside.

Put the olive oil in a medium, heavy-based saucepan over medium heat and gently sauté the onion until translucent, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Cut a good slice off the tomatoes at the stalk end and shave a little slice off the base so the tomatoes stand straight; set each top next to its tomato. Using a teaspoon, scoop the pulp out into a small bowl, then chop the pulp and add to the onion along with the salt, garlic, oregano, and pepper. Cook briskly for 5 minutes. Add the rice and cook another 3 minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed; set aside to cool.

Stir in the pine nuts, and then fill the tomatoes, piling the mixture over the rim (and making sure not to pack down too tightly). Press the tomato lid down on top, and place the stuffed tomatoes 1 inch apart in the baking dish. If there is any extra rice mixture, spoon it around them. (Note: The dish can be made to this point, covered, and refrigerated.)

When you’re ready to bake the tomatoes, drizzle with a little extra olive oil and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour depending on the size of the tomatoes, adding 10 minutes if the stuffed tomatoes are cold from the fridge.

These look most authentic if the tomato skin is slightly blackened on the top. If necessary, turn the oven up to 450°F for the last 5 to 10 minutes. The good news is that these tomatoes are just as katapliktiko (unspeakably fabulous) warm or at room temperature so you could bake them earlier in the day if you need space in the oven. Cover with plastic wrap while the tomatoes are still just a little warm. The condensation that forms will keep them from drying out.

Mary Subialka is the editor of Real Food and Drinks magazines, covering the flavorful world of food, wine, and spirits. She rarely meets a chicken she doesn’t like, and hopes that her son, who used to eat beets and Indian food as a preschooler, will one day again think of real food as more than something you need to eat before dessert and be inspired by his younger brother, who is now into trying new foods.