I’m a closeted vegetarian, which for someone who grew up in Argentina eating good-quality beef on a regular basis is…well, unusual.
But over the last few years I’ve grown more conscious about animal welfare and have had the luxury of being more selective about the food I eat. The other day I was chopping a big hunk of beef for a stew and realized, with a pang of horror, that I was cutting a piece of an animal that had been dead for days, and had probably had a miserable life. The thought grossed me out and made me feel guilty.
Call it what you will—weakness, grandiosity, granola-crunchiness. It made me uncomfortable. So I decided to try being vegetarian for a week. The experience went well. I felt pretty self-righteous, even when I accidentally ordered a BLT and only remembered I was supposed to be vegetarian after finishing the meal and realizing how good bacon tasted.
To succeed, I figured, I’d have to pack my meals with things I love, such as tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and cheese. Lots of cheese. So when I visited my friend Cristina in New York last weekend, I knew my vegetarian experiment could survive the abundant culinary temptations of the sinful Brooklyn restaurant scene.
You know Cristina, she’s my dear friend whose banana bread recipe is among my earliest posts. (By the way, she was a bit pissed off at me for misrepresenting the size of her apartment in that post and messing up her recipe.) Cristina, like me, grew up a carnivore, but as an animal lover and health nut with a vegetable garden, she’s been (mostly) vegetarian for quite some time. Okay, she’s going to yell at me for calling her a health nut!
We’d been invited to dinner at Lee’s and Loch’s house. (Lee is an amazing cook who made a crazy pasta dish that deserves to be shared with the masses. I’ll post it next.) Cristina and I decided to contribute Yotam Ottolenghi’s herb stuffed tomatoes, from his book Plenty.
It was a beautiful Saturday morning, and we set out to the Prospect Park farmers market in search of tomatoes. Sound like a good idea? It was not. It was hot and crowded and loud and insane, and I got run over by an old lady walking to the Brooklyn museum as if her life depended on it. I got bumped into and tossed around between market stalls by people’s shopping bags and backpacks. New Yorkers seem to live in a permanent state of “Get-out-of-my-way-I’m-trying-to-get-on-the-subway-at-rush-hour.”
Anyhow, we bought some plump, juicy, shiny, beautiful tomatoes and rushed back home to the comfort of the air conditioning.
This recipe is easy to make, unlike, I hear from my readers, most of the things I post. Ottolenghi suggests serving this dish with a green salad and pieces of goat cheese. I think adding some walnuts for crunch might be nice.
Now get out to your closest farmers market and buy some nice tomatoes. (They’re less expensive in late summer.) And, if you’re in New York, watch out for the frantic lady on her way to the museum.
(serves 4 as a small starter)
- 4 medium tomatoes (ripe but firm)
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 12 black olives, roughly chopped
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/4 cup panko
- 2 tbsp chopped oregano
- 3 tbsp chopped parsley
- 1 tbsp chopped mint
- 1 1/2 tbsp chopped capers
- black pepper
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- Trim off about 3/8 inch from the top of each tomato and discard. Use a little spoon to remove the seeds and most the flesh, leaving a clean shell.
- Lightly salt and place upside down in a colander to drain off some moisture.
- Meanwhile, put the onion, garlic, olives and 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium pan and cook on low heat for 5 to 6 minutes, to soften the onion completely.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the panko, herbs, capers and some pepper. Taste and add salt, if you like.
- Wipe the insides of the tomatoes with a paper towel, then fill them up with the herb stuffing, pressing down very gently as you go. You want a nice dome of stuffing on top.
- Place the tomatoes in a greased ovenproof dish and drizzle lightly with the remaining oil.
- Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the tomatoes soften. Serve hot or warm.