Ah, tomato season, season of plenty. At this time of year, I find myself eating tomatoes in some form at almost every meal – cherry tomatoes tossed into a linguine dish at the last minute to burst and generously share their juices; or cooked down in a fridge-clearing ratatouille; or just as my mum’s basic tomato salad (chopped onion, fresh – or more often dried – herb, salt; repeat forever more).
Tomatoes are definitely a versatile ingredient, and I adore them, but the one thing I hadn’t found till recently was a fancy way of serving them; you know, the sort of thing you could serve if you had guests over.
I realised the reason for this was that almost every way of using tomatoes I know requires the tomatoes to be cooked down, chopped, sliced or otherwise made into a reduced version of themselves. What I was after was a recipe that would use them in their whole form; like the way you’d set a joint of roast meat, or a poached fillet of fish down onto the centre of the table if you were having a special meal.
Stuffed tomatoes instantly occurred. But still, I wanted them to be more. I wanted them to be the centre of attention, to merit a whole tray to themselves (this is how my cooking thought process usually goes), so I decided to try cooking them together on the vine.
I bought two packets of beautiful, firm vine tomatoes and carried them home carefully to keep their stems intact. I sliced across the belly of the tomatoes, all still intact on their vines, so that I was left with a set of joined tomato tops and loose tomato bottoms. I scooped out the jellied insides with a soup spoon and then stuffed the tomato bottoms with a mix of chopped walnuts, breadcrumbs, mozzarella and lots of diced garlic and herbs. Back on with the lids (a bit of a balancing act, but not too hard), then a good squish to join top and bottom together and then they went into a hot oven till they were puffy and blistered, with the cheese turning golden and the garlic mellowed to late-summer sweetness.
STUFFED VINE TOMATOES
These stuffed tomatoes would be lovely served as part of a main meal with some baked white fish and rice or crispy potatoes and veg, or better yet, with not much adornment other than some fresh sourdough and salad for a summertime lunch (or hot-night dinner).
12 vine tomatoes
250g cooking mozarella (or other cheese – a creamy goats’ cheese, ricotta salata or even crumbled feta could be nice as a variation)
3 tbsp breadcrumbs (from good quality fresh bread if possible)
Handful of herbs, diced (parsley, basil, chives – whatever you fancy)
3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled & diced
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
12 walnut halves, finely diced
Pinch of salt and black pepper
Preheat your oven as hot as it goes. Keeping the vine intact, carefully cut across the belly of the tomatoes so that you’re left with the tops joined together by the vine and a series of loose bottoms (look at the picture of the chopping board above if you’re confused).
Scoop out the inner jellied bits of the tomatoes with a spoon. Dice the cheese finely and mix with all the remaining ingredients. Pack the tomatoes with the cheese mix. Line a baking tray with parchment. Arrange the bottom halves of the tomatoes in roughly the shape of the top of the vine, then match them up with the top part (you may need to hold the top part up and move the bottom parts around to match). Once you’re happy with the arrangement, press down on each quite firmly so that the two halves are intact. If one or two are not holding you could add a few cocktail sticks to secure them. Bake for 20 minutes or until soft, blistered and lightly charred in places, grilling for the last few minutes if you can. Once cooked, leave to cool slightly for a minute or two before serving.