Winter Tomatoes Stuffed With Memories

I started to feel needy for my version of this dish after Katerina Plastaras, a dear friend of Greek heritage, brought some stuffed tomatoes to work, and we re-heated them, and swooned, and paid unstinting praise to her mum, who had created these marvels. This is for ‘The Mother’.

A slimy little jerk did me a favour many long years ago. I must have been ten, or eleven at best, and trudging home from school, minding my own business, bag at back, socks down, mind at rest. Around the corner, a blind corner, and he struck. Right between the eyes with a rotten tomato. Splat! It took me years to forget it. The indignity of it all, the attack on my righteousness, the giggle disappearing into the distance.

What I have never forgotten is the smell as the tomato burst. This, strangely, was not something rotten, but something intensely sweet. The essence of the tomato, rich, powerful, aromatic. This is the flavour that comes from slow, long, thoughtful cooking. I’m not kidding. It’s true. Leave a ripe tomato in a warm, humid spot in the heat of summer; let it get warm and soft and rotten, and ease it from its resting place. Take it to the middle of the backyard and hurl it at the ground. Splat! That brilliant aroma again.

You dream of these things in the middle of winter, when the tomatoes are like rocks, and their raw taste is of yesterday’s newspaper. The trick is to get them to the same state as the tomato that little rat popped into my sweet little dial all those years ago. Recreate that natural process: leave the tomato in a warm, humid spot in the heart of the oven; let it get warm and soft and looking rotten and ease it from its resting place. Take it to the middle of the table, and …

6 tomatoes

2 small onions, peeled and chopped finely

1 clove garlic, sliced finely

½ cup full-flavoured virgin olive oil

2 pinches of salt

1 chilli, sliced finely

2 dessertspoons almond meal, or well-dried breadcrumbs

25 g butter or margarine

black pepper

2 cups leftover (cooked) rice – Preferably use rice with a solid residue of starch, keeping it just slightly sticky.

several sprigs of oregano, or basil or chives

35 g parmesan cheese, grated


Remove the stem end of the tomatoes and discard. Peel the tomatoes with a sharp knife to one third from the top. Remove and retain the inner flesh, juice and seeds, leaving a firm base and sides.


Cook the onion and garlic in half the oil, uncovered, in the microwave, or on top of the stove, until the onions have softened. This takes about 5 minutes on HIGH in the microwave, 10 minutes on the stove. Mash up the reserved tomato inners. Cover with a little salt, the rest of the oil, the cooked onion and garlic, and the chilli.


Mash the almond meal (or the breadcrumbs) and the butter together, and refrigerate.


Cook the tomato mixture, uncovered, in the microwave, for 30 minutes on HIGH. Keep an eye on it on the way through. Winter tomatoes have not the same moisture to flesh ratio as those beauties of summer. This step is necessary to restore the rich (rotten!) flavour of well-worn, well-ripened tomatoes of summer. Keep cooking until the moisture has all but gone. Mash up, add black pepper, allow to cool, and then add to the rice. Mix through the oregano and the grated parmesan.


Heat the oven to 200°C. Stuff the tomatoes with the rice and cheese and tomato mix until just short of the top edge. Spread each tomato with the almond butter and bake in the oven at 200°C for 50-60 minutes, or until the tomato edges are soft and the skin has crinkled.


Serve as simply as that, with teaspoons to tear out the stuffing and the flesh still adhering to the skin.

WINE: A spicy shiraz from the great shiraz areas: try something from Coonawarra (Bowen Estate), Margaret River (Cape Mentelle) or Central Victoria (Mt Langi Ghiran).