We are in rainy season here in south central PA, days and days of drenching with no sunshine in sight on the forecast for 10 days. It’s incredible, a little disconcerting, and cozy as midwinter. I turned on the heat today to cut through the damp and we sip hot drinks just like midwinter. There is muddy water streaming across the roads where the creeks can’t drain the mountains fast enough, and the happiest creatures on this farmlet are the ducks. The cats hate it, because they can’t sit outside the windows, looking in covetously. They are stuck in the barn. Maybe they will finally catch on that they should be catching rats.
M garden is reduced to some watermelons, a patch of broccoli and sweet potatoes, and small tomatoes that hang onto the blighted stems and ripen slowly in the cooler weather. Recently I had a bite of a stuffed tomato appetizer at a restaurant when a friend kindly shared hers. I became mildly obsessed with replicating that flavor at home, and googled for recipes, trying for the flavor until I think I nailed it pretty close. This is a mash-up of many different recipes and my own trial and error. If you want to hang on tenaciously to summer for a bit, to its tastes and textures, you will want to try Basil Stuffed Tomatoes. You need:
- 8 to 10 small tomatoes
- 8 ounces Neufchatel cheese
- 3 T. pesto
- 2 cups Italian bread crumbs
- a few sprigs of fresh basil
- 4 T. butter
- Cut out the core/stem area of the tomatoes and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and wetness from the center of each.
- Set them upside down to drain a bit more while you mix up the other ingredients.
- Soften the cream cheese in the microwave if you’re like me and forgot to get it out 2 hours ago. Mix in the pesto. This amount is variable. I could roll in basil everyday and feel happy with the flavor, but not everybody is like that. I add enough pesto to turn the cream cheese quite green.
- Melt the butter and toss it into 1 1/2 cups bread crumbs. Save 1/2 cup of crumbs out dry.
- Turn the tomatoes right side up in a baking dish and spoon about 2 tsp. of dry crumbs into each one. This is to help soak up the damp in the tomato.
- Spoon 1 T. of cream cheese mixture into each tomato, squooshing it down on top of the crumbs pretty solidly.
- Stick a layer of basil leaves on top. In fact you can put basil in layers wherever you please during this process.
- Top each tomato with buttered bread crumbs. I used a cookie scoop and pressed them down firmly, then topped them with a scoop of looser crumbs for a prettier presentation.
- Bake, uncovered, 350, for 30 minutes.
This may sound fiddly, but it is oh, so worth it! It made me feel so happy to figure it out. If you don’t have fancy bread crumbs, you can just blend some toasted rustic bread and add extra Italian spices or you can pulverize up salad croutons like I did one day. The parmesan garlic was really good! You can use regular cream cheese, of course, or even ricotta. I tried fresh mozzarella once, but it got too rubbery. At any rate, you owe it to summer to give it one last hurrah!
As I write, my girls are playing Great British Baking Show, accents and all. They are using Silly Slime for all their bakes, trying for the “perfect icing drip” on their cakes, sitting on the floor beside the “oven” while they wait for their bakes and having all the calm drama of any of the baking challenges. “I love that bubble on the side…”
I spent an hour writing out assignments for the middle schoolers this next week, and now that I have that handle on Monday morning, I feel like maybe another cup of tea would be in order.
Have a great week! And don’t neglect your tomatoes while you have them.