Saucy, Love Apples… for Valentine’s Day (and every other day too.)
This recipe is our first meat based recipe — apologies to all our vegan and vegetarian friends but, as both of us (Alicia and Priya) eat meat, fish/seafood — these ingredients will feature on this blog from time to time.
We’re posting this on Valentine’s day — the world has turned red and pink for the 24 hour love-fest… so we’re on brand with the colour of this meal! AND — if you end up making this for your Valentine, did you know that Tomatoes used to be called “Love Apples” because of their sizzling hot, seductive, scarlet colour and because, in times gone by, they were considered to have aphrodisiac properties?? (You can thank us later!)
For those not into the whole Valentine’s day thing… we hear you… for those reading this after Valentine’s day… don’t worry… cook this and eat it anyway. Romance (and commercialism) is not compulsory and this recipe works 365 days of the year.
This is a beautiful, simple and yummy dish which has many versions across the Mediterranean and, possibly, further afield too — the concept is so simple that you’d imagine that most people have attempted something similar at some point. We’re including it in the “Gourmet” section of the blog but it really does also tick the box for our “skinny” section too! It is definitely sensible enough to be part of a very healthy diet without feeling like you are missing out on anything at all… and, ultimately, who wants to diet and feel deprived all the time?!
The list of ingredients does look long, but don’t be daunted as the method to cook it is actually very straightforward. We don’t really measure ingredients when we cook (unless we’re baking) but we have included measurements here as a guide for any first-timers who want to give this a go. Once you have made this recipe a couple of times, you will be able to guess at the quantities of each ingredient that you need quite easily.
This is the perfect dish for a light lunch or evening meal and is also packed with nutritional goodies and protein from the meat (we know there are other protein sources, of course.) This dish features two types of cooked tomatoes – the stuffed tomato centrepiece and the glorious tomato sauce. Tomatoes have great properties for our health and, for the vain amongst us, they’re really good for your skin because of their antioxidant content — so maybe, just maybe, they keep us looking beautiful too! Bonus!!! Cooked tomatoes are considered to provide even more benefits than raw — especially in respect of lycopene which is present even in tinned/carton tomatoes. (You can read a bit about lycopene if you click onto the underlined “tomato” link under the ingredients list which will take you to our Geek-A-Licious section.)
This really is a homely and delicious meal and some adaptations can be made to ensure it is suitable for gluten-free and/or paleo/primal diets. Once you get the hang of it, try some variations like stuffed courgettes, aubergines and peppers (with or without the tomato sauce) — all are just as delicious! For your vegan or vegetarian friends — you can consider alternative fillings of flavoured risotto, brown rice or quinoa. This really is versatile once you have the concept.
What you need:
For the Tomato Sauce:
- 2 tablespoons of Olive Oil
- 1 finely chopped, medium sized Onion, (any colour you like)
- 2 large cloves of Garlic (crushed/sliced finely)
- 2 tablespoons of Tomato puree
- Either 1kg of roughly chopped or blended ripe Tomatoes (if in season) OR a couple of tins/cartons of the best quality tomatoes you can get
- At least 10 leaves of fresh basil (more if you like a stronger flavour)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1-2 teaspoons of light Honey/unrefined sugar/natural sweetener (if needed) – please omit this ingredient if you are watching your sugar intake or are diabetic
For the stuffed tomatoes:
- 4 large tomatoes (around 200g each) – ideally beef tomatoes or similar – they have to be big enough to stuff
- 200g of lean, minced meat, preferably organic. You can use any meat or any combination of meats that you like
- 50g fresh breadcrumbs (white or brown are fine — we use brown). Use gluten free breadcrumbs if you prefer or leave the breadcrumbs out entirely for a wheat/gluten free/low carb version which is also then suitable for paleo/primal lifestyles too
- 1 egg yolk (save the whites for baking or towards an egg white omelette!)
- 1 small onion finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh herbs such as basil or parsley or thyme (or a combination of all three)
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- Optional – 50g Grated hard cheese (parmesan, grana padano, cheddar, goat’s – whatever you like) – leave this out if you don’t/can’t do dairy
Before you Start/Top Tip:
The tomato sauce element of this dish is such a useful thing to have on standby that you may want to make double the amount and stash half in the fridge/freezer to use another time. It can be used as a sauce for pasta (revive it with a little more fresh basil before you stir it through), as the tomato base for pizza (you may just want to cook it down a little bit more first so it becomes thicker), and as a sauce for veggies, meat and fish. You can also dilute it down with some good fish stock and use it as a base for a delicious and healthy seafood soup — try throwing in prawns, mussels and chunks of firm fish (we’ll put a proper recipe up for this one later anyway as it really is amazing!)
Once you get used to making this sauce, play around with the herbs you use — basil is not the only match for tomato — think bay, oregano, thyme, herbes de provence, mixed herbs. If you don’t like onion or garlic — leave one of them out (leaving both of them out will be a little lacklustre though!) You really can have this sauce ready to go within around 15 minutes (including cooking time!) But, we really are of the opinion that you can really taste the difference between a “fast” version and a slower cooked version which is allowed to simmer away for anything between 20-40 minutes. The taste is much smoother and richer and tends not to need any additional sweetening.
How to Make it:
For the sauce:
Add the 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a moderately heated saucepan/deep frying pan. Let the oil heat up for a few seconds and then add the chopped onion and cook for a couple of minutes — you don’t want the onion to go brown — you just want to keep it translucent and get it nicely softened. Once this has happened add the finely chopped garlic and stir for a few seconds and then mix in the tomato puree if using. Do not let the garlic burn – this can happen in an instant if your pan heat is too high and it really will ruin the whole taste because it becomes horribly bitter. If your garlic burns… start again. Sorry. We’re pretty relaxed with most things… but we have to be strict on this. Burnt garlic is the enemy to our tastebuds.
If you are terrified of burning the garlic or are one of these people who always ends up with burnt garlic (you know who you are!) – then add the garlic in after the tomatoes rather than before. Assuming you haven’t got a burnt garlic drama going on, add in the chopped tomatoes (or tinned/carton ones if using those), turn the heat down low and simmer with lid half on for at least 10/15 minutes — longer if you have the time because it absolutely makes for a better sauce.
After the sauce is cooked, blend it until it’s smooth (using a hand-blender or food processor — be careful, it’s hot!) — if you have used chopped, fresh tomatoes — you may want to be super fancy and pass the sauce through a sieve to strain all the seeds out. We do this if we’re cooking to really impress someone — but, for ourselves, we just use the blender and don’t worry at all about the seeds staying in. Life’s too short!
After you have blended the sauce, taste it and decide if you need to balance the flavour with some added sweetness — use a little honey/sugar/natural sweetener if you feel that the sauce is too acidic. Steer clear of chemical sweeteners. This is another thing we are really strict on (we’re quite bossy today, aren’t we?) – they taste awful and they seem somewhat dubious (do your research on this.) If you find the taste is “yums” as it is — skip the sugar/sweeteners and save those calories for something else! Finally, tear up the basil leaves, stir them into the sauce, taste it again and make an official upgrade from “yums” to “super yums!”
For the Stuffed Tomatoes:
Pre-heat your oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.
The large tomatoes are going to be stuffed with the minced meat. So, in order to do that, you will need to do a couple of things to prep each tomato. First of all, trim the bottom of the tomato ever so slightly — just to make a stable base so that the tomato can “stand” without rolling around. This is a very minor cut/trim you’re making so be very sure not to cut a hole into the bottom of it– you’re just aiming for a flat base.
Then, you need to cut the “lid” off the top of the tomato — do this by cutting the top third of the tomato off completely and saving for use later on in the recipe. If your tomatoes are a little shallow/smaller, then cut the top quarter away so that you still have enough tomato left to stuff. Once you have done this to all 4 tomatoes, take a spoon and scoop out all the seeds from each one — so that you are left with a tomato shell — thick walls/base of tomato — but no seeds. Put the innards of the tomatoes into the tomato sauce if you are making it at the same time — or save them for using in a soup or another batch of sauce later. There is absolutely no reason for them to be wasted though. Season the inside of each tomato shell with some good quality salt and black pepper.
In a large bowl, mix the minced meat with all the other ingredients apart from the cheese (if you are using it) — so that means the breadcrumbs, egg yolk, onion, garlic, herbs, olive oil. Season this stuffing mix with salt and pepper. Divide the stuffing into around 4 equal portions and then roll each portion into a ball and pop it inside each of the hollow shells. Place into a baking dish (lightly oil the bottom to prevent sticking) If you’re using cheese, sprinkle it on top of the meatballs and then, if you can, pop the “lid” of the tomato back on top. Drizzle with olive oil.
Cook in the oven for around 30-40 minutes – ovens vary — so just make sure that the stuffing is cooked through… To serve – re-heat the tomato sauce you have made, and pour into the bottom of the baking dish with the 4 stuffed tomatoes so they are in a puddle of tomato loveliness! Or for individual portions — pop one tomato into a shallow bowl and pour the sauce into that. Garnish with a little more grated cheese if using and serve with a nice green, side salad or crusty bread if you’re so inclined! Eat and enjoy!
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