One thing you will always see on our kitchen table are tomatoes . We never run out of them – they are the juiciest of all vegetables, always available, raw or cooked, to be part of the plat du jour.
In Provence, tomatoes were called ‘pomme d’amour’ (love apples) because of their aphrodisiac properties. For me, they are the little black dress of the kitchen – a basic element that every cook must have. The quality I admire most in cooking is improvisation. My aunt is the queen of this act – she can create any dish on a whim, no matter what is in the kitchen, you are sure to get a gourmet meal. With a few simple ingredients, even a few leftovers, you can achieve little wonders.
I will always remember the first time I had tomatoes farçies à la Provençale. I was eight years old, it was a warm and balmy Sunday evening at my aunt’s house in Moissac, South of France. We had been invited by friends, feasting all week on foie gras and confit de canard, so my aunt didn’t have time to do any grocery shopping. However, she looked in the fridge and said ‘Oh, I will just bake some tomates farçies’,. My mother answered with ‘Mmmmm, j’adore!’ and it turned out to be one of the most beautiful summer food memories – succulent tomatoes stuffed with sausage meat, topped with golden crunchy garlic breadcrumbs and perfumed with a bouquet of herbs.
Today, I love making this dish, and I secretly like to stage the act of that night, pretending that I didn’t have time to plan anything. So when my husband asks me, ‘What are we having for lunch?’, I’ll say, ‘Oh, I didn’t really have the time to plan anything, but hey, I’ll make some tomates farçies!
As I love hazelnuts, I added them to this classic recipe – it goes well with the breadcrumbs, garlic and parsley, and I find that they enhance the herb flavours. This recipe’s stuffing is made with sausage meat, but you can alternate and have this dish vegetarian.
5 large tomatoes
5 good quality pork sausages (or any ground meat of your choice)
60 grs hazelnuts (ground – I used a food processor)
2 cloves garlic (crushed)
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 tsp mustard
salt & pepper
1 tsp thyme
A large handful of parsley, finely chopped
2 slices stale bread soaked in milk
2 large handfuls of plain breadcrumbs
5 tbsp olive oil (2 for roasting pan, 3 to drizzle on top of breadcrumbs)
Preheat the oven to 200°C/ 400 degrees F.
Slice the top part of the tomato, as if you were slicing off the ‘hat’ part. Gently scoop out the tomato pulp and place upside down on a plate to drain for 10 minutes. Keep the ‘hat’ part and set aside.
Cut a slit in each sausage and squeeze out the meat. Soak stale bread in a bowl with the milk. Drain off excess milk and set aside. In a large bowl, mix crushed garlic, chopped shallots, sausage meat, mustard, thyme, salt and pepper, a small handful of parsley and the soaked bread. Sprinkle salt, pepper and a teaspoon of plain breadcrumbs in the bottom of each tomatoes. Fill tomatoes with the stuffing, add a layer of ground hazelnut, followed by a layer of plain breadcrumbs. Pour 2 tbsp olive oil in a baking dish and place the stuffed tomatoes. Drizzle a generous amount of olive oil on each tomatoes, and add the reserved ‘hats’. Place in a pre-heated oven and bake for 40 minutes.