What does the Fourth of July mean to you? This is a day to celebrate our freedom and the many men and women who serve our country. As the past coordinator of the Flags 4 Freedom display in Merriam, I will be there to enjoy the 10th annual display of 1,300 American flags and the afternoon concert with the American Legion Band of Greater Kansas City at the Merriam Marketplace. Bring your lawn chair as the concert is free and a family-friendly event. Merriam still has that small-town feel and it’s wonderful when our community comes together to honor veterans and those in the military.
The Merriam Marketplace is also home to a wonderful Farmers Market. Do you buy your produce there, too? Oh yes. The Merriam Farmers’ Market always has fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers available. The flags are actually in place at the end of June, so it’s a wonderful treat to buy fresh and nutritious food from local farmers among all the flags today and Saturday.
I will likely make these Vera Cruz Tomatoes for dinner for friends on the Fourth of July, and since the rains this spring delayed my garden, I will go to Merriam Farmers’ Market on Saturday to pick up tomatoes, fresh spinach and onions.
Do you have a large backyard garden? Actually, my sisters and I still own a family plot of nine acres in Shawnee that we tend together. We have a wonderful garden in which we plant tomatoes, okra, eggplant, peppers and herbs, such as basil and cilantro. Of course, the deer love our garden, too, but I regularly get out there to mow and help maintain the garden.
I just love nature and observing how things grow. There’s something truly miraculous about putting a seed into the dirt and then watching it flourish into something you can eat. I have fun working in the dirt. It is a stress reliever for me and literally grounds me.
Is this tomato recipe a nod to the Veracruz, Mexico, region or who is this Vera Cruz, and why does she have tomatoes named for her? That is so funny, because I can’t find any information on the history of this recipe and how it was named. Maybe we should just call them Bacon and Spinach-Stuffed Tomatoes! I have made these Vera Cruz tomatoes for years and it was a recipe submitted to “Better Homes New Cook Book” from Mrs. Guy Smith, ironically from Kansas City, Mo.! This recipe is a summertime favorite with hamburgers on the grill and is most delicious when fresh-grown tomatoes from the garden are used.
I enjoy having friends over for dinner. I tend to try new recipes that I find in The Kansas City Star, magazines or cookbooks and enjoy planning the menu and organizing the preparation so I can spend the evening visiting, rather than being in the kitchen. Grilling is a good way to prep food at the last minute, and my remodeled kitchen has a large island with a cooktop that also lends itself to cooking, visiting and sipping.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. E-mail her at email@example.com to nominate a cook.
Occupation: Human resources professional and community volunteer
Special cooking interest: Entertaining epicure
For more information on the Flags 4 Freedom schedule of events at the Merriam Marketplace, go to: Flags4Freedom.org.
Vera Cruz Tomatoes or Bacon and Spinach-Stuffed Tomatoes
Makes 8 servings
6 strips bacon
1 small onion, finely diced
1 pound fresh baby spinach leaves, washed and spun dry
1 cup sour cream
1/8 teaspoon hot sauce, optional
8 medium tomatoes, washed
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a large sauté pan, fry bacon until crisp over medium-high heat on stovetop. Remove bacon from pan, crumble and set aside. Discard all but 2 tablespoons bacon grease in pan and turn heat to medium.
Add onion to pan and sauté until soft tender. Place spinach in pan and cover tightly with lid. Allow spinach to steam for 3 to 5 minutes, or until wilted and tender.
Remove pan from heat and stir in sour cream, crumbled bacon, and optional hot sauce. Set aside.
Cut tops from tomatoes and discard. Seed whole tomatoes, discarding tomato innards. Season each tomato “shell” with 1/8 teaspoon salt.
Evenly divide spinach mixture between 8 hollowed-out tomatoes, stuffing each to the top with filling. Place filled tomatoes into a 9- by 13-inch baking pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until tomatoes are soft and cheese is melted. Outdoor option: Place tomatoes over an indirect flame on grill and warm until soft and cheese is melted.
Note: Carol Eubank holds a platter of Vera Cruz tomatoes that are not baked or grilled yet.
Per serving: 154 calories (68 percent from fat), 12 grams total fat (7 grams saturated), 29 milligrams cholesterol, 5 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams protein, 465 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.