The French love their tomatoes, so much so that they once referred to the strange new fruit as pommes d’amour, or “love apples,” for their implied aphrodisiac qualities.
In just 200 years since its introduction into kitchens around the world, the tomato has won a starring role in any number of dishes because it “is highly marriageable,” according to “The Penguin Companion to Food” by Alan Davidson. “Among its best-known mates are basil, garlic, onion, thyme, oregano, peppers (with a bow to the Aztec), cheese, egg and meaty flavours.”
If you’ve ever seen a menu list a dish as “a la Provencal,” it’s a sure bet the flavor profile originates from the southeast of France, where the cuisine gives a strong nod to garlic, tomato and olive oil.
The Star’s Tomatoes Provencal is an ideal use for end-of-summer tomatoes. The whole-wheat bread-crumb stuffing is flavored with garlic, fresh basil and thyme and stuffed into a ripe, juicy tomato.
The addition of pine nuts and mild cheese makes it the perfect side dish for grilled meats or as a centerpiece at brunch, as it can be served hot or cold.
Shopping tip: The Provence region has its own signature dried spice blend, herbes de Provence, typically containing basil, fennel seed, lavender, marjoram, rosemary, sage, summer savory and thyme. If your supermarket carries an Herbes de Provence cheese — a combination of Gruyere and cheddar — you may omit the fresh thyme. (We found a product by Wood River Creamery at Hen House.)
Preparation tip: Toasting pine nuts intensifies the flavor. To toast the pine nuts, spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 5 to 7 minutes or until lightly toasted.
To de-stem thyme, pinch the top of the stem with fingertips of one hand and pull the stem sharply with the other; the leaves will pop off.
Makes 4 servings
4 small to medium ripe tomatoes (about 2 to 2 1/2-inches in diameter)
4 slices whole-wheat sandwich bread, crusts removed
1 green onion
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
2 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup shredded Gruyere or Swiss cheese
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a small (7-by-5-inch) baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
Cut a thin slice off the top of each tomato. Scoop out the pulp, leaving a small amount in the shell. Invert onto paper towels to drain.
Place sandwich bread into a mini food processor or food processor. Process to make crumbs. Place crumbs in a medium bowl. Return work bowl to food processor. Cut green onion into 1-inch pieces and place in the food processor bowl along with basil leaves and garlic. Process until finely chopped. Add to breadcrumb mixture. Add thyme leaves, pine nuts and salt and pepper to taste. Stir gently to blend.
Place tomatoes cut side up into prepared baking dish. Spoon stuffing mixture into the 4 tomatoes, dividing evenly.
Bake, uncovered, 15 minutes or until tomatoes are cooked and tender. Sprinkle cheese evenly over tomatoes. Drizzle lightly with olive oil. Bake about 1 minute or until cheese is melted. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Per serving: 176 calories (37 percent from fat), 8 grams total fat (3 grams saturated), 13 milligrams cholesterol, 21 grams carbohydrates, 9 grams protein, 197 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.
Recipe developed exclusively for The Star by Kansas City professional home economists Kathy Moore and Roxanne Wyss.