Even though I call these ‘stuffed’ tomatoes, don’t actually stuff the rice filling into the tomato. Fill it loosely or it will be dense and dry after baking. You can put the tops back on the tomato flat or sideways.
Rice cooked this way—with a little olive oil and bay leaves—is a good dish on its own. We used to feed it to children or adults when they were recovering from an upset stomach, but don’t limit it to that. In addition to stirring the fresh basil into the filling, shred as much as you like and scatter it over the tomatoes after you put them on a plate. Basil and tomato is a union made in heaven, and who am I to argue in heaven?
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ cup arborio rice
- 6 medium tomatoes (about 2 ½ pounds), ripe but firm
- 1/2 cup diced mozzarella, preferably fresh, or provola cheese
- 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon grated Grana Padano cheese
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
- Salt and pepper to taste
In a 1-quart saucepan, heat 1 1/2 cups salted water, 2 tablespoons of the oil and the bay leaves to a boil. Stir in the rice and bring to a boil. Adjust the heat to a lively simmer and cook the rice, unovered, until al dente, tender but firm, about 12 minutes. Most of the liquid should be absorbed and the texture of the rice is creamy. Drain any excess liquid from the rice and transfer the rice to a mixing bowl.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Cut a 1/2-inch slice from the top of each tomato and set aside. Scoop out the pulp and seeds with a teaspoon and drop into a strainer set over a bowl. Press on the pulp in the strainer to squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Reserve the liquid and discard the pulp in the strainer.
Toss the rice, mozzarella, 1/2 cup of the Grana Padano and the basil together in a small bowl. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
Gently stuff the tomatoes with the rice mixture, dividing it evenly. Top each tomato with the reserved slices. Using some of the remaining oil, brush a baking dish into which the tomatoes fit comfortably. Set the stuffed tomatoes in the dish. Add the strained liquid from tomatoes and, if necessary, pour in enough water to come about ¼ inch up the sides of the tomatoes. Drizzle the remaining oil over the tomatoes and sprinkle them with the remaining 1 tablespoon grated cheese. Cover the dish loosely with aluminum foil and bake 15 minutes.
Uncover the dish and bake until the tomatoes are very tender and the tops are lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Remove tomatoes from oven and let rest for a few minutes. Carefully transfer the tomatoes to a serving platter, or individual plates. Swirl the juices in the pan to incorporate the oil into the juices and spoon the pan juices over and around the tomatoes. The tomatoes are best when served warm, with some of the pan juices drizzled over each serving.