I have a problem. The most beautiful, prolific tomato plant in my garden – a Russian hybrid called “Japanese Black Trifele” – is finally ripening its branches full of tomatoes. What’s the problem, you ask? The beautifully pear-shaped fruit don’t taste great. They’re a little watery, a little bland. Not terrible, certainly better than supermarket tomatoes, but not something you want to feature in a tomato jam or salad.
(And I must apologize to you because I just realized I have not yet posted a recipe for any kind of tomato salad, though we practically live on the stuff during the summer. I promise, I will rectify the situation.)
In any case, I harvested a basketful of these disappointing tomatoes yesterday. I wanted to do something with them that involved cooking, to concentrate their mild flavor. Preferably something that featured them while still moving them to the background a bit. And then I remembered a recipe from my beloved, banged-up copy of Crescent Dragonwagon’s out-of-print Dairy Hollow House Cookbook: Tomatoes Rockefeller.
The name is a play on Oysters Rockefeller, famously named after the richest man in America because of the richness of its ingredients. It seems that the original didn’t actually include spinach – the recipe is lost to history, but probably got its green color from herbs, celery, and maybe a shot of absinthe. (At least according to Wikipedia.) However, as with anything labeled “Florentine,” anything labeled “Rockefeller” nowadays will undoubtedly include spinach.
I was reassured that I had made the right decision when I opened my cookbook to find that I had notated the recipe with “FANTASTIC!” I pulled some spinach from the freezer and went to work.
Scooping out the tomatoes sounds fiddly, but it goes quickly – even, to my surprise, with cherry tomatoes, though obviously cherries are fussier to work with. The tiny stuffed tomatoes are adorable, though, and would be a fantastic hors d’ouerves. If making them for that application, I would increase the cheese from Dragonwagon’s recommended 1/4 cup to more like 3/4 cup, for crisp cheesiness. As written, these tomatoes are wonderfully vegetal, a nice celebration of the waning summer, and make a great side dish or vegetarian entree.
Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Cut the tomatoes in half and scoop out the pulp, using a grapefruit spoon if you have one. If your tomatoes have a tough spot near the stem end, carefully slice that with a knife, not puncturing the skin, before scooping. Set the tomatoes cut-side down in a colander to drain while you prepare the filling.
Heat the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat and add the onion. Saute until soft and translucent, 5 to 10 minutes, then add the garlic. Saute another minute, then turn off the heat.
Stir in the breadcrumbs, herbs, salt and pepper, spinach, and cheese. Taste for salt, then stir in the egg.
Arrange medium tomatoes cut-side up in a lightly oiled baking dish (8×8 works well). Spoon the spinach mixture into the cavities. For cherry tomatoes, hold each one while filling it and then place in the pan.
Bake 20 to 25 minutes for medium tomatoes, 10 to 15 minutes for cherry tomatoes, until the tops are lightly browned and crisp. Serve hot or at room temperature. br / Follow Unfussy Epicure on Facebook!