It’s high tomato season, and I’m conflicted. This is the time of year when the raw tomato is king, when every shape and size of tomato is juicy and soft, when the heat rolls through in waves and the stove sits neglected. But I just can’t do it. I can’t enjoy tomatoes raw. To me, the texture is unpleasant, the taste sickly. Unless they’re exquisitely soft and heirloom, or cherry-sized and picked straight off the vine, I can barely choke them down.
So if I’m eating tomatoes–even height-of-summer tomatoes–they’ve got to be cooked. And for me, there’s no better way than the oven. Baked or roasted, tomatoes suddenly go from can’t-do to can’t-get-enough. The dry heat-bath of the oven takes them from watery to wrinkled, from tart to saucy-sweet. Even less-than-stellar tomatoes become summery treats when handled this way. So on the Fourth of July, when my neighborhood itself felt like the inside of an oven, I decided to suck it up, turn on the beast, and stuff some tomatoes.
The filling here is Moroccan-inspired: almost-caramelized onions, grated zucchini, fresh parsley, a pinprick of chili and thyme, fragrant nubs of toasted pistachio. It makes for a gorgeous contrast, these crayon-red tomatoes and their green-on-green filling. Where many stuffed tomatoes are bready and dense, these are light and fall-apart tender. In the oven, the filling relaxes and settles into the tomatoes; the tomatoes themselves slump but stay deceptively whole, until you touch them and realize the walls have turned to jelly. Oh, and fresh parsley on top is definitely not optional–the contrast between roasted and fresh herb flavor kind of makes the dish.
I brought these tomatoes to a potluck, nestled snugly in a Pyrex dish. They sat tucked away in a corner, all homely and humble next to peanut noodles and berry shortcake and good French bread and several different kinds of pie. I was sure they’d be completely outshined. And yet, fifteen minutes into the party, they were the first thing to disappear. Not bad for a vegetable-on-vegetable.
Moroccan Stuffed Tomatoes (serves 4-6 as a side dish)
Adapted from The Temporary Vegetarian
3 tbsp olive oil, plus more for greasing the pan
8 medium globe tomatoes or tomatoes-on-the-vine
Salt to taste
1/2 cup shelled unsalted (raw) pistachios
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 large or 4 small garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp crushed red chili flakes, or to taste
1 lb (2-3 medium) zucchini, trimmed and coarsely grated
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, divided
Preheat the oven to 350º F, and place a rack in the middle. Lightly brush a 9×13 baking dish with olive oil. Cut each tomato in half around the equator, and scoop or squeeze out the seeds. If the tomatoes have large empty chambers inside, leave them intact; if they have small tight chambers, scoop them out and discard. Sprinkle the cleaned cavity of each tomato lightly with salt, then lay the tomato halves cut side down on paper towels to drain while you prep the filling.
In a large skillet, toast pistachios over medium heat, stirring frequently, until they’re golden and fragrant. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Return the skillet to the heat, add oil, and increase the heat to medium-high. When the oil shimmers, add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes, or until the onions are very soft and starting to brown. Add garlic, thyme, and chili flakes, and saute for 30 seconds to a minute, or until fragrant. Add zucchini and saute for about 2 minutes, or until the zucchini is just beginning to soften. Remove from the heat and mix in pistachios and about 3/4 of the parsley. Season with salt to taste.
Place the drained tomato halves, cut side up, in the greased baking dish. Divide the filling evenly among the tomatoes. Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until the tomatoes are soft and the zucchini is tender and golden on top.
Remove the tomatoes from the oven, and let cool for about 10 minutes. Top with the reserved parsley. Serve warm or at room temperature.