Tomatoes, stuffed - nursery food for grown-ups!

Tomatoes are coming into their glorious own in Europe just now. All shapes and sizes, Heritage, or just old-fashioned, some in quite glorious colours. There is nothing like a really ripe tomato full of flavour - I would happily eat a salad (with just a little chopped shallot, or chives, or basil, olive oil, salt, pepper.....) every day from now till the end of the season. But as soon as there is a glut, we might as well diversify. Stuffed tomatoes are the way to go!

The Wine Harvest Cook has to think ahead to the time when she transforms herself into a restaurant manager and chef rolled into one. Wine Harvesters are hungry people and they need to be fed at regular intervals. The trick is "l’intendance", being organised, having a plan of campaign. Many grow their own vegetables and fruit so, earlier in the year, the cook makes sure enough potatoes are sown and that there will be enough herbs and salad in the garden for when they are needed. She grows plenty of tomatoes, peeling and bottling some, preparing and freezing others ready for pizzas. The biggest of the crop will end up on the harvest menu as tomates farcies, so they are frozen, as soon as they ripen, the insides having been scooped out to be used in soups and sauces. No need to waste a good thing!

Here's a recipe, tried and tested by generations of wine-growers and their families, for this comforting dish which is often served with rice. As I cannot eat gluten I substitute cooked rice for the slice of bread in the stuffing and omit bread crumbs - this works well.

FOR 4 PEOPLE

4 large tomatoes 1 thick slice of white bread a little milk 3 - 4 shallots 1 medium onion 1 clove garlic 60 g (2 oz) butter plus a little extra 250 g (8 oz) left-over meat, minced or chopped

1 large handful of parsley salt and black pepper a few dry breadcrumbs, optional

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6, 400°F, 200°C.

Cut off the tops of the tomatoes. Using a teaspoon, scoop out the insides, being careful not to pierce the skins. Keep the pulp and juice to add to the stuffing.

Cut the crusts off the bread. Soak the bread in the milk.

Peel and chop the shallots, onion and garlic. Cook them in the butter until they soften. Add the meat and cook for a few minutes. (If you are using uncooked sausage-meat it will need to cook for longer, till browned.) Add the tomato pulp and juice.

Wash, dry and chop the parsley. Squeeze the milk out of the bread (use your hands - it is the only effective way). Add parsley and bread to the mixture and stir well. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon into the tomatoes. Dot the tops with a little butter. Some people like to sprinkle the tops with dry breadcrumbs. Put the stuffed tomatoes in a buttered gratin dish and into the preheated oven for approximately 30 minutes. (Cooking time depends on the variety of tomato and how ripe they are. They should not collapse.)

#tomatoesmeatstuffing