Summer has fled for good now. The air - even when warm - has that certain, indescribable crispness that means fall has arrived in full force. But I don't care because I love fall. It's my favorite time of year. I love seeing the leaves change; I love walking in those that have fallen, which crunch and emit their earthy scent with each step I take. I love the first day I pull thin leather gloves out of the drawer. I'm happy to reacquaint myself with cozy sweaters. I'm glad to wear black tights and suede shoes again. So I probably shouldn't still be writing about tomatoes.
But I am.
Maybe it's because fabulous tomatoes are only available for what seems like such a short time. No matter how many I eat, it's never enough, and every year when tomato season ends, I'm already longing for it to begin again. So when I read Molly's recent post about these tomatoes, which Luisa wrote about last July, I looked in the pantry to find my little glass jar of Arborio rice and ran to the garden to pluck four tomatoes from their vines, snagged a few leaves of basil from the pot near the back door, and made this dish on the spot. I threw a russet potato, peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch rounds, into the pan too because it was what I had, and my only regret was that I didn't throw in two.
This just might be the first dish I make next year when the tomatoes I dream about reappear.
Adapted from Orangette and The Wednesday Chef
2 main dish servings; 4 side dish servings
4 large tomatoes
1 small yellow onion, diced
1/3 cup Arborio rice
1/3 cup water
5 fresh basil leaves
2 flaky potatoes, sliced into ¼-inch-thick rounds or, maybe even better, cut into chunks
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the tops off the tomatoes, and scoop out the flesh, seeds, and juice into a bowl.
Put the tomatoes into a lightly oiled 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Using kitchen shears, cut the flesh of the tomatoes directly in the bowl you have put them in.
Warm a glug of olive oil in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat; add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and translucent. Add the rice to the pan, and continue to cook, stirring, for another minute or two. Then add all the contents of the bowl (tomato flesh, juice, and seeds - this looks like a lot, but don't worry) as well as the water. Tear the basil leaves into pieces, and add them too, along with a pinch or two of Maldon Salt squished by your fingertips.
Reduce the heat, cover the pot, and simmer for 10 minutes. Taste, and add more salt if necessary. The rice is not cooked through at this point. Spoon this mixture into the tomatoes, and sprinkle breadcrumbs lightly over the top of each tomato.
Molly made her own breadcrumbs.
If you happen to have some leftover baguette lying around, or some crusty white bread or something like that, it will take you about 5 minutes. Just cut off the crust, cut the soft center into cubes, and whirl the cubes in a food processor until they are reduced to fine crumbs. (Only process a couple of handfuls at a time, though, or the motor of the machine could overheat.)
I will do this next time. But this time I used PLAIN dried breadcrumbs, and they were fine. Actually, better than fine; they worked well.
Arrange the potato slices (or chunks) around the tomatoes in the pan. Drizzle olive oil over everything, and turn the potatoes over to make sure they are covered on both sides. (I want to eat this again RIGHT NOW as I am typing!)
Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Make sure the potatoes are cooked through before you take the pan from the oven. Cool for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.