The weather has definitely turned its nose towards winter over these last few weeks.
As the last of the leaves drift down from the trees – I say drift, I mean more like leave the tree horizontally at 70mph – and the first snow has graced most of our gardens, it’s time to think of cooking the comforting, nourishing dishes that suit the climate at this time of year.
These back-endish suppers are always my favourites – longer, more complex recipes full of big, bold flavours, rich sauces, golden pastry, hefty puddings.
It’s the time of year when we don’t have the garden full of sunshine and flowers to appreciate, nor any lawns to mow, so we can spend more time in the warm kitchen, noodling about with recipes as the radio burbles away in the corner, or pop on a favourite album and set to with something delicious.
It’s not that wintery recipes are any more complicated, in fact they are often much easier, but they take time to cook with love and care – stews need to bubble over the barest heat for hour upon hour, allowing the meat to relax and tenderise to perfection.
Puddings need to steam properly, developing a deep golden crust around that amazing pillowy pastry holding its hidden filling deep inside.
This next dish is a great suppertime recipe, and can easily be made well in advance before popping in the oven an hour or so before you want to eat.
I was reminded of this dish on my holiday in France in September, where, browsing the magazine shelf in our local supermarket, I saw a photograph on the cover of a cookery magazine.
It was a photo not unlike the one alongside this recipe, a beautifully plump, deeply-roasted stuffed tomato.
It looked so delicious I immediately snapped a photo on my phone and decided to add it to my ‘to-do’ list.
Stuffed tomatoes aren’t exactly in vogue any more – they’re very much in the 1970s dinner party category along with sole bonne femme and meatloaf – but this shouldn’t prevent us from revisiting some of these classics, lightening them up a touch and serving them here in the 21st Century.
These tomatoes are hollowed-out and crammed with sausage meat, to which we add a few extra flavours, such as herbs and lemon zest, plus a hint of sweet garlic to get the nostrils going. Once you have the basic recipe, you can fiddle about with the aromatic elements as much as you like.
Half way through making these I considered how nice it would be to add lemongrass and coriander, making them Thai-style tomatoes.
One could add plenty of spices, perhaps even add kidney beans, to make a sort of inside-out chili con carne.
For the health-conscious and dietary-minded, turkey mince or Quorn would work well here. But I’ll simply give you the basic recipe I used and let you head off on your own path should you wish.
It’s a classic French supper dish that, whilst a wee bit fiddly in the early stages of prep, comes together quite quickly, and is simplicity itself to cook and serve.
Try to hunt for the biggest beefsteak-type tomatoes you can find, but don’t worry if you can’t find them; regular tomatoes will work just as well, even if they drive you potty scooping them out.
I would not recommend cherry tomatoes unless you are of the masochistic leaning. Though they would look brilliant …
500g sausage meat (or sausages – Toulouse if possible)
4 firm beefsteak tomatoes (or similar large tomatoes)
3 medium banana shallots, very finely chopped (or 1 small onion)
3 large cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp tomato purée
1 tbsp curly parsley, very finely chopped, plus extra for the sauce
1 small sprig of fresh thyme, chopped
A small handful chives, finely chopped
The finely grated zest of a lemon
250ml dry white wine
250ml vegetable or chicken stock
Maldon salt and freshly-ground pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 180°C / Gas 4. Put the sausagemeat into a bowl, or remove the meat from the sausages and then proceed.
With a sharp serrated knife, carefully remove the tops of the tomatoes, attempting to keep the stalk intact, and set them to one side. Carefully scoop out the middles of each tomato, scraping out all the seeds and the firm ‘ribs’ using a sharp spoon or small paring knife.
Put the tomato pulp into a bowl. Place a saucepan over a low heat and add a splash of olive oil. Once the oil is warm, add the shallots and garlic and sweat the mixture, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes, until it becomes translucent and soft.
Remove and mix into the sausage meat mixture. Stir the reserved tomato pulp into the same pan, add the tomato purée and cook over a medium heat for 10-15 minutes, until it has thickened and caramelised a little. Pass through a non-reactive sieve into a bowl and allow to cool.
When cooled, add this reduced tomato paste to the sausagemeat, along with the chopped herbs and lemon zest. Season well. Stuff the sausage mix into the hollowed-out tomatoes, pressing down well to fill every bit of space. Leave a good couple of centimetres of filling standing proud from the top and neaten with a wet finger.
Gently press the tomato lids back on, and transfer to a roasting tin, packing them close together, and then pour in the white wine and the stock. Cover the tray with foil and cook in the oven for 30 minutes. Then, remove the foil and increase the heat to 220°C / Gas 7. Cook for a further 10 minutes, basting occasionally, until the tomatoes have browned in an attractive manner.
Remove the tomatoes from the oven and check they are cooked through – they should be 75ºC right in the centre. Divide the tomatoes among your guests. Strain the cooking juices into a pan and whisk in a few teaspoons of chopped parsley.
Spoon this over each tomato and serve immediately with crisp green salad leaves and some simple boiled rice.