Roman Rice-Stuffed Tomatoes (Pomodori al Riso)
Updated: Nov 17, 2022
My son is a picky eater. A really picky eater. For most of his childhood we called him the Decavore because he only ate ten things. Fortunately the ten things included a number of (raw) vegetables and a couple of decent proteins, so there was relative peace in the house during his growing up years. I am thankful he wasn't as bad as some other kids I have encountered, like the one who subsisted solely on Starburst and chicken nuggets. (That Jamie Oliver clip showing kids how chicken nuggets are made should be screened in every classroom in the land. Of course, even after watching this, a number of the children said they would continue to eat them. As my son says, those kids are straight up savage).
But at times it was like he was taunting us. Like the time he agreed to taste smoked salmon, then ate about a pound of it over several days, and later rejected it, along with any other fish. Over the course of one strange week in first grade, he ate an entire bag of lemons. I am told that it is not unusual for kids with ADHD or other neurological disorders to have sensory defensiveness (although the lemon-eating would contradict this diagnosis). People told me he would grow out of it. He did not entirely grow out of it. He is still very picky, but he likes a wider variety of (good) foods, alongside the more than occasional box of bright orange mac n' cheese. He became a militant vegetarian, and is probably still available to ruin your Thanksgiving dinner by reminding you that you are all killers.
His Italian food breakthrough was not a surprise. He was in Italy, and, in a moment of weakness, tried a tomato.
I don't know where this recipe has been all my life. It is not at all obscure. When I went looking for it online, I found dozens of examples. Why is it not as well known as pasta and red sauce? It combines my two favorite foods: tomatoes and potatoes. This dish could make me a Duovore.
What makes Pomodori al riso so brilliant is that the potatoes simultaneously prop up the tomatoes and absorb the tomato juice as they roast. Only a true genius, who must have also eaten a lot of tomatoes and potatoes, could have come up with this. As Leonardo has said: "For, verily, great love springs from great knowledge of the beloved object."
Here is the typical recipe, from Serious Eats. The Food 52 version is similar, and also very easy. My only quibble with both these recipes, as well as other variations I have seen, is that they don't get the roast potatoes sufficiently crispy. I stick the potatoes in the oven for a good half hour in advance, so they aren't too flabby when they soak up all that fantastic tomato juice.
2 large Idaho baking potatoes (you can try other varieties of floury potatoes that roast well)
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
salt and pepper
4 - 6 beefsteak tomatoes (ripe but still firm)
1 large shallot, finely diced
vegetable stock (can also use chicken stock) as needed
2-3 cloves of garlic, smashed and diced
1 cup of Arborio rice (this is enough for 6 big tomatoes)
1/2 cup of basil, chopped (you could try other herbs you may have on hand)
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Grease an oven-proof baking dish with olive oil.
3. Peel and cut up potatoes into 1-2" pieces. Toss with olive oil, rosemary, and salt.
4. Cook potatoes in the oven until they start to get brown and a bit of a crust (half an hour or so).
5. Meanwhile, prepare the tomatoes. Slice the tops off (about 1/2 inch from the stem top).
6. With a small knife or spoon, scoop out insides of each tomato. (I found that using a paring knife around the inside perimeter, and then cutting a cross into the interior made it easier to scoop. Just be careful not to poke a hole in the bottom).
7. Put scooped-out tomato guts-pulp, core, seeds, and juice-directly into a strainer over a bowl. The scooped out tomato should have a fairly thick shell so it can hold the rice.
8. Push the tomato guts through the strainer to collect as much tomato juice and pulp as possible. You need about 2 1/2 cups of liquid for the rice, so you may need to stretch this with some vegetable (or chicken) stock. You can get more liquid by running the tomato guts through a food processor, unless you are lazy like me and hate to clean kitchen appliances.
9. Sprinkle salt inside each tomato, then turn them upside down on a cutting board to drain.
10. Put a saucepan on medium heat, and add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Add the shallot, and when shallot starts to get soft and translucent, add the garlic. Let garlic cook until it start to get translucent and becomes fragrant.
11. Add the raw rice and stir it so that it gets coated with oil. Add a tablespoon of tomato paste and mix in, then add the tomato juices.
12. Let rice simmer in the tomato mixture until it gets soft. Some recipes just have you soak the rice in the cold tomato mixture. While this is a valid way to go, it's bound to slow the cooking process in the oven. By this step, I am hungry and impatient, since those patooties are smelling pretty good by now.
13. When the rice is softened, take off the heat and mix in the chopped herbs.
14. Remove baking dish of potatoes from the oven. They should be almost golden brown. Wedge the tomatoes in between the potatoes to hold them upright in the baking dish.
15. Fill the tomatoes with rice, which should be soupy, as the rice continues to cook in the oven.
16. Place lids back on the tomatoes, which is an important detail if you are like me and don't like dry, crunchy rice, since this will keep the rice moist while it cooks. Some recipes have a broiling step, so if crunchy rice is your bag, you can remove the tops to the stuffed tomatoes a broil them for a few minutes at the very end to achieve desired crunchiness. Haven't tried it.
17. Drizzle the tomatoes and potatoes with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.
18. Reduce temperature in oven to 375 F. Bake for another 20 or 30 minutes.
The stuffed tomatoes are done when they have wrinkled lids and the rice is tender. The potatoes should be crispy around the edges, but will be soft in places, and a little glazed from the cooking juices.
Does the finicky young palate at your house eat this, you ask. What, are you insane? The tomatoes and potatoes touch each other.
Seriously, what's wrong with you?