Plump, ripe, brilliant red tomatoes filled with aromatic fresh herbs, whole-wheat garlicky croutons and savory olives and cheese make for a delicious end of summer comfort food treat. Although stuffed tomatoes are popular in several cuisines, they are especially popular in Italy because of Italians’ love of garden-fresh tomatoes. The French twist comes from using chevre cheese.
Chevre - French for goat’s milk cheese - can have a mild buttery flavor to slightly tangy. Textures range from smooth to crumbly. A wonderful quality of chevre is that a small amount produces big flavor – a uniquely tart earthy one. Chevre is an excellent alternative to Parmesan or slightly salty feta cheeses, both typically used in stuffed tomatoes.
Your favorite Chevre combined with super-easy-to-make whole-wheat croutons results in a satisfying, mouth pleasing and crunchy topping. Homemade whole-wheat croutons offer more cancer-protective fiber and a richer wheat flavor than store bought croutons made from white bread. Kalamata olives, from Greece (a little Grecian twist, too), impart a pinch of briny flavor while adding a meaty dimension to the stuffing texture. Fresh basil and thyme, both abundant in late summer gardens, and good old dried Italian seasoning brighten all the flavors in the stuffing mixture.
Any variety of ripe, plump, red garden tomatoes will work well. Slice off tomato tops, scoop out the insides, separate seeds from the flesh and chop remaining flesh to capture every bit of sweet flavor and maximum health-promoting vitamin C, beta-carotene and lycopene.
Easy to make and easy to serve, these colorful stuffed gems are terrific just out of the oven. Serve as an appetizer, vegetable side dish or a main course for a light meal. Savor late harvest vine-ripened tomatoes with a French twist. Delicious! Delizioso! Délicieux!
Italian Stuffed Tomatoes
4 medium ripe tomatoes
1/2 cup whole-wheat croutons, about 1/2-inch cubes*
1/2 cup crumbled chevre cheese (Parmesan or feta may be substituted)
1/3 cup pitted Kalamata olives, sliced
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
1/2 tsp. dried Italian seasoning
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp. red wine vinegar
Cut tops off tomatoes and discard. Carefully scoop out tomato pulp onto cutting board. Place tomato shells cut side down on a paper towel and let drain for several minutes. Remove seeds from pulp and discard. Chop remaining pulp and place in strainer to let juice drain.
In mixing bowl, add chopped tomato, croutons, cheese, olives, fresh herbs and Italian seasoning. Dress with oil and vinegar and toss gently, but thoroughly.
In shallow baking dish, place tomato shells. Spoon stuffing mixture into each shell, mounding stuffing on top.
Place stuffed tomatoes under broiler about 5 to 6 inches from electric element or flame. Broil for 5 minutes or until tomatoes are hot and cheese melts. Serve immediately.
* Homemade Whole-wheat Croutons
Mixing Bowl and Baking Sheet Method: Preheat oven 350 degrees F. Cut 3 slices stale or lightly toasted whole-grain bread into 1/2-inch squares. In mixing bowl, drizzle bread with 1 tablespoon olive oil and mix in 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese, 1 teaspoon dried parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder. Stir until well combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper. On baking sheet, spread out croutons. Bake 8 minutes, then use spatula to turn over croutons. Bake 8 minutes, or until toasty brown. Allow to cool completely. Makes 1½ cups.
Ovenproof Skillet Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cut 3 slices stale or lightly toasted whole-grain bread into 1/2-inch squares. In ovenproof skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add bread cubes, 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese, 1 teaspoon dried parsley and 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir about 1-2 minutes until croutons are well coated with oil and seasonings. Transfer pan to oven and bake croutons 8 minutes. With spatula, flip croutons and bake 8 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow croutons to cool completely. Makes 1½ cups.
Makes 4 servings.
Per serving: 186 calories, 14 g total fat (5 g saturated fat), 9 g carbohydrate, 7 g protein, 2 g dietary fiber, 313 mg sodium.
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $100 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, www.aicr.org. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.