Stuffed Tomatoes (Gemista)
A few weeks back on the Guardian food section, there was an article on stuffed tomatoes. There were two things wrong with the recipe; one was that the rice was mixed raw and a cooking time of ten minutes foil off and twenty minutes foil on and secondly the rice chosen was Basmati. The other remarkable thing was that it was a recipe written by a Greek chef. Needless to say the comments section proved lively. Basmati is a fine rice, but not for stuffing vegetables as its best qualities come to the fore in a biryani that is typically cooked under pressure and in any case a short grain rice that is absorbent will work well with the filling. Also par-boiling the rice will help to soften the rice as what we are after is a soft risotto style texture.
After submitting my pennyworth, a kind lady that frequents the Guardian food columns’ comments section asked me if I was going to write on the subject in LivinQ8. After a polite request like that, the answer was that I would be happy to. After getting my hands on some Carolina rice in Greece, I knew what I had to do. Carolina is probably impossible to find in Q8, but an Italian short grain rice e.g. Scotti’s Carnaroli or Arborio will work.
The tomatoes (and indeed peppers) can be stuffed just with the rice or with meat for a heavier dish. I was in the mind to have crabmeat in my stuffing, but in truth it is one of those dishes one can tweak to one’s own fancy. The eight large beef tomatoes I sourced from Lama in Salmiya who typically have some very fine produce. Obviously one can scale up or down quantities depending on the occasion. In Greece Gemista is frequently cooked with potatoes and other vegetables. On this occasion I used excess rice, but as I stated earlier, this is a no fuss, fun, easy dish. ‘Classics’ have their place, of course, but so do simple ones.
Half-cook your rice. I used my better half’s favourite mug for measuring rice as I was eating rice with the Gemista. While that was happening at the kitchen table I sliced off a piece of tomato at the base, for it to sit well in the baking dish, chopping it up finely, then cutting off the cap and with a knife and spoon, removing the inner core of flesh and seeds. This was removed and finely chopped. This was repeated on all the tomatoes that were placed in a baking dish. Into the bowl of finely chopped tomato, I emptied two cans of 170 gm. Geisha crabmeat and (still al dente) rice which I seasoned with salt, pepper, oregano, minced garlic and extra virgin olive oil. Combine everything.
Having passed through Crete on my way back to Kuwait I used less than 0.3% acidity Cretan olive oil; the gold standard if you will. As a tip to you, my gentle readers, in Crete where the olive is king, under 0.3% acidity or oxidity (depending on nomenclature) and not costing less than 7 Euros a litre is the key to the good stuff. Of course the price is local to Crete where the oil is produced. Outside of Crete it is going to be much more, though seriously worth it. The moral of the story is that good olive oil is your friend and a simple snack/meal of crumbly brown bread, olives, tomato and feta cheese tastes much more than it costs. At least in Crete. It is also very healthy combined with walking, as hardly there is a flat surface.
Leaving the olive oil lecture aside, fill the empty tomato husks with the mixture. Cap the tomatoes and put a generous amount of water in the pan/dish. Be liberal in splashing olive oil over the tomatoes or tomato and potatoes, depending on your whim. Uncovered, place the pan/dish in a preheated oven at 400F and bake for about 15 minutes, then reduce heat to just over 300F for I ½ hours. Check water level some way through.
The end result will not look pretty, but the secret is in the taste. The beef tomatoes need be seriously cooked through and the caps may be a bit burnt, but not the main attraction. This was another Greek tip I learned for this dish and it is true.
Καλή όρεξη! (Kali órexi!)
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