Moroccan Style Stuffed Tomatoes

As the summer harvest of tomatoes threatens to overwhelm you, Stuffed Tomatoes are a great supper idea using storecupboard ingredients.

bowl of tomatoes
Stuffed tomatoes are a great way to use up some of your summer harvest.

It’s high summer and the vegetable garden is in full production. The tomato plants are heavily laden with fruit and with every sunny day that passes the pile of tomatoes in the bowl on the kitchen counter grows ever higher.  You’ll be hard pushed to eat them all in salad so see how to use tomatoes in various sauces or serve as a delicious Tomato and Red Lentil soup in my previous posts.  For a delicious meal idea, stuffed tomatoes are really satisfying and tasty. They take a little time to prepare but you can make more than you need and they will safely store in the fridge for another time.

For this recipe you’ll need some of the large beef tomatoes (coeur de boeuf in France) which are ideal because they have few seeds and make a good sized portion when stuffed. For a good filling you need to create flavours that will pack a punch. You can use fresh herbs or spices, dried fruit and chopped nuts, any rice or grain, or breadcrumbs, then add some protein in the form of meat, tofu or cheese, either feta, mozzarella or a strong cheddar. I combined some brown rice with quinoa to make a Moroccan style filling using cinnamon, dried fruit and cashew nuts with some cheddar cheese. Cous cous would be more appropriate if you have some.

4 large tomatoes
120g rice or grains (approx. 30g per large tomato), cooked
olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1/2 tspn cinnamon
roughly chop a handful each of cashew nuts, sultanas, dried apricots
fresh mint, chopped
70g strong cheddar cheese, grated
salt & pepper

scooped out tomatoesStart by cutting off the tops of the tomatoes and scooping out the flesh. Leave the edges quite thick otherwise the tomato will collapse in the oven. Put the tops to one side and the flesh in a seperate bowl, you’ll use this as part of the filling. To get rid of a lot of the moisture inside the tomatoes, sprinkle with a little salt then turn upside down onto a plate with a piece of kitchen towel on it and leave while you make the filling.


stuffed tomato fillings
You can add a variety of ingredients to the rice and tomato mixture including fresh herbs, dried fruit, nuts and cheese.

Heat the oven to 180°C. Cook the rice or grain according to the instructions. In a little olive oil, fry the onion and garlic. When the onion is soft, add the tomato flesh, simmer, stirring frequently to prevent it sticking, until the mixture has reduced to a pulp. Add the cinnamon then stir in the rice and all the dry ingredients. Season with salt and pepper to taste then off the heat, add the cheese and mix thoroughly.

stuffed tomatoes
Stuffed Tomatoes, an tasty summer meal.

Take an ovenproof dish and brush the base with a little olive oil. Place the tomatoes in the dish and spoon in the filling making sure it is pushed in well leaving no space. Any left over filling can be served cold along with a plate of fresh salad and grated vegetables. Replace the tomato lids to prevent the filling from drying on the top. If you prefer, you can cover with some tin foil instead. Place in the oven for about 30 minutes or until the tomatoes are tender and the skins are slightly wrinkled. Serve hot with some green salad. A little mashed potato with olive oil would be lovely.


Potimarron and Leek Velouté

As promised, here’s a wonderful recipe for a thick and tasty soup using a small pumpkin known as the Potimarron. The flesh is dense and flavoursome and is perfect for adding to curries, risotto, vegetable crumbles and stews because it doesn’t break up as easily as larger pumpkins and retains it’s buttery, nutty taste. When made into soup, it hardly needs any other ingredients but in this French recipe, it’s paired with leeks to give a lovely earthy and Autumnal thick soup.

Potimarron and Leek Velouté ingredients
Potimarron and Leek Velouté
½ potimarron or 1 small one (or substitute Butternut Squash, de-seeded and peeled)
2/3 large leeks
1 small onion
25g butter
Vegetable stock
Salt & Pepper

Start by preparing the potimarron. If you have a steamer, place the pumpkin in the steam for about 5 minutes to soften the skin- it makes it much easier to peel. Meanwhile, wash and chop the leeks and an onion.

Potimarron, peeled and chopped

Heat a large saucepan, melt the butter, then gently frythe leeks and onion until they are softened but not browned. Peel then chop the potimarron into large chunks and add them to the leeks. Stir in enough stock to cover the vegetables, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the potimarron pieces are tender.

Cooking the vegetables in the stock

Leave to cool a little then blitz in a blender for a smooth velouté. If it’s too thick, add a little water, season with salt and pepper to taste and reheat when you’re ready to serve. This soup tastes much better if it’s left for a day or more for the flavours to develop.

Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche swirled through the soup for an extra creamy taste.

Potimarron and Leek Velouté

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

I grew Butternut Squash for the first time this year. Just one plant, but it was so successful I wish I’d grown more. Up until now I’d relied on the wonderfully flavoursome potimarron – a small, densely fleshed pumpkin with a super nutty flavour and one of the most popular here in western France. You can roast it, make great soup (goes especially well with leeks and I’ll give you the recipe soon), risotto and curries. But I’ve found that Butternut Squash is equally as adaptable and there’s still plenty of dishes I want to try.

Potimarron and a Butternut Squash
Potimarron (left) and Butternut Squash

I love to cook on a dull, damp Saturday like today. First on the agenda was something tasty for lunch.  I started by roasting half a Butternut Squash I had left over from making a curry earlier in the week. The cut halves keep very well wrapped in cling film in the bottom of the fridge. The plan was to make Roast Butternut Squash soup and  some Soda Bread.

You need to start preparing this from scratch about an hour and a half in advance but you could easily roast the squash ahead of time or the day before and leave in the fridge until you’re ready. I find that if I roast both halves, we can enjoy an evening meal with one half such as  stuffed Butternut Squash with blue cheese and walnuts, then make a soup a day or two later with the remaining half.

Roast Butternut Squash soup served with Soda Bread
Roast Butternut Squash soup served with Soda Bread

Roast Butternut Squash Soup  (serves 2)

1 half Butternut Squash

1 clove garlic

olive oil

1 onion, chopped

½ pint vegetable stock

salt & pepper

pinch fresh nutmeg

crème fraiche to serve (optional)

Begin by scooping out the seeds from the squash. Place the halved squash in an ovenproof dish, place a peeled garlic clove in the depression where the seeds were and pour in a good glug of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper then place in an oven (preheated to 180°C) until the flesh is soft when you insert a knife – about 45 minutes. When cooked, leave to one side to cool a little while you soften a chopped onion in some olive oil in a large saucepan. Remove the flesh from the skin of the squash with a spoon and add it to the onion, not forgetting any of the lovely seasoned olive oil and the roast garlic clove. At this stage I add a pinch of fresh nutmeg but you could experiment with different flavours –  a finely chopped fresh chilli added to the onion will give the soup a nice kick. Add the stock (adjust the quantity if necessary) and bring to the boil, then simmer for 5-10 minutes.

Whizz the soup into a smooth consistency in a blender or with a stick blender like me, taste and season if necessary. Serve with a swirl of crème fraiche and some fresh bread.

Soda Bread

This is ideal when you want fresh bread quickly as it takes less than an hour from start to finish and it looks great on the table. Serve warm.

170g plain flour

170g self-raising flour

½ tspn salt

½ tspn bicarbonate of soda

½ pint buttermilk

Begin by mixing the dry ingredients in a large bowl then add the buttermilk. If you can’t get buttermilk (soured milk), just add 1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice to the milk, stir and leave to stand for 5 minutes. Add the buttermilk to the bowl and mix with a fork until it’s mostly combined then you’ll have to get your hand in there and bring it together into a soft dough. Lightly flour your work surface and just knead the dough lightly to bring it into a ball then place on a floured baking tray. Take a sharp knife and score  a deep cross into the top of the dough. Bake in a hot oven (200°C) for about 30 minutes or until golden brown and sounding hollow when you tap the bottom of the loaf.

Place the loaf on a cooling rack for 10-15 minutes before serving when you can just pull it apart and spread with butter. Delicious!

Tomato heaven

After all the hard work in planting seeds, battling against pests, coping with extreme weather and controlling weeds, the greatest pleasure from tending a vegetable garden has to be eating your own produce. This year is one of the best. Despite the heat and the drought, rain in July has given rise to the sort of lush growth I hope for and every day sees me bringing another hoard of vegetables into the kitchen.

Peppers and nasturtium flowers
Peppers and nasturtium flowers

Last week, we enjoyed Nigel Slater‘s idea for roast tomatoes with fresh thyme. Just place halved tomatoes close together cut side upwards in a dish with a sprinkle of olive oil, sprigs of fresh thyme, season and bake for 40 minutes in the oven (temperature 200 °C). They were absolutely divine. The flavour was so concentrated and the juice had almost caramelised in the dish. But now I need to get serious and preserve.
Yesterday I was processing tomatoes to make tomato and tomato and chilli sauces so we can enjoy their fresh flavour well into the winter. There are so many variations on making sauces but I’ve found that these two simple sauces are the most useful. I don’t measure ingredients, it’s largely guesswork and experience but nothing will be wasted if you find you need more or less of something, you can always adjust it the next time.
Firstly, roughly chop 2/3 onions and fry them gently until softened in a generous amount of olive oil. Add a couple of cloves of finely chopped garlic and for an arrabiata type sauce, one or two fresh chillis from the garden according to taste (powdered chilli is OK if you don’t have fresh). While the onions are cooking, skin the tomatoes and roughly chop them removing any woody core. You can remove seeds if you want, but I leave them. They’re OK in an unblended sauce, and if you prefer a smooth sauce you’ll remove them later.

Softening the onion, garlic and fresh chilli in olive oil
Softening the onion, garlic and chilli in olive oil

Add the chopped tomatoes to the onion, stir and leave them to gently simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated. Stir occasionally to stop the mixture from sticking to the pan. It should take about 40 minutes for a large pan full of sauce.

Pass the tomato mixture through a mouli
Pass the tomato mixture through a mouli

Leave the mixture to cool. Now you have a choice. According to your preference you can leave the sauce as it is or whizz it up into a delicious smooth sauce packed with flavour. Either use a mouli or whizz it in a blender and push the sauce through a seive to get the sauce to a consistency similar to passata, except yours will be a hundred times better. Don’t forget to season the sauce when you come to use it, salt and freshly ground black pepper will enhance the flavour. The sauce freezes really well – I measure portions into freezer bags but containers are better if you have them.

Smooth and tasty tomato sauce
Smooth and tasty tomato sauce

By the way, this tomato sauce, either version, goes superbly well with the delicious Savoury Courgette and Rosemary Rice Cake recipe.

Savoury Courgette & Rosemary Rice Cake

When I was small I hated spinach and I couldn’t eat mushrooms. These are now two of my favourite vegetables, but I love any vegetable, with the exception of fennel. The aniseed flavour puts me off, maybe as a result of those crazy Pernod parties we had at college but even a whiff of pastis at a bar will turn my stomach.

I love gathering veggies from my small potager to use in the kitchen. The peas have come and gone, all my good intentions about making a summer soup, a pea risotto, even freezing some for the winter, never came to fruition because as soon as they were picked we ate them greedily. And they were so sweet and delicious. I pick the chard regularly, and because Roger’s not a great fan of greens (sigh!) I tend to chop it into curries or a minestrone soup rather than serve it alone which I look forward to with pleasure when he’s not around – steamed with some butter and nutmeg or a twist of ground pepper. Fresh beans have become a staple accompaniment. They are always best eaten fresh but I freeze plenty, blanching them for a minute so they keep their colour.

The courgettes are generous and demand regular attention. It’s lucky they are one of the most adapatable vegetables and are as happy in a ratatouille as they are baked in foil with goat’s cheese, or grated and added to a cake mix.

I’ve only got two plants this year. One green, one yellow. That’s plenty for us without becoming a slave to processing them or having courgettes at every meal. One of the best ways I’ve found to use a few courgettes of either colour is in this savoury rice cake (see recipe below) which I discovered in the 2008 edition of the BBC Good Food Vegetarian summer magazine and have used frequently ever since.  Our favourite way of serving the cake is with a fresh tuna steak and a hot tomato or a red pepper sauce, or as an accompaniment to Provençale chicken. As it contains egg and cheese, vegetarians will find it a satisfying meal served with ratatouille.

Courgette & Rosemary Rice Cake
Courgette & Rosemary Rice Cake

Courgette & Rosemary Rice Cake

325g risotto rice

5 tbspn olive oil

350g courgettes, grated

2 onions, chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

3 medium eggs, beaten

150g strong cheddar cheese (or gruyère), grated

4 tbspn double cream

2 tbspn chopped fresh rosemary

¼tsp freshly grated nutmeg


Heat the oven to 180C and line a 20cm springform tin with greaseproof paper. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil and cook the risotto rice for 8 minutes. Meanwhile, fry the onions and courgettes in a tablespoon of olive oil for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly.

Drain the rice and put it into a large bowl with the crushed garlic, the remaining olive oil and the onion and courgette mixture. Stir well and leave to cool while you prepare the remaining ingredients. Lightly beat the eggs and add the cream. Grate the cheese. After about 10 minutes, add the egg mixture, grated cheese, nutmeg and seasoning to the bowl and mix thoroughly. Put the mixture into the prepared tin and press down with the back of a spoon. Bake for about an hour until the top is golden and the cake is firm to the touch. It might need a bit longer if the mixture was a bit wet. Allow to cool slightly, then release from the tin and serve on a plate.

I usually halve the above quantities ( one egg is sufficient), providing four ample portions.

Summer Vegetable Risotto

At this time of year it’s pure pleasure to cook and taste vegetables that are freshly picked from the garden. One of my favourite dishes is a light risotto –  perfect for an al fresco lunch or as a starter for a dinner party though you’d have to adjust servings accordingly. You can use a variety of summer vegetables such as fresh peas, French beans, courgettes or Swiss chard, either on their own or combined with red pepper or mushrooms. This year I have some particularly early squashes, normally useful as an Autumnal ingredient but which would work well combined with some chard as a nice contrast in colour. Follow the cooking method precisely for good results and I promise you’ll be hooked into creating risotto recipes of your own.

A pick and mix risotto for 2 people

1 onion, finely chopped

knob of butter

½ red pepper (optional)

finely sliced button mushrooms (optional)

Swiss chard, chopped, keep the stalks separately from  the leaves

handful of French beans, chopped into short  lengths if you prefer (optional)

fresh peas (optional)

1 green courgette (optional)

160g risotto rice such as Arborio

2 tbsp Parmesan cheese or to taste

Vegetable stock, about 500ml

glass of dry white wine

Melt the butter in a pan, I use a deep frying pan but you can use a large saucepan instead. Add the chopped onion and red pepper if you use it and fry gently for a few minutes until softened. I add the mushrooms or chopped courgettes now and fry them for another minute or so before adding the rice.

Stir the rice into the onion until it’s coated with butter then pour in the wine. It should sizzle, then stir until most of the wine has been absorbed. Now add a little of the stock and stir until absorbed. Repeat this until the rice is cooked, which should take around 17 minutes.  If necessary, add a little more water if you run out of stock.

If you’re using French beans, they will need a good 10 minutes cooking time to become tender. Fresh peas will only need a few minutes. After about 1o minutes I add the chopped stalks from the chard – they will take a little longer to cook than the leaves which you can add after about 13/14 minutes cooking time. Taste the risotto to test if it is ready. Aim for soft grains of rice and a risotto which is nice and moist. When the rice is cooked, add the Parmesan cheese and stir it into the risotto. Remove from the heat and serve immediately.

Hunter, gatherer…

My young pea plants were practically grabbing me round the ankles as I walked past. So yesterday evening we wandered into the woods to a recently coppiced area where I knew I could find what I needed. In a previous life, I used to coppice woodland for conservation and had already admired the neat stacks of logs and the long rows of brushwood. It was amongst the brushwood that I found just what I was looking for. I sorted out some twiggy pieces of oak into a couple of bundles and tied the stems together with rafia so we could carry them home.

Thanks to a gift of more than a dozen tomato plants last week, the garden chez nous is now pretty well full. I could squeeze in a row or two of something else where the carrots have failed to germinate, maybe some late spinach or a few radish, but I think I’ll wait for rain. The mixed lettuce are already providing more than we can eat, and I’ve had two mini-cucumbers which are quite fun and just enough to add to the salad bowl.

Raspberries - eat some fresh and save some for the freezer

My favourite of all fruit is the raspberry. Earlier this year we spent a couple of hours sorting out the raspberry canes which had strayed way beyond their allotted place and with neglect on my part, had become more of a bed of nettles and bramble than a raspberry patch. Mulching the base of the row with grass clippings (yes, we did cut the grass a few times before the drought) as advised in a lovely old book on growing fruit by Geoff Hamilton has really paid off by suppressing the weeds and keeping the base from drying out. OK, the berries are a little small but the taste is wonderful and I love hunting along the row for those dark jewels of fruit. I love eating them fresh but they are very easy to freeze. Spread out flat on a plate or tray until frozen, then transfer to a freezer bag and take them out by the handful as a topping for meringues or rich chocolate dessert or to add to an apple crumble.

It’s nearly lavender meringue time…

Wandering around the garden this afternoon it occurred to me that food possibilities are shortly going to get rather exciting. If we were in Provence (sadly, we are not), we would already be enjoying the first courgettes, broad beans and maybe some fresh chard. But things are looking up. We’re already enjoying some of the best and most flavoursome strawberries which are ripening so quickly I have to pick 2 or 3 times a day.And the vegetables are progressing despite being in desperate need of some rain with that magic ingredient that tap water just can’t provide. But it’s also worth looking to the flower garden for culinary inspiration. I love to brighten salads with nasturtium flowers and their peppery leaves. I’ve planted small pockets of them all over the garden and one or two in a herb planter next to the front door. A couple of years ago I found a recipe that uses lavender flowers in meringue which make a delicious light dessert or an alternative sweet to serve with coffee at the end of a meal. They’re very easy to make though don’t be too heavy-handed with the lavender as it can be overpowering.

Lavender Mini Meringues

Turn on the oven and heat to 150C. Take three of four lavender flowers, remove the stalk and grind them in a pestle and mortar to release the flavour and break them up.

Whisk one egg-white until stiff. Whisk in 50g caster sugar a bit at a time. Gently fold in the lavender. You may not need it all.

Use a teaspoon to make small meringues on a baking sheet covered with greaseproof paper. Turn the oven down to 140C, put the meringues in and leave them to cook for 1 hour. Turn off the oven and leave the meringues in there until cool. The delicate mauve colour and refreshing summery taste will surprise you.

What’s round and juicy?

Despite the back garden still looking like a ruin (see my last post), I’ve been at my most ambitious to date with my veggie planting.  Thanks to the unseasonal warmth throughout April, all the plants and seeds are now in, with one or two spaces left for latecomers and irrestistible varieties of tomatoes I might spot at the market. Much to Roger’s despair, my method of choosing tomatoes is to just go on instinct, with one or two words of advice from the seller, and to get as many different types as possible. I never label them and never make a note of their names so it’s impossible to know which to buy again if one proves to be outsandingly successful. The truth is that in this part of France you can’t really get an unsuccessful tomato. A few years ago, we had a sort of mould which spread through the plants, causing them to yellow and wilt. I took off all the leaves in the hope that I could save the fruit but it was an untypical, lacklustre harvest.  This year, I’ve noticed a lot more ‘heritage’ tomatoes in the garden centres – lovely shapes and colours with old-fashioned names, but four times the price of common varieties like Pyros and the fleshy Coeur de Boeuf. Maybe I’ll find space for a little jewel of a pear-shaped yellow or one with an enticing tiger stripe…

Potimarron will store well for a couple of months in a cool place.

We love pumpkins and I find them exciting and rewarding to grow. We especially like the bright orange potimarron, whose hard flesh seems to melt into a soup made with nothing more than leeks sweetened in a little butter then simmered in a vegetable stock for about 20 minutes. Whizzed up into a thick orange cream, I add a swirl of crème frâiche and then all it needs is a hunk of fresh bread and butter. Its  bigger sibling, the  potiron, promises fine things but I find it too watery for a soup and therefore best roasted among some winter roots with garlic and rosemary. I’ve planted them both along with a newcomer called Musquée de Provence after inspiration by Nigel Slater in his book ‘Tender’ , and the ever-so-useful butternut squash.

Nearly a month ahead, the roses are already at their best. Each flower is appreciated during our daily tours of the garden, the most perfect bud commented upon and closely observed as if it were the first and only one we’ll see. Congratulating ourselves on how at least we did the right thing in one area, we’ll be equally regretful at not having done something differently elsewhere. A few short showers of heavy rain later, plants go into overdrive, putting on several inches in a matter of hours and producing buds and flowers overnight.  What an extraordinary time.