CHIAVARI, Italy – The morning market in the piazza was very crowded yesterday. There are still a lot of tourists in town, and you could hear them oooing and ahhhing as they walked past the fruits and vegetables on display. There were two British women who made me laugh. They actually had a 10 minute conversation about the size (big) and amazing color of the red and yellow peppers. In the meantime the Chiavaresi mamas were buying them up, along with tomatoes and eggplants and I have a sneaky suspicion stuffed vegetables were on the dinner menu last night.
The most common Genovese filling for stuffed vegetables is made of bread (the soft white center) soaked in milk, bread crumbs, parmigiano cheese, marjoram and eggs to bind it all together. The flavoring agent depends on what vegetable is being stuffed. For eggplant, they add chopped porcini mushrooms plus a little garlic and oregano; for stuffed zucchini and onions, the mushrooms are omitted and they throw in a pinch of nutmeg. Chopped parsley is added to stuffed tomatoes and the mushrooms are back for stuffed artichokes. The artichokes recipe also calls for the chopped stalks of the artichokes, chopped leeks, oregano and nutmeg.
I wouldn’t dare put oregano on artichokes – no matter how I cook them - for fear my Grandmother, who was from a town near Rome, will come back to haunt me. The Romans have a special herb for artichokes called mintuccia. It’s a type of mint that grows wild throughout the Roman countryside. I have a mintuccia plant growing in a container on my windowsill that I hope keeps my Grandmother happy so I can keep dreaming sweet dreams. But I digress. Back to stuffed veggies.
|Tasty Stuffed Peppers|
In other parts of Italy they stuff vegetables with rice and ground beef, sometimes they add pine nuts or even raisins if it’s a couscous and ground lamb filling. That is the beauty of stuffed vegetables, you can fill them with almost anything, and they never disappoint you.
You can stuff almost any vegetable, even escarole and lettuce, which are both very popular dishes here in Liguria. But that seems to me to be a lot of work because you have to tie each bundle together with string to keep the filling from falling out when you cook them. No doubt they are delicious but there are so many other vegetables that are just begging to be filled, like tomatoes for example, why bother.
Here’s an easy recipe for baked stuffed tomatoes from the Corriere della Sera, Milan’s daily newspaper.
Baked Stuffed Tomatoes
4 large tomatoes
80 grams of ground beef (more or less 3 ounces)
60 grams of long grain rice
60 grams of fresh (or frozen) peas
2 small zucchini
1 white onion
1 tablespoon of chopped parsley
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Wash the tomatoes and cut off the tops (like in the photo). You can also cut a very little bit off the bottom so they stand up better. Scoop out the inside of the tomatoes, chop it into pieces no larger than the peas, and set it aside. Chop the onion, the carrot and the zucchini also into pieces no larger than the peas.
Put a small amount of extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan and add the chopped onion, carrot and zucchini, the ground beef, the rice, a cup of water and let it cook together for about 10 minutes, or until the water is absorbed.
Fill the scooped out tomatoes with the rice and ground beef filling, and cover them with the tomato tops. Drizzle a little olive oil over the top of them and then place a small amount of extra virgin olive oil in a casserole pan and bake in a preheated oven (160ᴼ C/325ᴼF) for 40 minutes.
The recipes calls for making a sauce out of the chopped tomatoes and serving the stuffed tomato on top of it, just as you see in the photo, but to tell you the truth you could just as easily add the chopped tomatoes to the rice and meat mix and reduce the amount of water.
You can use this filling for any vegetable you want to stuff. You can substitute the rice with couscous or the soft center of Italian bread, or tiny pasta, or not use any of them and use the vegetable centers you scooped out to make room for the filling, by chopping them and mixing them with ground beef, lamb or pork, or skip the meat altogether. You can also leave out the peas and carrots, but you do need onions.
Hopefully this makes sense and you are not thoroughly confused at this point. As for me, all this talk about food is making me hungry, so I think I’ll head for the kitchen and rustle me up some grub. Buon Appetito.