I found this recipe in the L.A. Times Food section last week and tried it out last night. The tastes were nice together (I particularly enjoy things stuffed with other things), and thanks to tomatoes, onion, garlic, and basil from the farmer’s market, it made a light and summery meal. Still, I don’t know if it was completely worth the effort required (which, as usual in the things-stuffed-with-other-things genre, was slightly above average). Final verdict: I wouldn’t be opposed to making it again, but I’m probably not going to crave it, either. For the record, A was more enthusiastic, requested I definitely make it again, and noted it reheated well as leftovers.
Oddly enough, the recipe didn’t mention anything about browning the sausage first, so I did it and hoped for the best—using raw meat seemed bizarre. I was using Trader Joe’s sweet Italian sausage, although the recipe asks for hot and I prefer that. We’re just having a little sausage problem here in Pasadena; the hot stuff at our large supermarket isn’t very good-quality meat, and Trader Joe’s, which has good-quality meat, inexplicably doesn’t make hot Italian, only sweet. So. I took three sausage links, slit open the casings and removed them (I always find this task simultaneously gross and satisfying—it feels surgical), threw them in a nonstick skillet over medium heat, and broke them apart into small bits with the back of a spoon. To remedy the sweet/hot problem, I added a pinch each of red pepper flakes (one of my favorite secret cooking weapons) and fennel (which my parents hooked me on from a young age). When the sausage had browned, I scooped it out and placed it on a paper-towel-lined plate to drain.
Postscript: I haven't made it again.
4 large tomatoes (about 2½ pounds)
¼ cup olive oil
1 small onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
freshly ground pepper
½ pound hot Italian sausage
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
1. Brown the sausage as described above.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a skillet over medium-low heat, add the onion and garlic and cook “until soft.” (The recipe claimed this would take 5 minutes, but it was more like 10—and even then, in retrospect, I think the onion could have been softer.)
3. Wash and dry each tomato. Slice off the tops and set them aside. Use your fingers to “extract as many seeds from the base of each tomato as possible” (another gross/satisfying sensation). Hollow the flesh out of the centers. (The recipe said “a grapefruit spoon works well,” but—come on, a grapefruit spoon? Who am I, Martha Stewart? I used my sharp knife--being careful not to pierce the side of the tomato--to cut around the edges of the flesh and loosen it, then scooped it out with a spoon.) Coarsely chop the pulp and place it in a strainer in the sink to drain. Place the shells and tops cut-side down on paper towels to drain.
4. When the onion and garlic seem soft, add the drained tomato flesh (I gave the strainer a few good shakes over the sink first, to get rid of as much moisture as possible) to the pan, stir, and cook everything another 5 minutes or so. Season “liberally” with salt and pepper and removed from heat. Allow the onion-tomato mixture to cool completely.
5. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and get out a 9-inch square baking dish. Pour 1 tablespoon of oil into the bottom of the dish and spread it around. Place the tomato shells in the dish ("cut side up," the recipe helpfully reminds us) and season the inside of each with salt and pepper.
6. Mix the breaadcrumbs in a large Pyrex mixing bowl with the basil and sausage. Add the cooled tomato mixture. Spoon this filling into each tomato shell, “packing gently.” (After this I still had enough filling left for two more tomatoes, so I packed a little less gently and ended up fitting most of it in. Still, breadcrumbs could maybe be cut back to 1 cup). Drizzle everything with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and place the tomato tops on top. (This seems mainly cosmetic—my tomato tops all had big stem/core pieces on them, so they weren’t very edible.)
7. Put the dish in the oven and bake “until the stuffing is cooked through and the tomatoes are soft but not falling apart, 30 to 35 minutes.”
Time: “About 1 hour,” according to the recipe, but I think I took at least 15 minutes longer than that.