Viterbo is about two hours north of Rome, a city rich with medieval architecture, ancient towers, splendid fountains, and friendly piazzas. But of all of its treasures, the most memorable to me are Viterbo's tomatoes stuffed with rice and peas.
Eaten at room temperature as a merenda, or snack, they are also delicious served hot as an accompaniment to meat, poultry, or fish. I love them so much that they are a must for company when tomatoes are in season. Leftovers are good the next day.
8 medium tomatoes
2 tablespoons Filippo Berio extra virgin olive oil
1 small white onion, finely diced
1/2 cup long-grain rice
1 cup hot chicken broth
1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas
1/3 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/4 cup diced mozzarella or caciocavallo cheese
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Cut off the tops of the tomatoes and reserve. With a spoon, scoop the flesh and seeds from each tomato into a bowl, leaving about a 1/4-inch-thick shell. If the tomatoes do not stand erect, cut a small slice off the bottom of each one. Drain the tomatoes upside down on paper towels. Strain the flesh and seeds through a sieve set over a bowl, pressing on the pulp to extract the juice, and reserve the juice. Discard the pulp and seeds.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until it begins to wilt. Add the rice and stir to coat it well.
Add the reserved tomato juice and the chicken broth, stir once, cover, and cook over low heat for 15 minutes. Add the peas and cook for 5 minutes more, or until the rice has absorbed all the liquid.
Transfer the rice mixture to a bowl and stir in the bread crumbs, cheese, basil, and salt and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Lightly grease a baking dish with olive oil.
With a spoon, fill the tomato cavities with the rice mixture. Replace the tomato tops and place the tomatoes in the baking dish. Cover the dish with foil and bake the tomatoes for 30 minutes. Uncover the dish and bake for an additional 15 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Serve the tomatoes hot or at room temperature.
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