The stuffing is simply a mixture of chopped vegetables, the bits and pieces removed to make room for the stuffing – this dish wastes nothing. Together they create an unexpectedly tasty combination. Eggplants, peppers, onions and tomatoes, with herbs, grains, pine nuts and raisins cook slowly in the oven inside the vegetables for an hour or more. Once cooled completely their flavors meld together and make the perfect summer lunch.
Some people think that the idea of stuffed vegetables came to Continental Europe from Sicily, where it was introduced by Arab Moors. But I have my doubts. Italian stuffed tomatoes and zucchini are quite different from those of the Near East. They are usually rich with parmesan and other cheeses, as well as with prosciutto. In the Eastern Mediterranean cooks had to be frugal, making the most with the scraps from their hallowed and hollowed vegetables and rice or other grains.
Start by choosing a pan and that will hold, somewhat snugly, the vegetables you plan to stuff. The rule of thumb is 1 tablespoon rice for each vegetable you stuff, plus 3-4 tablespoons ‘for the pan’. But don’t worry; if you have leftover stuffing transfer to a saucepan, add some water and simmer, stirring every now and then, to make a delicious risotto.
This dish is time-consuming but worthwhile, and you can prepare it in stages. We often cook it together with our guest at Kea Artisanal. Tomatoes take longer to hollow than peppers or eggplant, so you can start them a day in advance. Once emptied, keep the tomatoes upside down over kitchen paper in the refrigerator and complete the preparation the next day.
Serves 6 (more…)