One of SoFla’s top chefs on how to stuff a perennial crop with seasonal favorites
Tomatoes are a year-round Florida crop. While SoFla summers have gardens with zucchini, eggplant, okra, peppers, sweet potatoes and more, tomatoes are summer-grown in northern Florida. Then, like snowbirds, tomatoes come south to roost in gardens during the season.
Rice is planted here from late March to early June, with harvesting starting in July. South Florida is the only part of the state that grows rice, where the crop typically is rotated with sugarcane crops.
These local crops are what led chef Lindsay Autry, co-owner of the Regional Kitchen & Public House in West Palm Beach, to devise her Florida stuffed tomatoes with local rice, zucchini and herbs. Says Autry: “My grandmother is Greek and loved to make these growing up, so this has a bit of a Mediterranean twist. This dish utilizes ingredients that are grown here in the summer, and not only is it super healthy, it’s also filling. You can add feta cheese if you like, or leave it out to keep it vegan.
“What’s more, you can make this ahead of time and reheat for a couple of days. Pair with your favorite salad, and you’ve got a great meal!”
FLORIDA STUFFED TOMATOES with local rice, zucchini & herbs
- 6 large, firm tomatoes
- 1 small zucchini, grated on a box grater
- kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 2 garlic cloves, minced or finely grated
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill and/or parsley
- 1/2 cup long-grain rice, uncooked
- Freshly ground pepper
- 4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (optional)
Prepare the tomatoes. With a sharp paring knife, cut out the tops of the tomatoes as you would a jack-o’-lantern, leaving them intact so that you can replace them when you bake the tomatoes. Cut away the woody core, and reserve the tops. Using a small spoon, preferably a grapefruit spoon, scoop out the insides of the tomatoes. Finely chop the pulp.
Season the tomato shells with salt and place them upside down on a rack set on a baking sheet, and let drain while you prepare the remaining ingredients.
Toss the shredded zucchini with a generous amount of salt, and let drain in a colander for 10 minutes. Take up handfuls of zucchini and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Transfer to a bowl with the tomato pulp. Add the garlic, mint, parsley or dill, and rice or bulgur. Season generously with salt and pepper. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and let sit for 20 minutes. Mix in the crumbled feta if desired.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Oil a baking dish large enough to accommodate all the tomatoes. Fill the tomatoes almost to the top with the stuffing, and replace the caps. Place in the oiled baking dish. Drizzle on the remaining oil. Place in the oven, and bake 30 minutes until the tomatoes are almost collapsing. Remove from the heat, and allow to cool to room temperature or serve hot.