Times were when I’d make a special trip to the grocery store at the drop of a hat just to get the precise -sized tomatoes needed for this recipe.
These are not those times, obviously.
Which is why you see this mismatch of tomatoes in this dish instead.
But I’m happy to report that like many things in life, well, size doesn’t matter so much.
“Pan-Roasted Tomatoes Stuffed with Pork” will work out perfectly well, no matter if you have all the same-sized tomatoes or not.
This fun recipe is from “Vietnamese Food Any Day: Simple Recipes for True, Fresh Flavors” (Ten Speed Press, 2019), the best-selling cookbook by my friend Andrea Nguyen.
The recipe calls for four medium-large tomatoes. I cobbled together the tomatoes I picked from my backyard with a few gifted to me by my friend Annie, who is one amazing gardener, to come up with three medium ones and two smaller ones. Whichever tomatoes you use, you’ll want to make sure they are slightly under-ripe or still firm so they will keep their shape in the hot oven.
Slice the tomatoes in half through their equators, then using a melon baller, scoop out the insides, leaving a thin wall all around. You won’t need the tomato centers, seeds, and their juice for the rest of the recipe, so you can save them for another use. I actually made a wonderful eggplant stir-fry with it, finished with a little Asian chile sauce. Let the tomato centers and juice cook down a little bit to concentrate their flavor before adding the eggplant slices (that I first salt and zap in the microwave on a paper towel-lined plate for about 5 minutes to get a head start), which will soak up that sweet, tangy taste of summer.
Once you have your tomato shells prepped, mix together ground pork, seasoned with onion, garlic, fish sauce, salt, pepper, and a couple tablespoons of cooked rice as a binder akin to bread crumbs in Italian meatballs.
Carefully fill each tomato shell with the pork mixture. In a large saute pan, sear the tomato halves, pork-side up, before carefully flipping them over, and sliding the pan into the oven.
The high heat will not only cook the pork through, but caramelize the tomatoes, intensifying their sweetness.
You can serve the stuffed tomatoes with either the pork side up or tomato bottom on top.
The juicy pork filling is reminiscent of those in Asian dumplings, with the tomato almost taking the place of the wrapper.
With steamed rice and some stir-fried veggies, the stuffed tomatoes make for a novel dinner just right for summertime.
Pan-Roasted Tomatoes Stuffed with Pork
4 medium-large slightly under-ripe tomatoes
1 pound ground pork (about 85 percent lean) or ground chicken thigh
3 to 4 tablespoons cooked rice (use less for pork, more for chicken)
1/3 cup finely chopped yellow onion
1 garlic clove, put though a press or minced and mashed
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon recently ground black pepper
1 tablespoon canola or other neutral oil
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Meanwhile, halve the tomatoes through the equator (not through the stem end) and use a metal measuring tablespoon, grapefruit spoon, or melon baller to remove the seeds and meaty centers to create tomato cups with sturdy walls; be gentle near the stem. (Reserve the insides for another use.)
In a medium bowl, combine the pork, rice, onion, garlic, fish sauce, salt, and pepper, and use your fingers or a fork to gently mix. Divide the stuffing into eight portions.
Use a paper towel to blot moisture from the inside of each tomato cup. Then, use a fork or spoon to stuff each cup, pressing gently to ensure that the stuffing reaches all the crevices. A little mounding is fine.
In a large ovenproof skillet or braiser over high heat, warm the canola oil. When the oil is barely shimmering, place each tomato cup, skin-side down, in the skillet and sear for about 1 minute, until there’s a dark brown circle in the center where the tomato touches the pan. Using tongs and a metal spoon, turn each tomato over and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until the filling is well browned (when you shake the skillet, the tomato cups should move.)
Slide the skillet into the oven and roast for 13 to 15 minutes, until the tomato skin is wrinkly and the meat mixture is cooked and hot throughout. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes.
Serve the tomatoes warm, with any pan juices.
Note: If you don’t possess an ovenproof pan, sear the tomatoes in a skillet, then roast in a lightly oiled 9-by-13-inch baking dish or lasagna pan.
From “Vietnamese Food Any Day” by Andrea Nguyen
Another “Vietnamese Food Any Day” Recipe to Try: Herby Oven-Steamed Eggs