Sunday, August 8, 2010

Stuffed Tomatoes

I'm not parading around pretending that I am any sort of expert in the kitchen.  My goal is not to crank out expert meals, my goal is to nourish my body, inspire my soul and hopefully learn useful skills (by trial and error, of course).  I love being in the kitchen - mostly because it does not come natural to me.  Which might sound a bit backward, but I love a good challenge and I love to learn.  Chefs are trained, not created.

There's hope for me!

I originally got into the kitchen because I wanted to cook to provide a solid meal for my significant other.  But he was a picky eater, so I quickly learned that my creative food creation would be limited to meat, starch, vegetable.  I grew up in a household where hamburgers were the norm and garlic and spice were too exciting for our midwestern taste buds.  Bless my mother, she never stood a chance beyond hot dish, quiche and hamburger helper and I was starting to feel those same limitations.  For years now, I have been ever expanding my taste palate at restaurants and throughout travels and I have been foaming at the mouth to try out various exciting recipes at home.  But I didn't - I didn't see the point in selfishly making a dinner for myself without anyone to share with. 

Sharing is caring.

I mean, I certainly could have.  But I happily drank that Cohabitation Kool-Aid.  We're a team.  We eat together.  We compromise.  It's all part of the game.   I certainly was not going to die eating steamed vegetables and a meat every night.  But part of me did die a little.  I was less excited to be in the kitchen anymore because there was no creative challenge involved.  And man, I love a good challenge.

Enter the joy of cooking for one.

Enter garlic.  Enter onions.  And strictly vegetarian dishes.  Spice?  Yes, please!

So when my fabulous coworker brought me some of these bad boys, you can imagine my excitement.  Look at these babies:

These are fresh tomatoes, straight off the vine in Braintree.  And I just knew I had to use these as the primary ingredient for dinner.  

Hello, Stuffed Tomatoes!

Tomatoes - any kind.  Mine were 1.5 inches diameter - so on the small side.
10 oz frozen spinach
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
4 oz deli ham.
Freshly ground pepper

Frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry.  (Surprising how much liquid is in frozen spinach)

Cut off the tops of your tomatoes and spoon out the interiors.  The larger the tomato, the less you need to spoon out.  Mine were small, so I spooned out the majority.  Set aside tomatoes, put guts into separate bowl.

4 oz deli ham, hand shredded.  (Grace the cat was all over this.  You would think she never gets fed.  Can someone tell her that there are cats who actually eat fancy feast and that don't get regular scraps of ham?)

Combine, ham, spinach, 1/2 cup of ricotta and the Parmesan cheese. (I had shredded Italian, I used that instead.)

Mash it all up - ensuring you have enough ricotta to bind it all together.  Feel free to use more ricotta than I did.  I was trying to keep it semi low calorie.  Top with freshly ground black pepper.  (Be liberal).

Don't forget to taste test.  Can you taste the black pepper?  If not, add more.  So delicious I could have eaten this plain.

Take your tomato guts and pour into baking dish.  Stuff your hallowed tomatoes with the spinach/ricotta mixture.  

Start drooling.  I didn't want to bake these.  I wanted to just eat them straight up.

Into the oven they go on 425.  Depending on the size of your tomatoes - you could leave them in for 25 minutes.  Mine were so small, so I did about 13 minutes.  The cheese was browning on top, so I called it good.

Look at those babies.  Sweet perfection.

Hello darling.

These were amazing.  The ham adds just the right amount of saltiness to the cheese mixture.  I sort of wish I had only baked half of them.  I loved them warm,  but wish I had tried one cold - I think it would have been just as good.  

I can't lie.  I felt incredibly liberated tonight making and eating these for dinner.  First of all, they turned out gorgeous.  Second, they tasted awesome.  It wouldn't be something I would have cheffed up in my old life. But once again, it just reinforced the fact that this is MY life now and I get to do as I please.  Which includes eating only stuffed tomatoes and bud light lime for dinner.  Which is how my classy self rolls.

Calories - 450/500 calories, divided by number of tomatoes.