As soon as I read the Wednesday Chef’s post about her experience in Italy with Bruschetta di Pomodori Gratinati (essentially grilled stuffed tomatoes on bruschetta), I knew it was something I had to try.  I immediately fell in love with the seemingly romantic and ceremonial process of cooking and eating the stuffed tomatoes, each on its own slice of grilled toast.  My old housemate and good friend was visiting Davis from Virginia over the weekend of the 4th, so we had a bbq to celebrate her return and the holiday.  With it being high tomato season and all, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to try this recipe.

Did I mention that it was also very brave of me to try out this dish?  I wasn’t exactly following a detailed recipe.  The “recipe” in the original post was incredibly vague, but there were just enough details to give me inspiration, guide me through the process and help me come up with a recipe which I’ve now shared with you.  Since this is only the first time I’ve tried this, I’m sure there is plenty of room for improvement and if anyone tweaks the recipe with success, I’d love to hear about what you did!

I made the stuffing by sautéing chopped fennel in olive oil over low heat for about 15 minutes.  Once this was almost complete, I added 4 cloves of minced garlic and sautéed a couple minutes longer, until the garlic was aromatic.  I then combined this with bread crumbs, parsley, salt, and olive oil and filled the hollowed out tomatoes.  Then came the fun part.  We loaded all of the stuffed tomatoes into a grill basket and placed it over hot coals on the grill.  Once the bottoms of the tomatoes were blackened, we removed the grill basket and threw slices of country bread onto the grill until lightly browned.  The next steps of the process are highly personalized and I think that’s why everyone enjoyed this dish so much.  You prepare the bruschetta as you like, drizzled with olive oil and/or rubbed with garlic.

Then you take your stuffed tomato, flip it over onto the bread, remove the skin (which is much easier to do when the tomato has had some time to cool down!)  and mash it into the bread with a fork.  Then you take a bite!  And you roll your eyes and nod your head because it tastes that good, and you feel happy that you are enjoying fresh food with friends.

After making these I’m on a heightened look out for recipes with aspects of ceremony or group participation.  I sometimes let my desire for perfection isolate me in the kitchen, but making this reminded me of how much fun cooking can be when done with others.  Cheers to that.

Bruschetta di Pomodori Gratinati
guidance from The Wednesday Chef

Makes 12 stuffed tomatoes.

12 medium tomatoes (preferably heirloom varietals with flat bottoms), cored and hollowed out (see picture in earlier in post)
1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed of stalks and finely diced (about 1/3 cup)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/4 cups bread crumbs
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
salt to taste
olive oil (1/4 to 1/2 cup)
Loaf of country bread, sliced to 3/4 inch thickness

1. Once you have removed the seeds and very-inner flesh from the tomatoes, salt the insides and invert over a plate to drain for about 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, sauté the fennel in a dollup of olive oil over med-low heat for 12-15 minutes. At this point, add the garlic and sauté a minute or two longer, until the garlic is aromatic, but not browned.

3. Mix together bread crumbs, fennel and garlic mixture, parsley, and salt until combined. Then add olive oil to moisten the mixture. I added enough to make the mixture glisten a bit, but it was still pretty dry. You could add more or less depending on your taste.

4. To give the tomatoes a final chance to dry out a bit more, before stuffing them you can place them on a grill basket, inverted, or in the oven (right side up) under the broiler for a few minutes. Then you fill each tomato with stuffing and arrange them on a grill basket.

5. Grill tomatoes until they are slightly blackened on the bottom, remove from heat, and let sit to cool. Place bread slices on the grill and toast until lightly browned on both sides.

6. Drizzle toasts with olive oil, rub with garlic, and invert a stuffed tomato onto the bruschetta. Remove the charred tomato skin and then mash with a fork to spread the tomato over the bread.