If there’s one thing that the Southeast portion of Arkansas is known for, it’s tomatoes – there’s even a festival celebrating them in Bradley County. When our favorite local produce place advertised the first Arkansas tomatoes of the year for sale, we knew we had to pick up a box. The tomato is one of the most versatile fruits around, and so we decided to have our own personal tomato festival here on Arkansas Foodies and share with you all some of our favorite ways to prepare them. Of course, one of our favorite ways to eat a tomato is just sliced with a sprinkle of sea salt – but there are plenty of simple things that you can do with them that are a little more involved than that. Tonight we made stuffed tomatoes, a dish that combines the rich flavor of cooked tomato with bacon, creamed spinach, and Parmesan cheese. The resulting dish is pretty delicious.
Stuffed Tomatoes (for 4 tomatoes)
- 4 medium-large tomatoes, tops cut off and insides scooped out (see right)
- 8 slices cooked bacon, crumbled
- 1 package fresh spinach leaves. Spinach shrinks a great deal when you cook it, so what looks like a lot at first won’t by the end.
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 1/4 cup Parmesan Cheese with extra for topping
- 1 medium shallot, diced
Prepare your bacon and retain two tablespoons of the grease. In a cast iron skillet, heat the bacon grease to medium heat and add your shallots, cooking them to unlock their flavor without browning them – about five minutes, adjusting your heat as necessary. Coarsely chop the spinach leaves and add them to the skillet, tossing lightly to coat with the bacon fat; increase your heat slightly.
Cook the spinach until it has wilted and started releasing its moisture. Add the crumbled bacon to the pan and stir to mix everything, cooking only until the bacon is heated through. Remove from the heat and pour your spinach mixture into a mixing bowl. Add the sour cream and Parmesan cheese and mix thoroughly. You can prepare this stuffing a few hours ahead of time if you like, just be sure to cover tightly with plastic wrap, pushing the wrap down into the surface of the stuffing so that no part of it is exposed to air.
When you are ready, spoon the mixture into the tomato cups. Top with more Parmesan cheese – or, alternatively, you can use shredded Swiss, Gruyère, or Mozzarella – and bake for 20 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Cooking the tomato will change and and concentrate its flavor, and the mixture of creamy spinach, nutty Parmesan and smoky bacon is an excellent flavor flavor combination that compliments the tomato flavor without overpowering it. We’ve served these as a side dish for chicken or steak – but they can also make a good main course with roasted or steamed vegetables. The recipe is very easy to prepare, and the tomatoes are a very fresh and surprising treat. Stick around for more tomato recipes this week – and enjoy!