Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Recipe: "Tomates Farcies" (Stuffed Tomatoes)

I have been making this dish for 30 years with more or less success. Even when it wasn't right—it was good. Sometimes not beautiful, but always delicious. My family asks for it often, and this weekend it came out perfectly, so it is time for me to share all of my secrets. First the tomatoes: this dish is to be made only when tomatoes are in season and very flavorful. (I bought mine at McEnroe's, and they were excellent). Selecting them is part of the process. A deep, rich red color and just ripe enough to be full of flavor—but not too soft, or they will not keep their shape. For many years I tried using the very large beefsteak tomatoes and found they held so much meat that the cooking time for the meat was too long for the tomatoes, so they fell apart. Now I use medium-size and serve two per person. I have tried many different mixtures of meat and found that the prepackaged ground meat for meatloaf works very nicely—that is, a third each of ground beef, veal and pork mixed with a package of sausage meat is perfect.

The tomatoes need to be prepared a few hours in advance.

(for four servings)

8 medium-sized ripe tomatoes
coarse salt
½ cup breadcrumbs
2 pounds ground meat
1 pound sweet sausage meat
1 14.5-ounce can stewed tomatoes (Del Monte Italian Recipe)
salt, pepper
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 egg


Slice off the tops of the tomatoes and put the tops aside. Hollow out the tomatoes, reserving the liquids and seeds in a bowl. Be careful not to cut into the flesh or skin of the tomatoes. Wipe gently with a paper towel. Add coarse salt inside the shelled tomatoes and turn them upside down on top of a rack to allow excess juices to drain from them. Remove the seeds. Strain the liquid from the tomatoes and keep for later. After about two hours, gently wipe them clean with a paper towel and pat dry.

Soak the breadcrumbs in 1 cup of the reserved tomato juices. In a large bowl, hand-mix the meats together. Place the contents of the canned tomatoes into a mixer or blender and process so as to create a thick liquid. Add that to the meat, along with some salt, pepper and parsley. Mix. Add the soaked breadcrumbs to the meat along with some more salt, pepper and parsley. Mix. Add one beaten egg along with some more salt, pepper and parsley. Blend well with your hands until all the liquids have been absorbed by the meat. 

Preheat oven to 350º F.

Stuff each of the tomatoes with enough meat to fill the tomato and have about ½ inch of extra meat on top. (Do not push down hard, or you will weaken the tomato shell.) Place the tops over the meat and put the stuffed tomatoes into a roasting pan—standing upright but not touching one another. Add some grains of rice in between the tomatoes to help absorb some of the excess juices. Bake in the oven for 45- to 55 minutes.  Gently remove the stuffed tomatoes onto a clean platter, discarding the remaining juices and grains 

Never Fail French Fries

Legend has it that "French fries" were created by Napoleon's chef while the French armies were on the move: Bonaparte wanted something hot to eat as soon as they would stop and camp, so the chef would always have these cut- and blanched potatoes ready to be thrown into hot oil to brown and serve. Whether or not this tale is true, it serves well as a reminder of the important culinary secret that fries have to be cooked twice: first as little as ten minutes or as much as a few hours in advance, and then a quick browning before serving. Restaurants and fast-food establishments love to have food pre-prepped before the rush and do just a quick reheat and finish to serve. A busy hostess (or host) likes that, too, so this is a recipe for your collection.

Serves 4–6


4 large russet or Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut into ¼-inch-thick strips
2 quarts peanut oil
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley


Rinse cut potatoes in a large bowl with lots of cold running water until water becomes clear. Cover with water by 1 inch, and cover with ice. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes or up to two days.

In a 5-quart pot, Dutch oven or electric deep fryer, heat oil over medium-low heat until a few drops of water will splatter. Ensure that you have at least 3 inches of space between the top of the oil and the top of the pan, as fries will bubble up when they are added.

Drain ice-water from cut fries. Wrap potato pieces in a clean dishcloth or paper towel and thoroughly pat dry. Carefully add fries, a handful at a time, to the hot oil. Fry, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are soft and limp and begin to turn a blond color, about seven- to eight minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove fries from the oil and set aside to drain on paper towels. Let rest for at least ten minutes or up to two hours.

When ready to serve the French fries, reheat the oil. Transfer the blanched potatoes to the hot oil and fry again, stirring frequently, until golden brown and puffed, about one minute. Transfer to paper-lined platter and sprinkle with salt and pepper, to taste. Sprinkle with chopped parsley. Serve immediately.

BBQ Baby Back Ribs

I have always loved the taste of  ribs, but they were often too greasy and/or too spicy for me—until I found the ribs at Millbrook Cafe. I asked chef/owner Alex to tell me where he bought such juicy but not fatty ribs. He smiled his Cheshire Cat smile and explained that it was not where he bought them that mattered but what he did with them. I got his secret out of him and after successfully trying it myself, I am sharing it with you today.


½ rack of baby back ribs per person

For the Marinade/Sauce:
1 bottle of your favorite BBQ sauce/marinade
1 cup A1 Steak Sauce (optional)
1 cup ketchup (optional)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (optional)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (optional)

Alex's secret is that he steams the ribs the day before and leaves them overnight before putting them in the marinade. So, the day before I was to serve the ribs, I preheated the oven to 350º F. I removed the thin membrane from the back side of the ribs and trimmed off excess fat. I then cut the racks in half and wrapped each of them in cheesecloth, tying bulky knots on both sides of the cloth. When I placed them standing up on the rack in a roasting pan, there was some space in between them, allowing the heat and steam to penetrate both sides of each rib. I added an inch or two of water at the bottom of the pan. (Water should not touch the meat.) I covered the pan with aluminum foil and put it in the oven for two hours, periodically adding a bit of water so it never went dry but the water did not touch the ribs. After two hours I removed the pan from the oven and allowed it to cool before placing it in the refrigerator (still with the aluminum foil) and leaving it overnight. The next day I was both pleased and aghast to find nearly an inch of fat floating in the water at the bottom of the pan. I removed the cooked ribs and set about to scrape off the fat and clean the pan (clearly the most unpleasant part of the process.) I was, however, very happy to see the fat go into the garbage and not into my body.

The Marinade
You can, of course,  just spread whatever BBQ sauce you love on the ribs, but I prefer to add some A1 sauce, ketchup, mustard and vinegar, each a bit at a time, and tasting how each addition affects the overall flavor until I reach the harmony that pleases my palate. I like the complexity of tangy flavors without it becoming too spicy or too sweet. I took half of the sauce and covered the ribs on both sides with it and reserved the rest of the sauce for later. One hour before serving, I reheated the ribs in a 250º F oven. Just before serving, I added the rest of the barbecue sauce and put the ribs under the grill (this can also be done on the barbecue), to give it the grilled look and flavor.