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)
(for four servings)
8 medium-sized ripe tomatoes
½ cup breadcrumbs
2 pounds ground meat
1 pound sweet sausage meat
1 14.5-ounce can stewed tomatoes (Del Monte Italian Recipe)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
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.