Risotto-Stuffed Baked Tomatoes
with Fresh Basil and Breadcrumbs.
It was summer 2016, the summer of Jean-Claude Van Damme, and it was glorious.
A little back story: as the only child of two people aggressively uninterested in pop culture, I missed out on some stuff in my pre-adolescent years. At the age of 7 I endured my second greatest schoolyard humiliation (the first being the wooden playground/ slide mishap that required a trip to the emergency room to have a 5" long protruding splinter removed from my right ass cheek) on the monkey bars during recess on a crisp fall day. A few kids were talking about the video for "Bad" and how bitchin' it was and I decided to chime in. Bad to the Bone? GEORGE THOROGOOD IS SO COOL. Did you guys see that episode of Alvin and the Chipmunks, too?! At this point I may have belted out a line or two. I was then matter of factly informed by the playground alpha that a) no one thought Alvin and the Chipmunks was cool and not one person on those monkey bars had ever heard of the song "bad to the bone" b) bad (not to the bone) was a song by some guy named Michael Jackson (?) NOT George Thorogood c) no one on that playground had ever heard of George Thorogood d) music videos were like movies for songs and you could see them on cable television if your parents were the kind of parents that were interested in paying for such a thing.
Things went on like that for a while.
By the age of 11, I'd visited more historic homes and been an impatient spectator at more basket weaving demonstrations and dulcimer concerts than an entire nursing home full of old folks. Then I was 12 and there was middle school. Then there was Nirvana. A loaner cassette of Incesticide passed by a friend during gym class. And then I started doing the things you're not supposed to do with the people you're not supposed to do them with.
And things went on like that for a while.
And now I'm here. Its the year 2016 and I'm watching a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie for the first time in my entire life. Correction: the entire Van Damme oeuvre. In all its 80s/90s time machine-y, Belgian accent-y, over the top action-y, high kicking, ass kicking glory. Because with that first (Bloodsport, 1988) viewing, some decades long unscratched itch deep down in inside felt suddenly satisfied. I'd craved the campy sincerity of these movies without any conscious awareness of their existence. Currently six films in, I've witnessed a mulleted Van Damme attempt a Cajun accent and knock a rattlesnake unconscious with a single punch (Hard Target, 1993), play twins separated at birth reunited to avenge their parents' rather confusing deaths (Double Impact, 1991 -- one of two films in the Van Damme dual role sub genre), and bookend a ridiculously disjointed 1920s epic (penned by the Muscles from Brussels himself) dressed as an old man in a bar, telling his life story to no one in particular (The Quest, 1996). And those mid-air splits? Van DAMN.
Time is a flat circle. Or time is a roundhouse kick that never ends. Or maybe time is just a lightning fast punch to the crotch. No way to know till the end of it all.
But there's something here, I think. Let's call it the Van Damme principle. Van Damme is a man out of time, he simultaneously exists everywhere and nowhere at once. Summer is technically over but summer isn't really over till all the tomatoes are gone and summer really really is a state of being that never truly begins or ends. Its an evolving theory. 30 + movies left in the queue...
Things will go on like this for a while.
Risotto Stuffed Tomatoes with
Basil and Breadcrumbs.
6-8 firm, medium sized tomatoes*
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 medium red onion, diced
2c arborio rice
1c dry white wine
1/2c basil leave, torn into small pieces
2tsp ground sea salt
1/2c unseasoned breadcrumbs
2Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
*This is a rough number, depending on the size of the tomatoes and the shape of the pan being used.
I've used a medium sized cast iron skillet which fits 6 tomatoes with a bit of extra room for leftover rice filling. The recipe makes enough filling for 8 medium to large tomatoes.
Core tomatoes, then remove tops slicing roughly 1/4" down from stem end.
Gently scoop out flesh and seeds, leaving bottoms of tomatoes intact, and give a rough chop to the removed top pieces and larger pieces of flesh, then transfer to a bowl.
This part can be a bit messy. If you don't have a cutting board with a rim to collect liquid, I'd suggest scooping the tomato flesh and seeds directly into a bowl, then fishing out the larger pieces to chop.
In a saute pan, heat 2Tbsp olive oil over medium heat.
Add onion and cook until translucent.
Add garlic, stirring for 1-2 minutes more.
Add arborio rice, and stir frequently for 2-3 minutes.
Add tomato flesh/seeds, water, white wine, half of the torn basil, and salt.
Reduce heat and cover, cooking for 8-10 more minutes.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Fit hollowed out tomatoes in a cast iron pan or a lightly oiled heavy bottomed oven-safe baking dish.
Give par cooked risotto a good stir and spoon into tomatoes, filling the gaps between with any extra.
Top with breadcrumbs and half of the remaining basil leaves.
Drizzle with a little extra olive oil and sprinkle a pinch of salt over top.
Bake for 60-70 minutes, until tomatoes are bubbly and slightly shriveled and topping is crispy and browned.
Top with reserved basil leaves and serve hot hot hot.