Stuffed tomatoes with pecorino and garden herbs

This is standard Italian picnic fare — it’s the kind of food you can devour in a single mouthful. As a child, almost without exception, I would find in my packed lunch two little stuffed tomato halves, carefully wrapped in tinfoil, which my mother would buy ready-made from our local delicatessen.

Nowadays, I make my own. They are pleasingly simple to put together, they keep well in the fridge for a few days and I love the flexibility of being able to add whatever I like to the filling, anything from a pinch of dried chilli to parsley and chopped olives.

Serves: 6-8 people, as a sharing plate

Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

INGREDIENTS

  • 6 firm medium-sized tomatoes
  • 125g stale crusty bread
  • 3 sprigs of fresh mint
  • 3 sprigs of fresh parsley
  • 3 sprigs of fresh basil
  • 100g grated pecorino
  • 140ml vegetable stock

01 Heat the oven to 160C (180C non-fan). Cut the tomatoes in half across the middle and use a teaspoon to scoop out the seeds and flesh, then set this to one side in a small bowl. Sprinkle the insides of the tomato halves with a little salt, then lay them upside down on a sheet of paper towel to drain any excess juices .

02 Tear the bread into chunks, put it in a food processor and blitz until you have rough crumbs, then pour them into a mixing bowl. Spoon the reserved tomato pulp into a sieve over the mixing bowl and use a spoon to press it down, so that all the lovely juices spill over the breadcrumbs. This will give the filling a delicious flavour.

03 Tear the leaves of the herbs off their stalks and roughly chop, then add them to the mixing bowl with the breadcrumbs and the tomato juice. Add just more than three-quarters of the grated pecorino to the bowl (you want to save the rest to sprinkle on top of the tomatoes at the end), then mix with your hands until well combined. At this point, add a little salt and pepper to taste.

04 Take a sheet of baking paper, crumple it up and run it under a gentle stream of cold water for a second or two — just long enough so that it becomes slightly damp. Stretch it out and use it to line a roasting dish, then gently lift the tomato halves and arrange them snugly, hollow side up, in the dish. Use a teaspoon to fill them generously with the stuffing, so that it bulges over the top, then sprinkle with the last of the cheese — this will give a lovely crisp finish.

05 Spoon the vegetable stock into the bottom of the roasting dish and cover with tinfoil. Set this in the middle of the oven and bake for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for a further 10-15 minutes, until golden brown on top.