Playing Meatball in a Tomato

Why should peppers have all the fun? These are a delicious light entrée or wonderful as party or weekend potluck offering served warm or at room temperature.

  • 1 1/2 cups diced bread
  • About 1/2 cup milk, to soften bread
  • 4 large beefsteak tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil plus a drizzle
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 3/4 pound ground beef, pork and veal mix
  • Salt and pepper
  • A few grates nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup grated onion
  • 2 to 3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
  • 1/2 cup loose packed flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup Panko or large homemade breadcrumbs
  • 1 pint grape or small cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1/2 pound ball fresh mozzarella, cut into small dice
  • 12 leaves fresh basil, rolled and very thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Soak bread in milk.

Cut about half an inch off the tops of the tomatoes and scoop out seeds and heart of the flesh. Drizzle cavity of tomatoes with oil, season tomatoes with salt, pepper and thyme.

In a small pan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 turn of the pan, over medium-high heat. Add fennel seed, stir, then add meat and lightly brown. Season with salt, pepper and a few grates of nutmeg. Add grated onion and garlic, and stir 2 minutes more. Transfer to a bowl to cool.

Squeeze the excess milk from bread and crumble into the cooled meat. Add parsley, half the grated cheese and the egg. Fill the tomatoes with the mixture, cover and bake 20 minutes.

Toss panko or homemade crumbs with 2 tablespoons olive oil and combine with remaining cheese. Top tomatoes evenly with mixture and bake 12-15 minutes more until lightly golden brown on top.

Combine chopped cherry tomatoes with mozzarella and basil, and combine with fingertips. Serve tomatoes in shallow bowls topped with some of the tomato-mozzarella-basil salad.