I have tomatoes coming out my ears. Literally. OK, not exactly. But our tomato plants have taken off to the point where I can’t make enough salsa or eat enough Caprese salads to keep up. Besides the tomatoes, my squash and zucchini are in full swing, and I can probably classify my basil plants as a small forest. The bell peppers are taking their sweet time to ripen, which is fine by me; I’ve got a virtual cornucopia to deal with already.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve enjoyed coming up with different ways to serve tomatoes: chopped tomato salad with roasted red bell pepper, basil and balsamic, grilled eggplant and tomato melts with fresh mozzarella… But one of my favorites has been my Garden Stuffed Tomatoes. Using squash, zucchini and thyme from the garden, I combine fluffy couscous, spicy sausage and sautéed vegetables with decadent mascarpone and Parmesan cheese to make a rich filling. Topped with more parmesan and some bread crumbs for crunch, these stuffed tomatoes are a hearty and satisfying treat, from just outside my back door. How much more local can you get?
For the stuffing, I opted for Israeli couscous, which is the larger-pearled cousin of the more widely-known North African couscous. I could only find flavored couscous at the Harps on Crossover – in my case, wild mushroom, hence the odd dried chunks in the picture – but plain couscous would be equally good. Israeli couscous takes a little longer to cook and has a softer, more pasta-like consistency; either type of couscous will work just fine with this recipe. I also chose one of my favorite sausages, Petit Jean Whole Hog Sausage, which is a peppery breakfast sausage. This delicious sausage is the real deal – and by real deal, I mean real fattening. For a lighter version, feel free to use turkey sausage or chicken sausage instead. (And for you vegetarians out there, feel free to omit it altogether.)
An ingredient that I don’t often use – but would probably bathe in, given the opportunity – is mascarpone cheese. Mascarpone is an incredibly rich, absurdly creamy spreadable cheese, with origins in the Lombardy region of Italy. Mascarpone isn’t really a cheese at all; it’s the product of cheese cultures being added to the cream that’s skimmed off milk. Mascarpone is often used as a thickener in risottos, and when sweetened, is the star ingredient in tiramisu. If you have any left over, try it on toast instead of butter. It’s unreal.
Whether you grow your own tomatoes, buy them at the Farmers’ Market or at the grocery store, one thing is for sure: adding this rich, creamy stuffing will make your tomatoes go from “Meh!” to “Yeah!” in less than an hour. They are wonderful with a salad for lunch, or alongside a main dish for dinner. Enjoy!
Garden Stuffed Tomatoes
6 large tomatoes
1 pkg. couscous (Israeli or regular)
1/2 lb. sausage, crumbled
1 zucchini, diced
1 yellow squash, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbs. fresh thyme
1/2 c. walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 c. (8 oz.) mascarpone cheese
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
1/4 c. breadcrumbs
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 425°. Cook the couscous according to package directions and set aside. Cook the sausage over medium heat until browned, remove from the pan and drain on a paper towel, reserving the grease in the pan. Add the diced zucchini, squash, thyme, garlic and walnuts to the pan and cook over medium heat until the vegetables are softened but not browned, about 7 minutes.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the couscous, sausage, sautéed vegetables, mascarpone and parmesan and stir to combine. Adjust the seasonings and set the stuffing aside.
Remove the tops from the tomatoes and core out the middle, leaving only the outside and being careful not to puncture the bottom of the tomato. One at a time, gently fill each tomato with the couscous stuffing, all the way to the top. Top each stuffed tomato with more parmesan cheese and a few pinches of breadcrumbs. Bake for 20 minutes or until the cheese is melted and lightly browned. Serve immediately.[If the slideshow below doesn’t load, you can view all the photos from this post on our Flickr page.]
Laura Hobbs is a guest contributor for the Fayetteville Flyer. Born and raised in Fayetteville, Laura is a self-proclaimed foodie and avid cook. For more of Laura’s contributions, visit her author page.