Roman stuffed tomatoes

At first glance, a baked tomato—on closer inspection, the delicious receptacle of a spicy-rice extravaganza.

Roman stuffed tomatoes (serves 4)

8 medium-sized, firm and ripe tomatoes
Half a small green pepper, emptied of membrane and seeds and coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
Large pinch dried chilli
A handful of flat parsley leaves
1tspn Spanish paprika
1tspn saffron threads, steeped
in 1tbspn boiling water
125ml olive oil, plus a little more, if liked
Maldon salt and pepper
75g carnaroli rice

Remove the stalks of the tomatoes and then turn them over. Using a small, sharp knife, cut across the tomatoes, about a fifth of the way down, to give eight little caps. Reserve these for later. Now, using a teaspoon, carefully scoop out all of their innards into a bowl. Place the hollowed-out shells into a roasting dish that will accommodate them snugly.

Place the green pepper, garlic, chilli, parsley, paprika and saffron, including its water, into a food processor and pulse until the ingredients are evenly, but coarsely chopped. Now, tip in the tomato pulp with 100ml of the olive oil and further process, until the entire mixture is a sloppy, seedy and oily tomato pap, with the other solids now more finely processed and in suspension.

Place the rice into the bowl that previously held the tomato pulp and pour in the tomato pap from the food processor. Mix well and season with salt to taste. Leave to soak for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pre-heat the oven to 200 ̊C/400 ̊F/gas mark 6.

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Fill the tomatoes with the rice mixture—there may be a little left over, but don’t be tempted to overfill them—making sure to use as much liquid as possible, even if it overflows into the dish.

Replace the little caps onto each tomato, trickle the remaining oil over them—plus a little more, if you like—and bake in the oven for about 45 minutes, turning the heat down a touch if the tomatoes are browning too much, but browned and blistered they certainly must be. Taste a little of the rice to make sure it’s fully cooked, although it will continue to swell and tenderise as it cools.

Serve at room temperature, for preference, and baste well with the juices and oil just before serving.