Why is the Holy Roman Empress sitting on my plate ?
The chalkboard menu at Au Relais d’Anjou in Durtal listed the day’s specials, with “Tomates Farcies Facon ‘Marie Terese’” at the top as one of the entrée selections. I understood these were tomatoes stuffed with something, but in the style of Marie Terese? Who was she and why did she like tomatoes?
A few hours on Google and Wikipedia later my guess is that the tomatoes were fashioned after Maria Theresa, Empress of the Holy Roman Empire in the 18th century. One of the most powerful women in history, Maria Theresa ran Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Bohemia, Mantua, Milan, Galicia, Lorraine, and Tuscany among other duchies and principalities. She had 16 children, including the ill-fated Marie Antoinette. So wherefore has she become a stuffed tomato?
Looking through a stack of paintings by her court painter gave me a clue: she sort of looks like she’s popping out of her regalia…
…in much the way the stuffing pops out of these tomatoes when they are baked. With their little hats.
Pay no attention to these ruminations, however, and run immediately to the market to grab the last of the summer tomatoes and make this delicious dish for your family, friends, or just for yourself. Flavors from the sausage stuffing infuse the tomatoes and they become perfect partners on your fork.
Stuffed vegetables are a staple of French home cooking, the French version of the Polish stuffed cabbage, the Middle Eastern stuffed eggplant and many others, I’m sure. I’ve used the meat mixture to stuff zucchini (cutting into 3” lengths and hollowing out the core), and green, red, and purple bell peppers.
This recipe is very flexible. Make more filling, stuff more veggies. If your vegetables are small the yield will be more and if they are large you’ll have fewer. Whatever you do, though, you’ll wish you had more. As I’m sure was the case with the Holy Roman Empress.
- 1 pound loose breakfast sausage (or ground pork, seasoned with salt and sage)
- 6 large tomatoes (or 8 medium)
- 1 medium onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- ½ t. fresh thyme leaves
- ¼ cup fresh parsley
- ¼ cup milk
- 1 slice white bread or equivalent
- 1 egg
- 3 T. tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Rinse the tomatoes. Cut a hat from the top of each tomato; set aside. Gently scoop out the seeds. Save and chop the pulp. Salt the inside and turn upside down on a towel-lined platter for 30 minutes.
- Tear the bread into small pieces and place in a small bowl. Pour milk over and mash with a fork.
- Peel and finely chop the onion and garlic. Finely chop the thyme and parsley leaves.
- In a bowl mix together the chopped onion, garlic, sausage, egg, chopped tomato pulp, thyme, parsley, and soaked bread pieces.
- Spoon the stuffing into the tomatoes. Place a “hat” on top of each tomato. Place tomatoes in a baking dish. Drizzle with 1 T. of the olive oil then pour remaining oil in the baking dish. Slowly add water to base of dish until it comes up the side of the tomatoes about ½ inch. The tomatoes will release additional liquid as they bake.
- Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer reaches 160°.
- Serve hot or cold.
Serves 6 or more.