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Roasted Stuffed Tomatoes

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I know winter is the worst season for buying tomatoes. Living in Maryland, we know for certain they're not local or flavorful this time of year — too often they're firm to the point of being hard though they look pretty enough.

But there is a way to "make lemonade" from these lemons of a tomato, to use their flaw (hardness) as a strength by putting them to work as edible containers for a flavorful filling; and to concentrate and sweeten what small flavor they might have by roasting. The result is an inexpensive and utterly delicious meal for a family of four. When tomatoes go on sale for around $1.99/lb. this time of year, this meal comes together for about $5 (and that's using organic ground beef, even less if using regular ground beef) since you only use a half-pound of meat.

Since the ground beef we use is pre-packaged in 1 pound packages (from Costco), I usually brown the whole pound, and freeze or refrigerate half the cooked meat for another meal. Pre-cooked ground meat is a great freezer staple to make quick work of weekday meal planning. Throw it into a pasta sauce with olives or mushrooms for a quick bolognese, mix it with tofu and peas in a chili garlic sauce for 30-minute Spicy Mapo Tofu over rice, or scramble with eggs and your favorite greens (we love watercress or spinach) and fry as a fritatta. But I digress...

First the ground beef is browned with aromatics (onions and garlic) and herbs. Next the pan is deglazed with broth or water which is then added to the roasting pan, so maximum flavor is extracted from a mere half-pound of ground beef! When the beef is mixed with cooked rice and dried fruit, you have a versatile filling that is equally good stuffed in chayote squash, zucchini, and eggplants as in tomatoes. Whichever veg you use, be sure to have lots of bread to sop up the tasty sauce!

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ROASTED STUFFED TOMATOES

For the tomato shells:
8 medium tomatoes

Cut off top ¼ of each tomato and keep aside. Line a large plate with paper towels.

With a teaspoon, scoop out the seeds and insides of the tomatoes. Place each tomato upside down on the paper towels to drain. Chop up the tomato innards and keep for the sauce.

For Filling:
2 TBL olive oil
½ medium onion, finely diced
3-6 cloves garlic
sea salt
fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp dried oregano
½ tsp dried thyme
¼ tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
¼ -½ cup raisins or currants
4 cups cooked cold rice

To Roast:
1 cup broth or water
3 TBL olive oil