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Simple Sides: Baked Tomato Cups

Melissa’s encourages parents to find the time to gather as a family once a week for a dinner that everyone pitches in to prepare. It’s a great way to teach your children some basic cooking skills and, more importantly, cooking with your children will build memories that will remain in your hearts forever.

Each COOKIN’ with the KIDS feature will offer a simple, healthy and delicious recipe that can be prepared by a child or a group of children working together, under the supervision of an adult. Parents should always read through each recipe carefully to decide the division of labor based on age and ability as well as to identify where help might be especially needed.

Here’s a very tasty, simple and fun to make recipe that takes advantage of the uniform shape and size of the hot house crop of winter tomatoes available in the market at this time of year. While these indoor varieties cannot develop the high sugar content of heirloom tomatoes grown under the summer sun, the perfect symmetry of these fruits make them easy for small fingers to seed and stuff with other fresh ingredients that will add a special sweetness all their own!

Tomatoes are a great source of both vitamin “C” and “A”, plus it is now accepted science that a regular diet of lycopene, the chemical that makes this fruit’s red color, lowers considerably the risk of developing several very common types of cancer. Pine nuts are packed with protein and antioxidants, and are also an excellent source of fiber and several essential vitamins. Basil is a traditional flavor complement to both tomatoes and pine nuts. These few simple ingredients, along with a little olive oil and maybe a drop or two of balsamic vinegar for sweetness, baked carefully, then sprinkled with Parmesan make a perfect side dish that the whole family can make together in about 30 minutes from start to finish.

These big, beautiful tomatoes, sliced in half, reveal clearly defined sections of gelatinous seed packets that you can show your young kitchen assistants how to pop out easily with a few gentle squeezes over the sink. Once seeded and rinsed, set up an assembly line that has everyone working together. Divide the labor: one child should stuff the empty seed sections with the pine nut and basil mixture, then pass the stuffed tomato on to the next child who is in charge of placing them in the baking dish, filling each tomato half with the olive oil and balsamic, then top with a small pat of butter. By the way, there’s a culinary lesson to be had by stopping to explain to your crew why it is necessary to chop up the nuts and basil into a blend. Answers: (a) chopping up these ingredients releases their oils and flavors. (b) the smaller pieces can be stuffed deeper into the crevices of the tomato.

When it is time to serve, insist that your young chefs pause to add garnish to each tomato plating with both the Parmesan sprinkle as well as placing a sprig of basil on each plate. Never mind that this plate is only being served at the family’s kitchen table; getting into the habit of garnishing plates for both taste and appearance will develop a sense of balance in presentation that will hopefully serve your children well in their own lives, both in and out of their own kitchens!

Baked Tomato Cups with Pine Nuts
Makes 4 stuffed tomato halves
Image of Baked Tomato Cups with Pine Nuts
2 large Hot House “Steak” Tomatoes – sliced in half, seeded
Two pkgs. (6 oz.) Melissa’s Pine Nuts
½ cup fresh basil leaves, stems removed
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated fine
16 drops Balsamic vinegar

Slice the tomatoes in half and seed them. Run the pine nuts and basil in a food processor just long enough to thoroughly blend into a rough chop. Stuff the tomatoes with the pine nuts and basil blend. Place in a shallow baking dish, pour 1 oz. (2 Tbsp.) of olive oil and 4 drops of Balsamic vinegar to each tomato half. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes. Be careful not to overcook, as the tomato with collapse and lose its shape. Tomatoes are done when they begin to bubble but are still firm to the touch.

What the kids can do:
  1. Seed each tomato half.
  2. Combine pine nuts and basil in food processor, for a course mixture.
  3. Stuff empty seed cavities of each tomato half with pine nut-basil blend.
  4. Pour oil into each half.
  5. Add drops of Balsamic vinegar to each half.
  6. Sprinkle tomatoes generously with Parmesan.
  7. Garnish with a spring of fresh basil.
What the supervising adult should do:
  1. Cut tomatoes in half. Even if your oldest sous chef is capable of most slicing chores, it might be a good idea to do this one yourself to ensure an even split.
  2. Demonstrate the proper way to easily seed the tomato halves with just a few gentle squeezes and a quick rinse.
  3. Supervise the use of the processor to get a “rough cut blend” (also a good lesson here on the cleaning up of the food processor!)
  4. Plate the hot tomatoes, with the garnishing and serving by your crack crew.
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