Gemista: Stuffed Tomatoes with Pine Nuts & Raisins

This beloved vegetarian summer dish is as filling as it is refreshing. Here's the recipe from renowned chef Christoforos Pescias, complete with all his secrets.


Chef: Christoforos Pescias

Preparation & Cooking time: 90min

Serves: 6-7

The iconic dish asks for honeyed, juicy stuffing and a large dose of fresh herbs. And when we say large, we mean large; enough to make the mixture green.

Method

Prepare the tomatoes for the stuffing procedure:

Slice off the tops horizontally (from the side with the stalk) and use a teaspoon to remove the seeds. Set the tops aside. Then, with the teaspoon, scoop out the flesh, leaving a layer about 1 cm thick. Chop the flesh finely (do not put it in the multi) and leave it in a bowl.

Salt the tomatoes on the inside and set them aside until the stuffing is ready. Do not turn them over, that’s important (see below)! Season them generously so that there is no juice left; that will keep them juicy while baking and make them tasty. Then put them in a row in the large baking pan, so that they barely fit.

Stuffing:

Sauté the dried onions in 200 ml of the oil until they’re golden, but not caramelized, not darkened. This is going to take about 10 minutes, over medium heat. Then, add the ginger and garlic and sauté for another 3-4 minutes, until the aromas are released.

Add the glazed rice, sauté for 2 minutes, until it shines well, then add the chopped tomato flesh and cook for 10-12 minutes, stirring frequently, until the rice is half done. Add the zucchini, pine nuts and raisins, drained from the juices, but not strained, stir and remove from the heat. Add all the herbs, finely chopped, and mix well. The mixture will turn almost green.

The stuffing is now ready. Allow it to cool to room temperature.

Stuffing+Baking:

With a spoon, fill the tomatoes with the stuffing by three quarters and then cover with the tops. Between the tomatoes in the baking pan, where there are gaps, add the quince potatoes. Mix the tomato juice with the remaining oil and 1 glass of water, and pour this juice into the baking pan, between the tomatoes and over the potatoes. Season generously with salt and pepper and cover the whole baking pan with aluminum foil.

Bake in a well-heated oven at 180°C for about 40-45 minutes. The pan will still have a lot of juices. Carefully remove the aluminum foil, sprinkle the tomatoes with the cheese and bake the tomatoes uncovered for another 45 minutes, at the same temperature, until they wrinkle and get a golden color, the filling is cooked, the juices of the pan become mellow and the potatoes are golden brown.

Leave the food for at least 2 hours before serving.

Serve with a slice of feta cheese or sheep milk yoghurt, with its skin.

THE SECRETS OF CHRISTOFOROS PESCIAS

  • Salt the tomatoes on the inside and set them aside until the stuffing is ready. Do not turn them over. Salt them generously so that the juices are absorbed; that will keep them succulent and tasty while baking. Do not let them dry. The stuffing must be, firstly, juicy and fluffy and, secondly, exuberant and intensely aromatic, since rice, in itself, has no aromatic interest. The same applies to dolmadakia gialantzi (stuffed vine leaves): it is the abundance of fresh herbs that makes them tasty. Don’t be surprised with the large amount of herbs: the stuffing should turn green!
  • Let me also tell you that I prefer half-cooked stuffing, not raw. I believe that this is how the food becomes sweeter and more flavorsome.
  • The exuberance also applies to the onions: Add a lot of onions, so much so that it seems excessive. Wherever onion is added to a recipe it makes the food juicy, honeyed, sweet and creamy. But, so that the food doesn’t have the strong taste of onion, be sure to sauté them first so they become sweetened and have a nice aroma.
  • The potatoes in this dish aren’t to fill you up, so don’t overdo them. Their only role is to strain the baking juices. If there are any leftover potatoes after filling the gaps, fry them, boil them, do something else, but don’t squeeze them into the pan.
  • Also, don’t put any leftover stuffing in the baking pan. The juices of the baking pan are needed to cook the tomatoes properly and to make their stuffing juicy and delicious. The potatoes will be cooked well in this juice, and in the end the reddish oil that will remain will be the required sauce for the food. If there is any leftover stuffing, put it aside to cook a pilaf or a risotto, but do not put it in the baking pan.

This recipe was first published in Greek on gastronomos.gr.

Ingredients

18 large tomatoes, about 200 g each

1 kg (!) dried onions, very finely chopped

100 g fresh ginger, peeled, very finely chopped (don’t skip it, it blends beautifully with the rest of the aromas)

4 garlic cloves, very finely chopped

200 g glazed rice (about 1 tablespoon for each tomato)

100 g zucchini, grated and well-squeezed (we keep the juice)

100 g pine nuts, roasted for 3-4 minutes in the oven, at 170°C

50 g raisins of our choice, soaked for 30 minutes in 100 ml of rum

2 bunches of parsley, finely chopped

2 bunches of mint, finely chopped

2-3 large bunches of basil, finely chopped

600 g potatoes, peeled, chopped quinces

200 g juice from chopped fresh tomatoes

300 ml olive oil

50 g parmesan (or aged gruyere), grated

salt, freshly ground pepper


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