Whether you are growing your own or visiting the farmers markets, you are probably enjoying homegrown tomatoes — a Mother Nature wonder and beyond comparison to store-bought tomatoes.

While sliced tomatoes shine on sandwiches or as a dinner side, stuffed tomatoes are our focus today. We are missing out if we turn to only peppers for stuffing.

Cold stuffed tomatoes are the perfect cool lunch on a hot summer day:

• Chicken, egg, ham and tuna salad look so inviting peeking out from a tomato sliced in partial wedges and sitting on your plate like a filled flower.

• Mix chopped bacon and lettuce with some mayo and fill your tomato for the perfect BLT.

• Something as simple as cottage cheese and a sprinkling of herbs looks fancy.

• Cherry tomatoes stuffed with cream cheese mixtures are a bite of yummy. Mix in chopped cucumbers, cheddar cheese or any number of additions or buy some flavored whipped cream cheese.

• Chopped veggies from your garden drizzled with a little dressing make a perfect stuffing alone or mixed with rice.

Hot stuffed tomatoes take a little time to give you a different taste and texture. Slice off the top and hollow out the inside of the tomato. Sprinkle the inside with a little salt, and place the tomato upside down on a paper towel to dry out a bit. Top the stuffed tomato with some seasoned bread crumbs for a little crunch.

Stuff just before baking, and put the lid back on for a finished look. Medium tomatoes will sit nicely in you muffin tin, and larger tomatoes work in jumbo muffin tins.

Here we offer one hot and one cold tomato filling. Our first recipe, from anitalianinmykitchen.om, uses the entire tomato for a delicious meatless meal, so save the pulp when you hollow the tomato. The cottage cheese dip, from "Quick Hors d'Oeuvres," dresses up cottage cheese for a nice dip, side or cold tomato filling.

Have a great week, and happy eating.


Italian stuffed tomatoes

4 medium to medium-firm ripe tomatoes, top sliced off and hollowed out

1 cup uncooked rice

1/2 cup tomato pulp

1 teaspoon oregano

1 teaspoon basil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 garlic clove, chopped

1/4 cup grated Parmesan

6 sprigs fresh chopped Italian parsley

2 tablespoons olive oil

Add rice to bowl with enough water to cover; soak 1 hour then drain and rinse. Mix rice with remaining ingredients. Fill tomatoes and replace tops. Place in lightly greased baking pan; sprinkle with salt and olive oil. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 to 55 minutes. Yields 4 servings.


Cottage cheese dip

1 (12-ounce) container small-curd cottage cheese

2 tablespoons sour cream

1/4 teaspoon onion salt

1/4 teaspoon garlic salt

1/2 teaspoon caraway seed

1/2 teaspoon parsley flakes

1 heaping teaspoon chives

Combine all ingredients; chill.

Cheryle Finley is a food columnist for The Joplin Globe. Address correspondence to Cheryle Finley, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802.