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ricotta-stuffed heirloom tomatoes with black olive vinaigrette and brioche croutons

Spending a week with our families at the beach, I was reminded of all the foods that I hated growing up. This is a conversation we often have whenever my parents visit. As my parents rattled off the list (tomatoes, peas, mushrooms, fish or seafood of any kind...), it became clear that everything I hated to eat when I was a kid, I now love. Except green bell peppers. Which are an abomination. This is a fact.

The litany of past dislikes was presented over a dinner of
scallops in tomato beurre blanc sauce, zucchini ribbons over arugula with mint+olive vinaigrette, green beans in Meyer lemon vinaigrette+Parmeasan breadcrumbs, and white peach + blueberry crumble. Had I been 12 years old, I would have eaten only the crumble. But now, 25 years later, I had made dinner with the help of my mom and dad, and Mom made the crumble. Dad whisked the entire beurre blanc sauce while I threw in the butter chunks. 

It’s hard to describe how perfect that moment was, but watching my dad whisk a half pound of butter with a fish spatula because there was no whisk while I explained viscosity while he looked at me suspiciously is something I’ll always remember. I’ll also remember when they both tasted the sauce for the first time, and their eyes lit up with surprise and delight. A great day of cooking and a great dinner. And the kids slept soundly. Really perfect.

So, in honor of all the foods I used to hate and now simply couldn’t live without, let’s have some tomatoes. And homemade ricotta. Olive vinaigrette. Everything the young me would have hated but the old me finds irresistible.

We’re in the midst of incredible tomatoes, nearly swimming in them at the farmers’ market. Put this on your “must make this week” list before you have to wait another year to get a decent tomato. Unless you’re in some magical greenhouse-type of environment and can get awesome tomatoes whenever you want. Then you do whatever you want. And know that I am jealous.


You can use store-bought ricotta, but try to be brave and make your own. Really, the homemade ricotta is rich and creamy. Better than anything in a plastic tub. And you look really cool when your wife walks in and sees you wringing out the cheesecloth, making cheese. But do what you have to do.


Yes, this is another Barbara Lynch-inspired creation. Why haven’t you bought her book, Stir, yet? I don’t mean to yell at you, but you really need to explain yourself. Why? What else do I need to say to convince you? Your life is more empty than you can imagine without Stir. We make a recipe from it about every 7-10 days. The only things more constant in our life than Barbara Lynch are diapers and wine. Could I live without Barbara Lynch? Sure. But it would be a sad life. Buy it.

recipe | ricotta-stuffed heirloom tomatoes with black olive vinaigrette and brioche croutons (via Barbara Lynch)

  • 6 ripe medium tomatoes (Chef Lynch recommends peeling. That would be nice. I am lazy and left the skins on)
  • 1.5 c ricotta (Homemade is recommended. Here’s a good recipe from Chef Lynch has her own approach, so, you know, buy it)
  • 1 t salt
  • 1/2 t pepper
  • 6 marinated white anchovy fillets (optional, Chef Lynch warns not to substitute in regular anchovies; we couldn’t find them at our Whole Foods, so we omitted them.)
  • brioche croutons (see below)
  • 1/4 c thinly sliced radishes
  • 1/4 c celery heart leaves
  • 1/4 c thinly sliced scallions
  • 1/4 c basil leaves (small or torn into pieces)
  • Black Olive Vinaigrette (see below)

make the black olive vinaigrette

We've cut in half the olive oil and tripled the vinegar from what Chef Lynch lists to suit our tastes. You should do whatever suits you. Not that you need permission. Just saying.

  • 2 T golden raisins
  • 1/4 c oil cured black olives, pitted (My preference.Chef Lynch uses Nicoise.)
  • 1 T finely chopped shallots
  • 3 T sherry vinegar
  • 1 t lemon juice
  • Kosher salt
  • Fresh black pepper
  • 1 T finely chopped parsley
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
Mix the raisins, olives, shallots, vinegar, and lemon juice. Drizzle in the olive oil while whisking. Salt and pepper to taste. Right before serving, add in the parsley and whisk like you’re violently angry.

brioche croutons

  • Get some brioche. Cube it. Heat a pan on medium. Olive oil. Throw in the bread cubes. Stir. Salt and pepper. 
  • Chef Lynch uses saffron. We did, too. You can if you feel like it; just throw in a bunch with the olive oil.

prep the tomatoes

  • Remove the core from the top of the tomato (insert a sharp knife tip outside the stem and cut a tomato cone to lift out the core). Insert the handle of a thin wooden spoon into the exposed tomato. Stir it around to loosen up the seeds and membranes. It’s like a tomato lobotomy. Dump the tomato guts into a bowl and use it for a nice pasta sauce. Wait, who are we kidding? We’re not going to do that. Dump it in the sink and move on with life.
  • OK, the tomatoes are ready. Salt the inside cavity of the tomatoes. Not a ton, but salt them.

prep the ricotta

  • Put the ricotta in a bowl. Salt and pepper it. Taste. You might want to season it some more. Trust me. Don’t be shy. It’s just dairy fat. 
  • Shove the seasoned ricotta into a resealable plastic storage bag. Snip off a bottom tip, big enough to easily fill the tomato cavity without a giant mess.

put it all together

  • Fill up your tomatoes with ricotta.
  • Place each tomato on to a plate, cut side down. Place an anchovy on each plate in an artsy way. Sprinkle around the tomato (think a ring of tastiness) the croutons, celery leaves, scallions, radishes, and basil. Make it pretty, kids. Then spoon on top of the ring of tastiness the black olive vinaigrette.
  • Sprinkle the whole plate, especially the tomato, with Kosher salt (fleur de sel would be better).
  • Nice work. You made your own ricotta! You are awesome. Unless you didn't, in which case know that it would taste even better had you been more brave. Next time.
  • Eat.

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Reader Comments (12)

Wonderful post. Very nicely written - I almost felt like I was there while you all made dinner together. What a wonderful memory you'll have of that day. And, tomatoes, ricotta and such a wonderful dressing. Nothing better.

Well, I have to disagree slightly... green peppers are OK. It's the olives that are the abomination! ;) I totally understand your post! I spent my life avoiding tomatoes like the plague, but this summer I've gone nuts for them and bogged a number of recipes. My dad laughs ever time he sees one!
I'm so glad you had such a good time with your parents, it's memories like these that make you smile for years to come.

August 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKim - Liv Life

What a fun story and that sounds like the most delectable meal!

Ok... I'm going to get that book... I promise. For my birthday ;-)

August 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterA Thought For Food

So glad you turned the corner from picky to a real foodie!

August 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKristen

I'm coming over for dinner. Every night. It's okay, I'll give the kids my croutons. I don't mind.

August 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMir

Looks glorious!

August 27, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterravienomnoms

I totally agree...there are so many things I used to hate that now I love, with stuffing being at the top of the list. This looks lovely and I'll have to give it a try!

August 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTracy

I had a conversation with my aunt the other day about all the foods I used to hate. She was shocked to discover that I now eat fish, seafood,mushrooms, oh and salad dressing (I hated dressing as a kid). Its funny how tastes change over time.

Gorgeous and yes, homemade ricotta can be so creamy. I just spoonfeed myself.

August 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterClaudia

MMmm, tomatoes and ricotta are the perfect friends, and I love the idea of black olive vinaigrette! :)

August 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterThe Cilantropist

I'm with you. It's funny how your tastes change over time! Gorgeous dish!

August 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterA SPICY PERSPECTIVE

Isn't it interesting how our tastes change as we get older? I remember how much hated pumpkin as a child; now it's all I can think about now that Thanksgiving is right around the corner. Great post!

October 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNatasha

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