Tomato steaks au poivre; Semolina dumpling baked in tomatoes; roasted red salad stuffed heirloom

Giant heirloom

It’s hard not to become defensive when you grow up in New Jersey. From an early age, you’re aware that you’re the butt of jokes – not just the jokes of snarky Manhattanites, but of pretty much everybody, everywhere. You hear stereotypes about New Jersey accents, New Jersey styles of dress, New Jersey music. You know, of course, that those accents and styles of dress actually originate in certain boroughs of Manhattan, and the attribution is false, but you grow tired of explaining that. People drive from New York to Philly and see the ugliest part of New Jersey – the Strip malls and refineries. You think about telling them that where you live, there’s nothing but vast expanses of beautiful countryside, but you don’t want everybody moving here, so you keep quiet. You know that Jersey is overpopulated, but that population is incredibly diverse, which means that we have a rich culture of languages, art, and food. We have mountains and beaches and meadows. We have a sense of humor about ourselves – we have to – it’s a survival instinct. We’re adaptable and tolerant – living so close to your neighbors (as you do in much of the state) you learn to respect them and care for them.

Baked semolina dumpling tomatoes

And we have tomatoes! Jersey tomatoes – pride of the garden state! At the moment I have a bewildering number of tomatoes! But I’ve had a lot of fun thinking of ways to prepare them. We had some big, beautiful heirloom tomatoes. I scooped out some of the flesh and replaced it with semolina dumpling batter. I baked the tomatoes, and made the flesh into a sauce with chard and basil.

Tomato chard sauce

The semolina has a lovely, soft texture that absorbs the tomato-y juices. Then I thought about giant slices of tomatoes that feel like steaks, and I decided to coat them in pepper, fry them in a little butter, and then use the juices to make a sauce, with shallots, garlic, and wine. It made a nice side dish, and I think it would be nice over angel hair pasta. Finally, we had an heirloom tomato the size of a small pumpkin. I decided to open it in thick slices, and stuff a flavorful salad into the spaces – roasted red peppers, fresh mozzarella, capers, olives, and fresh basil. Fresh and delicious!

Tomato steaks au poivre

Here’s Tom Waits with Jersey Girl


(The first time I made this, I used crushed pepper, and it was too hot to eat. The second time I used ground pepper – much better!)

1 large ripe tomato, cut across in 1/3 inch slices
lots of freshly ground pepper – on a plate
2 T + 2 T butter
1 shallot – minced
1 clove garlic – minced
1 t thyme
1/2 t green peppercorns, crushed
small handful fresh basil, cleaned and chopped
1/3 cup red wine
1 T balsamic
salt to taste

Warm a large skillet over medium heat. Melt two tablespoons of butter. Meanwhile, dip each slice of tomato in the pepper, lightly coating each side. You don’t want it too thick or it will be too hot to eat! When the butter is just starting to brown, add the tomato slices, and fry for a few minutes on each side, till they’re just a bit soft. Move to a plate and set aside.

Using the same pan, melt 2 more tablespoons of butter. When it starts to brown, add the shallot and cook till it’s translucent and starting to brown. Add the garlic, thyme and green peppercorns. Cook for a minute or two.

Add the red wine, and scrape the bottom of the pan to be sure all the yummy flavorful bits are stirred into the sauce. When the wine is reduced, and thickened and syrupy, add a few tablespoons of water (you can use any juice that accumulated from the tomato slices.) Add the butter and balsamic. Purée the sauce. Salt to taste. Drizzle the sauce over the tomato “steaks” and serve. Or use to top a plate of pasta or rice!


3 large ripe tomatoes
2 1/2 cups milk
1 t oregano
1 t thyme
1 t salt
1 cup semolina flour
3 T butter
3 eggs
1 cup grated mozzarella
freshly ground pepper

1 T olive oil
1 shallot – finely chopped
1 clove garlic – minced
1 small bunch of chard – washed and finely chopped
1 large handful fresh basil, washed and chopped
1 t smoked paprika
1 t rosemary
1/2 t red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1 T butter
1 t balsamic
salt and plenty of pepper

Preheat the oven to 400

Warm the milk in a medium-sized saucepan with the oregano, thyme and salt. When it’s just starting to boil, stir in the semolina – beat till smooth.

Cook, stirring, for a few minutes, till the mixture is thick and harder to stir. Remove from the heat. Let it cool for a few minutes. Stir in the butter and cheese. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.

Butter two small baking sheets.

Cut the very top off, and hollow out the tomatoes, leaving about 1/2 an inch of flesh on the skins. Reserve the flesh for the sauce.

Spoon semolina batter into each tomato. Place the tomatoes close to one another.Spread the leftover semolina batter on the other buttered baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes, till the tops of the semolina start to brown.

Meanwhile, warm the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the shallot and cook till it starts to brown. Then add the garlic. When the garlic starts to brown add the red pepper flakes, rosemary, chard and a tablespoon or two of water. Stir and cook until the chard is wilted.

Chop the insides of the tomatoes, and add them to the chard, along with smoked paprika. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until the chard is as soft as you like. Add the balsamic, butter, basil, pine nuts, salt, and plenty of freshly ground pepper. Serve with the baked tomatoes, and wedges of semolina dumpling.


1 red pepper – roasted or broiled, skin and seeds removed, roughly chopped
1 medium-sized tomato, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic – toasted or roasted, chopped or smushed
1 large handful fresh basil – washed and chopped
1 small handful parsley – washed and chopped (optional)
1/2 cup kalamata olives – pitted and chopped
1 t capers
olive oil to coat
splash of balsamic
salt and plenty of pepper
1/2 cup fresh mozzarella, chopped into bite-sized pieces

Combine all of the salad ingredients. Season with salt and plenty of pepper.

Cut the top off of a very large ripe tomato. Slice into it but not all the way through in four or five places. Spread it open slightly, and spoon heaps of red pepper/basil/olive mixture into the spaces. Cut slices off and scoop the filling on top onto people’s plates.


6 thoughts on “Tomato steaks au poivre; Semolina dumpling baked in tomatoes; roasted red salad stuffed heirloom

  1. I’m just reading Richard Ford’s Frank Bascombe trilogy (at least I think it’s a trilogy – for now), backwards in fact, which is set in NJ and makes it sound wonderful! Do you know it?

    And I prefer Bruce’s Jersey Girl, but then I would, wouldn’t I?

  2. Fantastic! Now I just have to find some tomatoes worthy of these recipes. I find it difficult to get good tomatoes in Delaware. I had something similar to the tomato steaks au poivre in St. Louis once. The tomato slices were dredge in corn meal/pepper mixture before frying and served with a sweet strawberry balsamic vinegar sauce. The sauce was pretty meh but the tomatoes were great. The semolina dumplings sound just awesome.

  3. This looks like a delicious use of surplus tomatoes! Your Jersey sounds beautiful compared to what’s available to view on TV these day! 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s