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~ Saffron Rice, Pignoli & Pea Stuffed Tomatoes ~

PICT2705This rice side-dish is an absolute Preschutti family favorite.  When my son was young, whether I was preparing something as simple as broiled fish or something as elaborate as ossobuco, he would wander into the kitchen and inevitably ask, "are you making spicy rice tonight"?  Jess was one heck of a picky eater, but, go figure, spicy saffron rice was my then 5-year-old son's side-dish of choice.  Presently, you'll find him serving it to his 5-year-old son as a side-dish to a grilled flank steak.  When Joe's 86 year old mother moved here to Happy Valley four years ago, she had never tasted it.  It's my "job" to cook her meals, and, once a week, without fail, she asks for "that rice that Mel makes"!

6a0120a8551282970b0134866e5cd5970c-320wiI am a tomato lover.  Whether it's garden tomatoes at their peak being stuffed with fresh ingredients and eaten cold, or Wintery tomatoes being stuffed with precooked fillings then baked, I adore tomatoes stuffed with just about anything. While this rice is great served "as is", it is super-wonderful, freshly made or leftover, placed in hollowed out tomato shells and baked for about 20 minutes.  You can find my instructions for ~ How to: Hollow Out Tomatoes for Stuffing Them ~ in Categories 4 or 15.  Besides being a comforting side dish, stuffed tomatoes are a very tasty vessel to individually portion and elegantly present all kinds of savory food in!

170px-Crocus_sativus_01_by_Line1A bit about saffron:  It's no wonder that saffron, the red-gold stigmas from a small, purple, fall-flowering crocus (crocus sativus), is the world's most expensive spice.  Each flower provides only three stigmas, which must be carefully picked by hand and then dried, which is an extremely labor-intensive process.  It takes over 14,000 of these tiny stigmas to produce 1 ounce of saffron.  As far back as 1500 b.c., saffron was used not only to flavor food and beverages, but also to make medicines, body oils, perfumes and cloth a deep yellow-orange color.  It was highly-prized by pharoahs and kings as an aphrodisiac, but in large amounts, it is a deadly narcotic.  Today, this pungent aromatic spice is primarily used to flavor and tint food. Fortunately (because it is a bit pricy), a little goes a long way!

PICT2692Saffron is integral to the preparation of many dishes like bouillabaisse, risotto Milanese, paella, pilaf and is also used to flavor many European baked goods. Iran is the largest producer of saffron but Spain is the largest exporter.  It is marketed in powdered form or in threads (whole stigmas).  Powdered saffron loses its flavor quickly and is easily altered with imitation ingredients. For that reason, I don't purchase it. The threads, which should be crushed just before adding them to whatever is being cooked, should be stored in a cool, dry, dark place!















12  medium-size, vine-ripened tomatoes, about 5-6 ounces each, or:

6  large-size, vine-ripened tomatoes, about 9-10 ounces each


2  ounces butter (1/2 stick)

1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes

1  0.5 gram packet saffron threads, about 1/2-3/4  teaspoon crushed saffron

1  cup finely diced yellow or sweet onion

2  cups water

1  cup white wine

1/2  pound Vigo yellow rice, or, long-grain white rice

1/2  cup pine nuts (pinoli), lightly toasted

1  cup frozen peas, unthawed

PICT2689~ Step 1.  Prep the tomatoes as directed and set aside.  Prep the onion as directed.  Place the pine nuts in a baking pan and roast on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, until lightly toasted and fragrant, about 8-10 minutes, stopping to toss with a spoon about every 3-4 minutes.  Remove the peas from the freezer and set aside.

PICT2690~ Step 2.  In a 4-quart stockpot melt the butter over low heat.  Stir in the red pepper flakes and crushed saffron threads.  Add the onion. Adjust heat to medium-high and saute, until onion is soft and translucent, about 4-5 minutes.

PICT2692Add the water and wine.  Adjust heat to a boil.

PICT2688~ Step 3.  Gradually sprinkle in the rice.  Give the mixture a quick stir, adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer, cover and continue to cook until rice has absorbed almost all of the liquid, about 18-20 minutes.  Do not uncover or stir the rice during the simmering process.  

PICT2688Remove from heat and "rake" though rice with a fork.

PICT2689~ Step 4.  Stir in the pine nuts and frozen peas.  Recover the pot and set aside about 30-45 minutes or longer, stirring occasionally. Ideally, the rice should be at room temperature or just slightly warm prior to stuffing the tomatoes, particularly if you want to stuff the tomatoes several hours prior to baking them.  Note:  If you want to stuff and bake the tomatoes immediately, thaw the peas prior to adding them to the hot rice.

PICT2691~ Step 5.  To stuff and bake the tomatoes, spoon and gently press as much of the rice mixture as will comfortably fit into each tomato, finishing by forming a mound of rice on the top of each.  Place tomatoes in muffin pans and bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven until heated through, about 20-25 minutes.  Do not overcook.  Serve immediately:



Saffron Rice, Pignoli & Pea Stuffed Tomatoes:  Recipe yields about 6 cups of rice, and/or 6 large or 12 smaller stuffed tomatoes.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; serrated knife; grapefruit knife, grapefruit spoon; paper towels; small baking pan; 4-quart saucepan or stockpot; fork; large spoon; 1-2 standard-size muffin pans, preferably nonstick, enough for 6-12 tomatoes

Cook's Note:  The Italian word for and spelling of pine nut is "pinoli".  Here in the US, it's spelled pignoli, but in Italian, the word "pignolo" refers to an extremely organized, fastidious person!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012) 


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BSO! Thank YOU for the comment!

Excellent blog very nice and unique information related to Saffron. Thanks for sharing this information

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