French Cooking: Tomates à la provençale

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The tomato is a very well-traveled vegetable. The natives of South America were the first to discover tomatoes and in the 16th century, the conquistadors returned to Europe with fresh tomatoes. The Europeans thought they might be a good aphrodisiac but refrained from eating them regularly. Some even considered them poisonous, and even up to the 19th century it was recommended to boil them for several hours before eating.  Since tomatoes grow very well in the warm Mediterranean regions, they gradually became part of the cuisine of those areas. Fortunately, the tomato returned to the New World. The French and Italian immigrants brought seeds with them to plant in America and the Spanish colonists brought them to the Caribbean, Florida and Texas. In France, there are many varieties of tomatoes on the market. These include the cerise (cocktail), allongée (plum tomato), ronde (basic round tomato) which is wonderful for salads, côtelée, which is perfect to stuff, and grappes (to be eaten in salads or cut in half with just a little salt and pepper).  When choosing tomatoes, press lightly with your finger-they should be rather ripe. Select very red and firm tomatoes. Never store them in the refrigerator since they will lose their flavor and texture, instead keep them in a basket in your kitchen. To peel tomatoes easily, just place them in boiling water for several seconds and then plunge them into cold water. The skin will just peel off. Tomatoes are extremely healthy; four ounces of tomatoes total only 20 calories. They are rich in vitamin C, carotene, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus. Once again I am offering a recipe that I learned from my French mother-in-law. Tomates à la provençale is a simple recipe to make and a wonderful way to use ripe tomatoes. My belle-mère would buy the ripest and juiciest tomatoes she could find. On one of the ocassions that she made this dish for my husband, I suggested that we could place them on top of a bed of rice and make a whole meal out of it. Either way they are wonderful!  Here is the simple and delicious recipe for baked tomato halves. Don’t forget to choose the ripest, juiciest and largest tomatoes.  Tomates à la provençaleBaked TomatoesFor 4 personsPreparation and cooking time: 30 minutes 6 tomatoes, halved 3 tbsp. olive oil 2 tsp. sugar salt and pepper, to taste 3 cloves of garlic, minced 4 sprigs parsley, chopped 3 tbsp. breadcrumbs 3 cups cooked rice  In a large skillet heat the olive oil. Add the tomatoes, cut side down. Let cook over medium high heat for five minutes. Then turn the tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes on the other side. Turn again and sprinkle with sugar and cook for three minutes. Turn again and cook for three minutes. Turn over once more. Mix the garlic and parsley together to make a persillade (mixed garlic and parsley). Sprinkle the tops of the tomatoes with the garlic/parsley. Spoon some of the oil on top. Remove from heat. Preheat the oven to 400. Place the cooked rice in a oven-proof dish. Carefully place the halved tomatoes on top of the rice. Sprinkle with the breadcrumbs. Place in the oven and heat for 10 minutes.  Et voilà!
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