Crab and Avocado Stuffed Tomatoes

27 08 2009
Crab and Avocado Stuffed Tomatoes

Crab and Avocado Stuffed Tomatoes

Summer is winding down but there’s still time to host an outdoor party before the evenings turn chilly.  Miniature tomatoes stuffed with a little bit of avocado and crab salad are always a hit and are easy to put together.  This dish was inspired by a salad I had on my honeymoon in France.  We enjoyed a fantastic multi-course lunch one day while overlooking the Mediterranean – everything was local and seasonal, including rosé wine, fish, vegetables and a salad of tomatoes and crab.  I took this idea and turned it into small bites that can be eaten as hors d’oeuvres but you could always serve it as a first course if you’d prefer.  Just use larger tomatoes and adjust the number of servings accordingly.  You can substitute lobster meat for the crab if desired.  

Crab and Avocado Stuffed Tomatoes

Makes 12 hors d’oeuvres (recipe can easily be doubled)

  • 12 cocktail or large grape tomatoes (about the size of a ping pong ball)
  • 1-1/2 cups cooked crabmeat (approximately 6 oz.) or lobster meat
  • 2 Tablespoons Hellman’s or Best Foods style mayonnaise
  • 1 Tablespoon very finely diced red onion
  • 1 Tablespoon very finely diced celery
  • 1 Tablespoon finely diced red or yellow pepper
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped Italian (flat leaf) parsley
  • 1 teaspoon chopped chives, plus extra for garnish
  • 1 very ripe Haas avocado, skin and pit removed
  • 1 Tablespoon sour cream
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Using a sharp knife, cut a small sliver from the bottom of each tomato so it makes the bottom flat enough for them to stand upright without rolling over.
  2. Cut the top ¼ off the tomatoes. Scoop out the seeds and pulp and discard (be careful not to scoop right through the bottom of the tomato). Set tomatoes aside.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the crabmeat, mayonnaise, onion, celery, red pepper, parsley, chives, salt and pepper. Mix until thoroughly combined. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
  4. In a small bowl, combine avocado, sour cream and salt and mash with a fork until smooth.
  5. To assemble: Spoon a small scoop of avocado mixture into the bottom of each hollowed out tomato. Top with a spoonful of the crabmeat and garnish with chives.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

This recipe first appeared on Suite

Roasted Cherry Tomato Pasta

19 08 2009


Mid-August is peak tomato season and usually markets are bursting with all shapes and sizes of the delicious fruit (yes, tomatoes are fruit).  However, this year many areas have been plagued with cold, wet weather and an unfortunate blight has taken a toll on vines in some regions.  The few local tomatoes I’ve tried have been tasteless and mealy but I’m hoping to find better specimens in coming weeks.  I have found that smaller cherry, grape and cocktail tomatoes have been sweeter and juicier than the field varieties I’ve tried.

If field tomatoes are poor in your area, why not make a delicious dish with cherry tomatoes?  They should be easy to find at most markets and roasting them concentrates their flavours, giving them a sweet and slightly charred flavour.  Turned into a simple sauce with fresh herbs, garlic and olive oil, it makes delicious vegetarian summer meal.  

Click here to get the recipe from a recent Suite article I wrote:  Roasted Cherry Tomato Pasta

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

Roasted Cherry Tomato Spaghetti

Roasted Cherry Tomato Spaghetti

Winter Caprese Salad

26 02 2009


Roasted tomatoes, oregano and balsamic vinegar make this salad suitable for winter

Roasted tomatoes, oregano and balsamic vinegar make a caprese salad suitable for winter

One of the most popular posts on this site is for Caprese Salad.  I did a feature last summer about composing this classic salad in various ways.  Because of the recipe’s simplicity, the key to a perfect caprese salad is selecting top notch ingredients. Unfortunately, it’s February and quality tomatoes and fresh basil aren’t available to most of us.  So why not improvise and create a winter version?  

Roasting winter tomatoes enhances their flavour, making them suitable for this salad. They don’t look as pretty as fresh slices but their sweetness will make you forget about their appearance.  A drizzle of balsamic vinegar gives the salad a bit of body and an extra boost of flavour.  I use oregano instead of basil because it has a heartier taste that stands up nicely to the roasted tomatoes.

Winter Caprese

Like my summer caprese post, this is less of a recipe than a guideline.  If you use the roasted tomato recipe I posted last year, it will yield 16 tomato halves.  Roasting the tomatoes takes some time but once the prep work is done, they go into the oven until they’re done.  I find that winter tomatoes take a bit longer to roast than summer ones so add an extra 30 minutes or so to the roasting time if nessecary.

  • Roasted tomatoes – sprinkled with oregano instead of thyme
  • Fresh mozzarella, cut into slices about 1/2″ thick.  The number of slices should be equal to the number of tomato halves used.
  • Finely chopped fresh oregano
  • Good quality olive oil, to drizzle over salad
  • Decent quality balsamic vinegar, to drizzle over salad
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Fresh ground pepper
  1. Arrange slices of mozzarella and roasted tomatoes on a platter, alternating and overlapping them.  Drizzle with a spoonful of olive oil and another of balsamic vinegar.
  2. Sprinkle salad with chopped oregano, sea salt and fresh ground pepper.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

Bucatini All’Amatriciana

28 11 2008


The view from Cortona, Italy

Overlooking the Tuscan countryside from Cortona, Italy

While visiting Cortona, Italy in 2007, I had a memorable lunch on a terrace one day. It was a simple meal of bucatini all’amatriciana, a glass of Chianti and some vanilla gelato for dessert. Simple though it was, it remains one of my favourite dining experiences: stunning views, beautiful weather, good company and food that was simple yet perfect.  When making recipes that rely on few ingredients, it’s important that you use the best quality you can find.  

I was reminded of that lunch recently when I was trying to figure out something to make for dinner that was quick and easy.   Even though this is typically a summer sauce, it works for cooler months when you can use good quality canned tomatoes. It’s the perfect dish when the weather is gloomy and you want to be reminded of warm, lazy summer afternoons.  

Bucatini is a long pasta that looks like thick spaghetti but is hollow in the centre, like a very long piece of macaroni.  I prefer De Cecco brand but any kind will suffice.  If you can’t find bucatini, use penne or spaghetti instead.  Pancetta is made from Italian cured, unsmoked pork belly and is similar to bacon, while guincale is made from the pig’s jowls.  Regular bacon can easily be substituted but it will give the dish a smokier flavour (however, it will still be delicious!).

An interesting note: bucatini all’amatriciana originated in the town of Amatrice in Lazio, about 180 kilometres from Cortona so it is not a traditionally Tuscan dish (Italian cooking is very regional!). However, it is popular throughout Italy and around the world.

Bucatini all’Amatriciana

Makes 6 to 8 servings


  • 8 oz. (230 g) diced pancetta OR guincale OR bacon (about 5 rashers of bacon)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (to taste)
  • 28 oz. (796 ml) can good quality whole tomatoes
  • 5.5 fl. oz. (156 ml) can tomato paste
  • 1/2 to 1 Tablespoon sugar, to taste
  • Salt to taste
  • Optional: 2 Tablespoon fresh basil
  • Grated pecorino romano OR parmesan cheese to finish
  • 500 g (about 1 lb.) bucatini OR penne


  1. Heat an enameled cast iron pot or large skillet on medium-high heat and add pancetta/bacon cubes. Cook until they’re beginning to crisp, about 7 minutes.  Remove from the pan and set aside.
  2. Drain off all but 1 Tablespoon of the rendered fat from the bacon (if there is very little fat left in the pan, add 1 Tbsp. olive oil).  Add onions and sauté until they’re beginning to soften, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Add garlic and red pepper flakes.  Sauté for another minute.
  3. Add tomatoes and break up with a spoon.  Reduce heat to medium low and let sauce simmer for about 20 minutes.  Return pancetta/bacon to sauce, add tomato paste and season with sugar, salt and pepper.  Add basil, if using.  Let sauce simmer for another 10 minutes while the pasta is cooking. (See ‘How to Cook Perfect Pasta‘ for tips).
  4. Drain bucatini and add to sauce.  Toss until pasta is evenly coated with sauce.  Serve with grated pecorino romano or parmesan cheese.


Bucatini all'Amatriciana with basil leaf garnish

Buono Appetit and Enjoy!

Heirloom Tomato Salad with Goat Cheese and Sherry Vinaigrette

11 09 2008

I recently paid a visit to Harvest restaurant in the bucolic countryside of Eastern Ontario (see Late Summer in Wine Country).  Chef/owner Michael Potters bases his menus on what is in season and available, sourcing as much as possible from local purveyors. One of the salads on the menu was an heirloom tomato and Fifth Town goat cheese salad with sherry vinaigrette.  It inspired me to come up with my own version.  It’s similar to a caprese salad but the goat cheese and dressing give it a bit of a different flavour.

If you don’t like goat cheese (and I must admit, it’s not my personal favourite), you can use any kind of creamy mild cheese, such as a creamy sheep’s milk cheese, mild feta or even fresh mozzarella.  Because this salad is so simple, it’s important to use the very best ingredients you can find so skip it if you can’t find good tomatoes.   Sherry vinegar should be available at most grocery stores.  This salad makes a great starter or light lunch with some crusty bread.

Heirloom Tomato Salad with Goat Cheese and Sherry Vinaigrette

Makes 4 appetizer sized servings


  • 5 or 6 medium to large mixed heirloom tomatoes 
  • 4 oz. mild goat cheese OR other soft cheese, such as feta, sheep cheese or fresh mozzarella
  • Fresh ground pepper and sea salt, to taste
  • Fresh chopped thyme leaves, to sprinkle over and garnish salad
  • Sherry Vinaigrette (see recipe below)
Sherry Vinaigrette
  • 3 Tablespoons neutral oil, such as canola or safflower
  • 1 Tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh chopped thyme leaves
  • Pinch of salt
  1. To make vinaigrette: In a small bowl, add all ingredients and whisk until combined.  
  2. To assemble salad: Cut tomatoes into thick slices, discarding the part where the stem was attached. Arrange tomatoes on a serving platter OR as individual servings.
  3. Break goat cheese up with your fingers and sprinkle over tomatoes.  Spoon dressing over salad and sprinkle with sea salt and ground pepper.
  4. Garnish with thyme leaves.
Bon Appetit and Enjoy!

Slow Roasted Tomatoes

4 09 2008

With tomato season in full swing, it’s the perfect opportunity to take advantage of their abundance by trying different tomato-based recipes.   This slow roasted tomato recipe was inspired by the Pomodoro Al Forno recipe that appeared in the September 2008 issue of Bon Appetit magazine.  I have adjusted the seasonings and simplified the technique so that you can just let them cook without having to turn them part way through.  The secret to success is ensuring that you cook the tomatoes long enough – if you do, the results are impressive.  I give a few suggestions of how to use them at the end of the recipe. 

This recipe can also be made in the winter with greenhouse plum tomatoes that you wouldn’t normally want to eat – the roasting process concentrates the flavour so the resulting flavour is sweet and vibrant.  

Slow Roasted Tomatoes


  • 8 medium sized plum tomatoes, peeled and seeded  – See ‘How to Peel Tomatoes’
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh oregano OR chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 large garlic clove, roughly chopped
  • 3/4 cup olive oil 
  • 3/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit
  2. Place peeled and seeded tomato halves in a large roasting pan, cut side up. Pour pour olive oil over tomatoes and ensure that oil covers the bottom of the pan.
  3. Sprinkle tomatoes with fresh chopped herbs, chopped garlic, sea salt, sugar and balsamic vinegar, making sure it is evenly distributed.
  4. Roast tomatoes for 2 hours.  Check on them at 2 hours for progress.  Continue cooking until they have collapsed and turned dark red, approximately 40 more minutes.  
  5. Serve with your favourite dishes.

Serving Suggestions

These tomatoes are very versatile.  You can basically use them anywhere you want a rich, concentrated tomato flavour, such as:

  • Tossed with your favorite pasta.  Add a bit of fresh oregano or basil and top with grated parmesan.
  • For an hors d’oeuvre at your next cocktail party: Cut a baguette into rounds.  Toast baguette slices and rub with a peeled garlic clove.  Spread a spoonful of ricotta cheese on each round and top with chopped roasted tomato
  • Layer tomatoes in a small baking dish.  Top with grated parmesan cheese and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown, approximately 20 minutes.  Serve as a side dish to grilled or roasted meats.
  • Place a couple of spoonfuls of roasted tomato inside a grilled cheese (try it with aged cheddar!).  
  • Top a homemade pizza with roasted tomatoes instead of your regular tomato sauce.
  • Compose a caprese salad with fresh buffalo mozzarella and basil.  This is a great idea in the winter when fresh tomatoes are less than stellar.
  • Use tomatoes in a lasagne – layer tomatoes with other roasted or grilled vegetables, such as zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms and tomatoes.
  • Just eat them on their own!  
  • Use your imagination – the possibilities are practically endless!
Slow Roasted Tomatoes

Slow Roasted Tomatoes

Bon Appetit and Enjoy!

Kitchen Tip of the Week – How to Peel Tomatoes (and Soft Fruit)

3 09 2008


It’s prime tomato season right now so many people are interested in canning them or making batches of sauce to preserve through the winter.  This method can also be used to peel soft fruit, such as peaches or plums.   

How to Peel Tomatoes (or soft fruit)

You’ll need:

  • Tomatoes or other soft fruit such as peaches or plums
  • A large bowl filled with ice water
  • A large stockpot, filled with water and brought to a boil
  • A sharp knife
  • A slotted spoon or colander



1. Cut an 'X' in the bottom of each tomato with a sharp knife, making sure you cut all the way through the skin
1. Cut an ‘X’ in the bottom of each tomato with a sharp knife, making sure you cut all the way through the skin



Place tomatoes in pot of boiling water for 40 seconds
2. Place tomatoes in pot of boiling water for approximately 40 seconds



3. Using a slotted spoon, remove tomatoes from boiling water and place them immediately into ice water
3. Using a slotted spoon, remove tomatoes from boiling water and place them immediately in ice water



4. Peel skin from the bottom of the tomato - it should pull off without any trouble
4. Peel skin from the bottom of the tomato – it should pull off without any trouble



5. Cut tomatoes in half.  Scoop out the seeds trim the stem end.  Your tomatoes are now ready to use!
5. Cut tomatoes in half. Scoop out the seeds trim the stem end. Your tomatoes are now ready to use!








Tomato Tart with Herbed Ricotta

21 08 2008

Because tomato season is so short, I’m trying to make as many tomato recipes as possible before they’re gone and we’re stuck with tasteless imports again.  I visited the farmer’s market today and picked up a variety of different tomatoes from plum to miniature heirlooms.   The plum tomatoes didn’t really look that great so I was pleasantly surprised when I tasted one and discovered that they were sweet and flavourful.

For this recipe, it’s important to use plum tomatoes because they have less liquid inside and won’t make the dough soggy.  It’s also imperative that you slice them very thinly or they won’t cook properly.  A mandoline is the best tool but a very sharp knife will also work.  You could serve small squares of this as an appetizer or serve larger portions with a salad for a main dish.

Tomato Tart with Herbed Ricotta

Makes approximately 8 appetizer sized servings


  • 1/2 package of puffed pastry, thawed
  • 1-1/2 cups thinly sliced plum tomatoes – approximately 6 plum tomatoes, sliced 1/8″ thick
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh oregano + extra for garnish
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 2 Tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • Sea salt


  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. In a medium sized bowl, mix together ricotta, garlic, 2 teaspoons oregano, thyme, parsley, 1/4 teaspoon salt and parmesan cheese.  Stir to combine thoroughly. Set aside.
  3. Roll puff pastry out to a rectangle about 9″ X 12″.
  4. Spread ricotta evenly over dough.  Top ricotta with tomato slices (some tomatoes may be overlapping or doubled).
  5. Sprinkle tomatoes with sea salt and fresh oregano.
  6. Bake tart for 20 to 25 minutes or until pastry is golden brown along the edges and on the bottom. Cut into squares to serve.  Tip: a round pizza cutter is a good way to cut the tart cleanly but a sharp knife will work as well. 

Bon Appetit and Enjoy!


Caprese Salad

19 08 2008

Caprese Salad (Insalata Caprese in Italian) is a classic summer salad that is very simple to put together.  The key to success with this salad is to use the very best ingredients you possibly can.  When you use tomatoes at their peak, good quality mozzarella and olive oil and fresh picked basil, it’s truly a special dish. However, if you use sub-par ingredients and poor quality tomatoes, it can be pretty mundane.  Save it for summertime – it just won’t be the same with January’s tomatoes!

This is not really even a recipe, just some guidelines on what to use for the best result.  I have shown some suggestions on how to compose your salad: stacked, as a chopped salad, layered on a platter or as stuffed tomatoes.  You could also toss the ingredients with pasta or layer them in a baguette for a refreshing summer sandwich.

Insalata Caprese 101



  • Ripe tomatoes, in the prime of their season.  Any type of tomato that is top quality will do – heirlooms are good, as are plum tomatoes, cherry tomatoes and cocktail tomatoes.


  • Fresh mozzarella – Buffalo mozzarella is preferable but cow will also work.  The best kinds can usually be found at a good cheese counter or shop and are kept in liquid.  Ask your cheesemonger for recommendations.  Avoid pre-packaged block mozzarella from the supermarket as it does not have the same flavour or texture.
  • Fresh Mozzarella Balls

  • Extra virgin olive oil – A decent olive oil is essential.  I typically use ones from Tuscany or Spain.






Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

  • Fresh Basil.  The fresher the better, preferably from your own herb garden.  Don’t even think about using dried basil from a jar!
Fresh Basil

Fresh Basil


  • Sea Salt.  This adds the finishing touch and a salty crunch to your salad.
Sea Salt

Sea Salt


Putting it All Together

Now that you’ve assembled your ingredients, you can compose you salad however you choose.   Typically the tomatoes, basil and cheese are layered and then sprinkled with salt and drizzled with olive oil.  How you assemble your salad may depend upon the occasion:


This is an impressive presentation for an elegant first course at a dinner party.  Slice a tomato into rounds, leaving the ‘lid’ in tact.  Slice a very thin sliver off the bottom piece so the tomato will sit upright without rolling over.  Layer a slice of tomato, a slice of mozzarella, a basil leaf and repeat for all tomato slices. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt.

'Stacked' Caprese Salad

'Stacked' Caprese Salad



This is the quickest way to put together a caprese salad and is excellent for family style dinners.  Cut up tomatoes and mozzarella into chunks, chop up some basil leaf (see primer on How to chop herbs ) and drizzle with olive oil.  Sprinkle with sea salt and toss everything together in a large bowl.  Garnish with a basil leaf.

'Chopped' Caprese Salad

'Chopped' Caprese Salad



This is another good way to present the salad for buffet or family style dining.  Layer slices of tomato with the cheese and basil slivers.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Garnish with a basil leaf.

"Layered" Caprese Salad (made with heirloom tomatoes - they look green but are actually ripe)

'Layered' Caprese Salad (made with heirloom tomatoes - they look green but are actually ripe)



For cocktail parties, stuffing the tomato with the cheese and basil makes the perfect one-bite finger food.  Cut the top 1/4 off the top of a small cocktail or grape tomato.  Scoop the seeds and pulp out from inside and discard. Cut the mozzarella into small chunks and wrap each piece in basil leaf.  Stuff the mozzarella into the hollowed out tomato.  Drizzle stuffed tomatoes with oil and sprinkle with salt.

"Stuffed" Caprese Salad

'Stuffed' Caprese Salad


Bon Appetit and Enjoy!

Corn and Tomato Salad with Basil Vinaigrette

7 08 2008


Corn is one of my favourite vegetables.  The season for fresh corn is very brief in Canada so during the few weeks it’s available, I eat it as often as I can.  Simply roasted or boiled corn on the cob with butter, salt and pepper is a classic but it’s also wonderfully versatile as an ingredient in salads, pasta sauces or soups.  I developed this recipe as a way to showcase a few summer ingredients that we can only get for a short time so enjoy it while you can!   It’s also an excellent way to use up any leftover cooked corn (if there ever is such a thing – which is not too often in my house!)

Corn and Tomato Salad with Basil Vinaigrette

Makes approximately 4 servings as a side dish

(Can be adapted to be VEGETARIAN)


  • 2-1/2 cups cooked corn, cut off the cobs (approximately 4 cobs)
  • 4 rashers bacon (optional – omit for vegetarians)
  • 10 to 12 mini tomatoes (such as cocktail, cherry, grape, etc.), cut in half
  • 3 Tablespoons red onion, cut into a fine dice
  • 1/4 cup red pepper, cut into a fine dice
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Fresh basil leaf, for garnish
  1. Cook bacon until crisp.  Crumble into pieces and place in a large bowl.
  2. Add tomatoes, corn, onion and red pepper to bowl.  Drizzle with basil vinaigrette (see recipe below) and toss to coat.
  3. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with a basil leaf.

Basil Vinaigrette:

  • 4 Tablespoons neutral oil (such as canola or safflower)
  • 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil (*see tip on how to chop basil)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • pinch of salt

*Tip for cutting basil leaf: Take a few large basil leaves and roll them up together very tightly, as though rolling a cigar.  With a sharp knife, cut through roll in thin strips.   Chop up strips into smaller pieces.

  1. Combine all vinaigrette ingredients in a small bowl and whisk together.  Use on corn salad or other summer salads.

Bon Appetit and Enjoy!