I’ve really been in the Italian state of mind lately, at least from a culinary stand point. Maybe it’s because every other person I talk to is either fresh off the plane from an Italian getaway or planning one (Mom, next fall right?!) or, more likely, that I’m 5 months pregnant and craving pasta all the time. But when the end result of my food dreaming and scheming is these delicious bison and spinach stuffed tomatoes over fresh pasta, does the motive really matter? I think not.
Making fresh pasta for me is something of a physics phenomenon. The rigorous kneading of egg and flour into a smooth golden dough, the soothing lull of my Kitchenaid spilling out perfectly imperfect sheets of possibilities, then thin strips of golden noodles that I twirl into nests transports me to a different time and place altogether.
Suddenly, my kitchen is no longer mine but that of the old Italian lady, Lidia Cristoni, who teaches Massimo Bottura and staff the magical art of homemade pasta in Season 1 of Chef’s Table. My mind transports me back to my first Italian meal where my husband (then boyfriend) and I spontaneously stopped at a cafe a few blocks from our hotel in Rome, famished and jet-lagged. I can still taste the sage brown butter that polished the most irresistible ravioli I’ve had to date. Oh, Italy, your pasta never disappoints.
So, in effort to invoke some of the beautiful Italian flavors that have inspired me since I was a wide-eyed 19 year-old girl, and in hopes to maintain that inquisitive spirit and appetite as I continue this new journey into motherhood (appetite currently a non-issue) I give you this recipe.
And of course, I don’t want to tarnish the words I’ve just written by suggesting you serve these stuffed tomatoes just as beautifully over store-bought pasta, but you definitely could, as long as it’s high quality…
Oh, here’s a wonderful guide to homemade pasta,
- 6-8 large ripe tomatoes
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 8 oz pancetta, diced
- 3 shallots, diced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 lb bison, ground
- 3 cups fresh spinach
- ¼ cup freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese (and more for serving)
- 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons garam masala
- drizzle of good balsamic vinegar
- 2 teaspoons sea salt and 1 teaspoon pepper (or to taste)
- ½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- ¼ cup panko bread crumbs
- Heat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Heat a large skillet to medium heat. Drizzle olive oil to coat the skillet. Add pancetta and cook until slightly golden, about 3-4 minutes. Toss in shallots and garlic and cook another few minutes until the shallots are soft, being careful not to burn the garlic. Stir in the ground bison and cook until browned through, about 5 minutes. Then, fold in spinach and allow to wilt down, stirring/folding constantly for about a minute. Stir in parmigiano cheese, red pepper flakes, dried oregano, garam masala and give the mixture a good solid drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Salt and pepper to taste. Let mixture cool.
- Meanwhile, on a large work surface/ cutting board, use a knife to gently perforate the skin of the tops of the tomatoes in a large circle around the stem. Use a spoon to scoop out tomatoes and discard (or save for another use).
- Stuff tomatoes with bison filling and top with shredded mozzarella, some panko bread crumbs and a good drizzle of olive oil before cooking. Place them in a large casserole dish and cook for 30 minutes or until golden and bubbly.
- Serve over hot pasta with pesto or as is.