Tomato nuns are a stunning starter that is as fun to prepare as delightful it is to eat! Fresh tomato stuffed with cheese-and-pesto filling, with another tomato perched on top looks like a nun - or a wrong coloured snowman...
The most memorable meals
What makes a memorable meal I wonder? Is it firstly and primarily the superb food, dishes you’d never tasted before or executed so perfectly they take the breath away?
Or is it the setting, a romantic taverna perched on a cliff, or an auberge amidst peach orchards? Perhaps it’s the company: the perfect date night with your soulmate who has cooked for you with love and dedication?
A meal may be memorable for all the wrong reasons too: the oysters that made me spectacularly sick on the Lizard will long stay in my memory. Or the most unbearably dry and bland salmon dish served to me in an otherwise magically beautiful harbour restaurant.
Sometimes the memory is apparently random: very weird turmeric-flavoured granola in a Dorset hotel which to this day I cannot decide whether I enjoyed or not.
Yoghurt flavoured ice cream cone in Saint-Raphaël marina which tasted like the most luxurious dessert on Earth (or maybe it was just the sight of all those yachts).
A recipe based on a memory
Tomato nuns are based on a definite memory, although perhaps surprisingly they weren’t my meal. Because a memorable meal also can and should be something your partner especially enjoyed. What is the point of eating together if you don’t remember the foods that your table mate had?
In Corsica, a wonderful setting and a very quaint little alleyway we reached after a considerable search of dinner – maybe we were being particularly picky or undecided that night as Sartène does not lack good eateries – that was what the Weather Man ordered for starter.
The list of ingredients was short: cheese and tomatoes, nothing special there, but I clearly recall how he was transported to the place of culinary bliss.
Of course the fresh, ripe Corsican tomatoes contributed to the magic; it is hard to compete when all you have is desperate fruit of Isle of Wight. But as I randomly remembered the nuns while researching another dish, I decided to do a throwback to our Corsican holiday the following weekend.
Nun the dessert or nun the appetiser?
There is some confusion related to the nun, or la religieuse, an intrinsically French creation. It is the name of a starter made with tomatoes and cheese but it more commonly denominates a dessert.
La religieuse au chocolat is profiteroles filled with pastry cream or Chantilly, stacked after a fashion of a snowman, a smaller ball atop a large one. A wimple of dark chocolate adorns the ‘head’.
This though is the savoury version we are talking about and however much I love choux pastry and profiteroles, there will never be anything outstanding about how you stack them.
Tomatoes however, peeled and hollowed, filled with an amazing mixture of creamy cheese and pesto, make for an exquisite gustatory experience.
So let’s make this fantastic dish to impress your partner or friends round for dinner!
Peel the tomatoes?
My recipe says: peel the large tomatoes, optionally the cherry tomatoes. Is it too much faff and not worth it? I’ll say, okay – don’t peel them, only, but ONLY if your tomatoes are super-ripe, bursting with Mediterranean sun and fleshier than aubergines.
Otherwise, the scalding process prior to peeling will help develop flavour as it very lightly cooks the tomato and concentrates the lycopene. Plus, it will look like you have made a hell of an effort.
What cheese to fill tomato nuns?
I think that burrata, the young mozzarella, is the perfect choice but it is rather pricey. Alternatives, provided your pesto is good quality and will enhance the cheese sufficiently, will be buffalo mozzarella or simple full fat cream cheese. Or perhaps mascarpone? Just a thought…
For the nuns’ collars I’d suggest using whipped cream and cream cheese mix. Not only because you can take the opportunity and make a large batch of it to spread on Ryvita for breakfasts to come, but because it will be a nice contrast to the green, pestoed filling inside the tomato.
A shortcut recipe version
If you really, truly are not the person who peels tomatoes or whips minute amounts of cream, you can have a taster without the hassle.
Get the ripest tomatoes you can, large cherry or plum, and halve them lengthwise. Dollop with a heaping spoonful of burrata or buffalo mozzarella swirled with good quality pesto. Sprinkle with a flake of salt, a grinding of pepper, a drop of olive oil.
Will it be as wonderfully exquisite as the full works? No, but what would you expect of a glorified caprese?
More tomato recipes
Tomatoes and figs go together like angels and heaven. This salad is the proof.
You can also pair tomatoes with creamed sweetcorn, the peak of the summer kind of dish. The fresher and the riper both ingredients, the lovelier it will taste of course.
And if you prefer a sharper, saltierr flavours with your tomatoes, try whipped feta.
More fancy starter recipes
In summer, there's really nothing better than fresh broad beans on a toasted slice of bruschetta. And in autumn, make it chanterelles on toast.
Negimaki veal is a little laborious but so impressive! And tasty too: cooked, meaty sushi!
Scallops, the classic appetiser are coupled with spicy chorizo for a great clash of flavours.