Oswald Rivera

Author, Warrior, and Teacher

Tag: Tomato

Papas Rellenas – Stuffed Potato Balls

Papas rellenas, or stuffed potato balls, makes a great appetizer or side dish for the Thanksgiving table. Yes, that venerable holiday is upon us again. So how about giving that potato dish a unique take. Tired of the old potato salad? Then papas rellenas is it. You family and friends will say, Wow! C’mon, liven up that Thanksgiving turkey. Make papa rellenas a part of your tradition. You won’t be disappointed.

This recipe calls for sofrito, the Puerto Rican  seasoning that is ubiquitous in our cooking. A recipe is readily available in my posting of November 8th 2015. If that’s not good enough for you, you catch my video of July 10th 2014 on how to make sofrito, step-by-step. Otherwise, you can get it store bought in almost any supermarket—but it won’t the same as the genuine product.   

By the way, this recipe, among many others, is from my first cookbook, Puerto Rican Cuisine in America, which is now in its third printing (Running Press, Avalon Books) 

(Stuffed Potato Balls)

1 pound Idaho or Maine potatoes, peeled
2 quarts (8 cups) water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound lean ground beef (can substitute ground pork, chicken or turkey, if desired)
2 tablespoons sofrito
2 tablespoons tomato sauce
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
1 egg, slightly beaten
2 teaspoons cornstarch
Vegetable oil for frying

1. Rinse potatoes under cold running water and pat dry.
2. Place in a pot or medium saucepan. Add water and boil on moderate heat, covered, until tender (about 30 minutes).
3. Meanwhile, for filling, heat oil in a skillet or fry pan. Add meat and stir-fry over medium heat until meat losses its color. Add sofrito, tomato sauce, oregano and salt. Mix and sauté 3-4 minutes.
4. Cover and simmer on low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. Drain potatoes, place in a bowl and mash with a fork or potato masher.
6. Add butter, egg and one teaspoon cornstarch. Mix well and let cool.
7. Spread some of the potato dough mix in the palm of your hand (keep palms wet while doing this). With fingers makes small nest in the center of palm, and stuff with a spoonful of the filling. Cover the filling with more dough mix and shape into a ball. Brush lightly with cornstarch. repeat until filling and mix are used up.
8. Deep fry in hot oil until golden brown. Remove and drain on paper towels.
    Yield: 6 to 8 stuffed potato balls, depending on size.

Stewed Potatoes – Papas Guisadas

Back in the old neighborhood, during our lean times, we had certain meals that would tie us over until the next paycheck came in. Examples of these renderings would such standbys as spaghetti with ketchup (yes, ketchup), or with blue cheese; or a stir-fry of franks and onions. But, invariably, our favorite was papas quisadas, or stewed potatoes. This, believe it or not, was served as a main entrée.

Now you’re asking yourself, Potatoes as a main dish? Crazy. No, not really. In our family this became such a popular dish that sometimes my mother would cook it as a treat. And it was to my father and I. We could never get enough of it. Steak, and chicken, and fish was good in times of plenty—but papas guisadas were good anytime.

Stewed potatoes is an easy enough dish to prepare: all you need is potatoes, garlic, tomato sauce and cilantro, that’s it. And served over plain steamed or yellow rice, it’s heavenly, whether on lean days or not.

 (Stewed Potatoes)

1/2 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 1/2 pounds Maine or Idaho potatoes, cut into cubes. Note: if organic, unpeeled (if you prefer).
   If non-organic, peeled.
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1/2 teaspoon fresh chopped oregano, or 1/4 teaspoon dried.
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, washed and chopped
Salt and ground black pepper to taste

1. Heat oil in a nonstick skillet or frying pan. Add garlic and sauté until garlic is slightly browned.
2. Add potatoes and stir-fry for 5 minutes.
3. Add tomato sauce and remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer on low heat until potatoes are tender.
4. Serve piping hot.
    Yield: 4 servings.  

Scallop with Tomatoes

The tomato season is coming to an end. But you can still find good tomatoes out there. In winter, when fresh good tomatoes are scarce, the back-up is canned plum tomatoes, preferably imported. For now, I’m still creating and eating tomato dishes. In this latest recipe, I’m combining tomatoes with one of my favorite seafood, scallops. This recipe is fairly easy. The usual ingredients are probably in your cupboard right now. The only innovation is saffron, still one of the most exotic seasonings around. Saffron can be expensive. But you just use a pinch. A little bit can go a long way. It gives color and a distinct flavor that no other herb possesses. Scallops can go with almost any grain or vegetable. This time around I serve the scallops with whole wheat linguini; but you can serve it with rice, or couscous, potatoes, or whatever. You won’t be disappointed.


1 1/2 pound scallops
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced into thin rings
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 pound ripe tomatoes, seeded and diced. or one 28-ounce can plum tomatoes, drained and diced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 teaspoon saffron thread, crushed

1. Rinse scallops under cold running water. Drain, and dry on paper towels. If the scallops are large, you can halve them horizontally.
2. Heat butter and olive oil in a saute pan or deep skillet.
3. Add onions and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for 3-4 minutes.
4. Add tomatoes, oregano, salt and pepper. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring, for about 5 minutes.
5. Add garlic and cook for 3 minutes more.
6. Stir in cream, white wine and saffron threads. Bring to a boil. Add scallops and cook over medium heat, stirring, until scallops are tender and white, about 2 minutes. Serve over whole wheat pasta, rice, or couscous.
    Yield: 4 servings. 

Pimientos Rellenos (Stuffed Peppers)

In the Jewish Calendar, this week commemorates the beginning of the holiday known as Sukkot. This is the harvest festival that follows the solemn holiday of Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. Among the traditional foods served on this occasion are stuffed vegetables. It is noted that stuffed foods represent a bountiful harvest. Think of a cornucopia of veggies and fruit. Thus, in celebration, I’m putting out my pimientos rellenos recipe from my first cookbook, Puerto Rican Cuisine in America (Perseus Books Group—Running Press). So, my Jewish friends and colleagues, liven up the occasion with stuffed peppers Puerto Rican style. And for those of you who are not Jewish, it’s still a great dish to enjoy anytime.

Let me add that the recipe calls for shredded cheddar cheese on top. You can either omit or add it to the mix.

     (Stuffed Peppers)

4 medium green or red bell peppers
6 whole black peppercorns
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
1 pound lean ground beef
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1 cup dry bread crumbs
2 medium tomatoes, cored and diced
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Slice the top off the peppers. Remove and discard the seeds and white veins.
3. Drop peppers into boiling water to cover and boil for 3 minutes. Remove, drain and set aside.
4. In a mortar, crush peppercorns, garlic, oregano and salt. Blend in olive oil and vinegar.
5. In a bowl, combine meat with seasoning.
6. Brown meat in a very hot skillet (no extra oil is necessary).
7. Add onion, bread crumbs, tomatoes and tomato sauce. Cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes.
8. Stuff the peppers with beef-tomato filling and place in a shallow baking dish. Top with shredded cheese, if desired, and bake 20-25 minutes.
    Yield: 4 servings.

photo: courtesy of Andicakes

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Panzanella Salad
It’s getting toward the end of summer; but it’s still hot out there in some parts. And, honestly, we’re getting tired of salads. So, how can we spice it up? Well, how about panzanella?  Right away you can tell from the spelling that it has the word “pan”—which translates to “bread” in Spanish or Italian. And you’d be right. Panzanella is a Tuscan bread salad that is popular in Central Italy, where it is also known as panmolle (pronounced: pan-moh-leh). The salad also includes tomatoes, mint and basil. Although it must be noted that, initially, before the advent of tomatoes, the salad was onion based. And it has a plain dressing of olive oil and vinegar, that’s it.  

What’s good about this salad is that you can use day-old bread, even stale bread, if necessary. You see, the bread is toasted in the oven before mixing with the other ingredients. That means the bread doesn’t get squishy like croutons, and its crunchy taste prevails. The recipe given below is a basic panzanella. And the great thing about this is that you can add any other veggies you desire: blanched peas, green beans, fava beans, mushrooms, broccoli, etc. You can even add pieces of ham, salami, or cooked chicken to it. The possibilities are endless.


2 cups day-old bread, preferably a good sourdough or crusty baguette, torn or cut into 1-inch pieces
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch ring, and then each ring cut in half
1 small red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
1/2 cup fresh mint, washed, dried, and roughly torn
1/2 cup fresh basil, washed, dried, and julienne

1/2 cup fresh dill, washed, dried, and roughly chopped
Handful fresh Italian parsley, washed, dried, and chopped
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Spread bread out on a baking sheet or pan and bake until golden, about 14 minutes, flipping once halfway. Then let cool.
3. In a large bowl, toss together the bread pieces, tomatoes, zucchini, onion, garlic, mint, basil, dill, and parsley.
4. In a small bowl, mix olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Pour over bread salad, Toss. Adjust seasonings, if necessary; and let stand for at least one hour for flavors to blend before serving.
    Yield: 4-6 servings.

photo: courtesy of a foodie affair

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Tomatoes for the End of Summer

By now most of us are, as the saying goes, “tomatoed-out.” In the dark days of winter we dream of fresh, succulent vine-ripened tomatoes. By late August, we’ve just about had our fill. I mean, how many tomato salads or stuffed tomatoes can you have? Well, kiddies, the season will last until October. And, yes, there are still many innovative ways to use this vegetable. Below are given some ingenious ways to use tomatoes. So, in the middle of a frosty February, you can again begin to dream of the fresh juicy crop come June .


That’s right, a raw sauce where the tomatoes don’t have to be cooked. Simple: In a bowl, combine 1 pound chopped tomatoes or 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved; 1/2 cup diced mozzarella cheese; 1/3 cup chopped black olives; 1/4 cup olive oil; 1 teaspoon capers; 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar and 2 garlic cloves, minced. Stir in 1/4 cup fresh chopped basil, 1 teaspoon oregano, salt and pepper to taste. Let the bowl stand for 1/2 hour to allow the flavors to combine. Toss with you favorite hot pasta. 4 servings.


The all time favorite, and the easiest thing to prepare: Wash and slice off the tops and bottoms of 1 pound tomatoes, and cut the tomatoes into about 3 slices each. Slice 1/2 pound mozzarella very thinly; wash and  dry 10-12 large basil leaves (more if the leaves are small). On a salad plate, arrange the mozzarella and basil on the tomato slices, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with some oregano and pepper. 4-3 servings.


A fancy-fied tomato dish to impress your guests: Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Cut 2 large beefsteak tomatoes into 1/2-inch slices. Arrange the slices, slightly overlapping, in an oiled 9-inch gratin dish or shallow casserole.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, 2 tablespoons finely chopped basil, and 1 teaspoon oregano. Cook 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced, in a small pan or skillet over moderate heat, stirring until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in 1 cup fresh bread crumbs, 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle over the tomatoes, and bake in the middle of oven until bread crumbs are golden, about 15 minutes. 4 servings.


In a large bowl, combine 1/4 cup olive oil and 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar. Add 1 teaspoon oregano, and salt and pepper to taste; 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved; 1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced; 1 medium green bell pepper, chopped; 1/3 cup black olives, halved; 1 small red onion, chopped; and 1/2 cup fresh chopped parsley. Mix together, then stir in 1 cup crumbled feta cheese. Take 4 (8-inch) diameter pita bread, cut in halve and stuff with the tomato mixture. 4 servings.


That’s right, homemade ketchup. Believe me, much better than the stuff you get at the grocers, and much healthier. Store bought ketchup is all processed sugar and salt. Ca-ca. And the homemade brand is so easy to make: In a food processor, puree and blend 1/3 cup water; 3 small tomatoes, chopped; 2 tablespoons white vinegar; 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves; 1/4 teaspoon pepper; 1/3 cup honey; 1 tablespoon maple syrup, and 1 tablespoon cornstarch. That’s it. You’ll never use the store-bought stuff again.

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Gazpacho con Ajo Blanco

Gazpacho is the perfect summer dish, especially when it’s just too hot to cook. This famed Spanish soup is of Moorish origins. Remember that the Moors (Muslims of Northern Africa ) occupied Spain for over seven centuries. Some etymologists suggest that the word, gazpacho, derives from the Arabic word for soaked bread. Others say that it may have come from the word caspa, which means residue or fragment—as in the residue or fragments of bread used in the original recipe.

Andalusia is renowned as the home of gazpacho, especially in the province of Malaga. It probably originated as a soup of soaked bread, olive oil, and garlic. Today the Spaniards would call this an ajo blanco, or garlic soup. And this was the most common gazpacho until the introduction of the tomato to the European continent, which resulted in the chilled tomato concoction of today.

Today, Andalusian gazpacho is made with ripe tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, garlic, moistened bread, and ice water. But I’ve gone back to the original gazpacho as derived from its Moorish influence.


1 cup untrimmed fresh bread, cubed
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup olive oil
Cold water
4 tablespoons chopped scallions

1. Soak the bread in water. Drain and squeeze to extract excess moisture.
2. In a mortar (preferably earthenware), pound the garlic until crushed.
3. In a wooden bowl, mix the garlic, bread, and salt, and stir in the olive oil.
4. Add cold water as desired, to get the smoothness of a soup. Recall this the original gazpacho, which is served at room temperature, garnished with chopped scallions. But, if you want, you can serve it chill after an hour or so in the fridge.
    Yield: 4 servings.

 Note: You can modify this recipe for Malaga-Style Gazpacho by adding 2/3 cup crushed peeled almonds and 1/2 teaspoonr red wine vinegar before adding the cold water.

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Bruschetta (broo-sheh-tah) is just Italian bread drenched in olive oil and served with garlic and tomatoes. It goes back to at least the 15th century when folks where looking for a way to salvage stale bread. What better method than to drizzle it with olive oil and and top it with whatever was at hand? Apart from garlic and tomatoes, toppings may include basil, beans, and vegetables. According to the sources, bruschetta comes from the old Roman word bruscare (“to roast over coals”).

Some have compared bruschetta to plain garlic bread. But it’s more than that. It’s “garlic bread plus.” Now that summer is here and decent tomatoes are again available, bruschetta is a natural. I must admit that during the winter I survive on canned Italian tomatoes. Those measly specimens wrapped in cellophane just plain suck. And if you have a garden and grow your own tomatoes, you’re as close to heaven as you’ll ever be.

Bruschetta is commonly served as an appetizer (as in antipasto). But I’ve discovered you can serve it with almost any dish. I prefer it with steamed chicken—don’t know why, that’s just my thing. And since summer means grilling season, it goes great with any barbecue.

In the version given below,  I’ve added black olives and roasted peppers plus Pecorino or Parmesan cheese, whatever suits your palette.


5 to 6 ripe tomatoes, cut into large triangles
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup black olives
1/2 tablespoon fresh oregano (or 1 teaspoon dried)
Pecorino or Parmesan cheese to taste, grated or slivered
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 loaf Italian bread, cut at an angle into slices about 1/2-inch thick
1 clove garlic, cut in half
1 can or 7-ounce jar roasted pepper (pimentos), sliced for garnish.

  1.  Preheat oven  to 375 degrees.
  2.  Place tomatoes in a big bowl.
  3 . Add onion, olives and oregano
  4.  Sprinkle with Pecorino or Parmesan cheese.
  5.  Add olive oil and vinegar, and mix to blend.
  7.  Rub bread slices with garlic halves on both sides.
  8 . Place on a cookie sheet or baking pan in the oven and bake until slices are slightly browned or golden.
  9.  Arrange bread slices on a platter, and top with tomato mixture.
10. Top with pimento slices and garnish around edge of platter with same.
      Yield: 4-5 servings.

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The Hooker’s Special – Pasta a la Puttanesca

Yup, you read it right. Hooker’s style pasta. And it’s no too far off the mark. During the Italian campaign of World War II, when hordes of horny GIs reach Naples, the local working girls (and by that I mean the pros) found themselves swamped with customers. Now, it takes a lot of effort to keep the brothel running under such trying conditions. The ladies need sustenance that will provide enough energy to keep them going at full tilt. So, some enterprising individual came up with this recipe that could be prepared with a minimum of effort and provide a quick supper for the girls, in-between turning tricks, or servicing the servicemen, as it were.

American soldiers are no longer crawling all over Napoli, but the dish remained, and is now claimed by almost every Italian city where the ladies of the night ply their trade. And yes, the name has remained, Pasta a la Puttanesca, “Whore’s Style Pasta.”


3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, slice into rings
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
2 pounds plum tomatoes, chopped (can use good quality Italian canned tomatoes, if preferred)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 can (2 oz.) anchovies packed in oil, chopped fine
1/2 cup pitted black olives, halved
1/4 cup capers, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
1 pound fusilli or rigatoni (or other large tube-shaped pasta)
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
Freshly grated Romano, Pecorino or Parmesan cheese

1. Heat olive oil in a heavy saucepan (I prefer cast iron). Add onion and cook over medium heat until translucent. Add garlic and cook for a minute or two.
2. Add tomatoes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for about 5 minutes.
3. Add the anchovies along with their oil. Stir in olives, capers, oregano, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Stir to mix and simmer over medium heat for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. While sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions. Drain pasta and place in a serving bowl. Toss with remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Top with the Puttanesca sauce, sprinkle the parsley on top, and serve with the grated cheese.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

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