There is one feature of their house that stood out for my brothers and me. The mail slot that was built right into the brick wall. It wasn't a mail slot in the front door where mail would drop to the floor. This was a small box built into the wall, accessible from the inside by a little lift-up wooden door. No one else we knew had such a thing, making it a plaything when we visited.
We would "mail" each other giggles (and sometimes insults) through the outer and inner doors. Send each other wiggly fingers through the narrow opening spanning inside and not.
Sometimes we were sweet, shipping bouquets of white clover, yellow wood sorrel, violet wood sorrel, and buttercups through the mail slot for great-grandma to discover after we headed home.
Sometimes we were little shits, leaving doodle bugs (pill bugs), worms...or maybe a lizard if we felt really bold.
Great-grandma prepared whatever came out of the garden. I suspect without recipes. And tomatoes were usually served as is. Maybe with a little salt and pepper.
Packed with garlic, savory with Italian sausage, and summery with fresh basil, when it comes to tomato recipes and doing something with them more than slicing, this is one of my favorites.
Risotto Stuffed Tomatoes
4 ripe, medium to large tomatoes
2 links Italian sausage, hot or mild, casing removed
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for drizzling
5 large garlic cloves, minced (about 2 Tbsp)
1/2 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup reserved juices from the tomatoes
1 1/2 cups chicken broth, warmed
1/3 cup loosely packed chopped fresh basil
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
pinch of red pepper flakes
Preheat oven to 400.
Cut off the top third of each tomato and set the tops to the side. Using a paring knife and/or a spoon, remove the inside of each tomato, being careful not to puncture the walls of the tomatoes. Reserve the pulp and juices. Place the tomatoes in a medium greased baking dish. You may need to prop them against each other so that they stand up.
Add 1 Tbsp of olive oil to a medium skillet. Saute the sausage over medium heat until it has browned lightly. Lower the heat and add the garlic, cooking a few minutes more.
While the sausage browns and garlic sautes, break up the tomato pulp into pieces, straining and reserving the juices.
Add the Arborio to the skillet and saute until it is translucent (5-7 minutes). Add 1/2 cup of the tomato juices and stir until the liquid is almost absorbed. Add the broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring after each addition, until the liquid is almost absorbed. After about 15 minutes, test the rice. If it is still hard, add a small amount of broth or water and repeat stirring until the liquid is almost absorbed. If the risotto is chewy, remove from the heat. Stir in the basil and season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.
Spoon mixture into the tomato shells (there may be some left over). Place the tomato tops on the stuffed tomatoes. Drizzle with olive oil and bake until the tomatoes are soft and the rice is tender, about 35-40 minutes. Remove from oven and cool slightly before serving.