Who's Cooking: John LaFemina, Massapequa

John LaFemina shows off one of his favorite

John LaFemina shows off one of his favorite dishes, stuffed tomatoes. (Dec. 19, 2011) Photo Credit: Steven Sunshine

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The retired New York City fire chief is now a fire safety consultant and lives in Massapequa with his wife, Susan. They have two adult children.

How did working for the fire department impact your cooking style? There have been some really terrific chefs there. In a little over 27 years I've run into a lot of them, learned lots of techniques. I got a great minestrone soup recipe and a beef Bourguignon recipe. Also a white seafood sauce I use for pasta; it's got calamari, shrimp, mussels and clams.

What are some of your most successful dishes? I like to make stuffed tomatoes, but my captive audience -- my family -- prefers unstuffed tomatoes, with everything baked in a casserole. Either way, it's magic. I got the idea on a trip to Italy when my son was studying there and stayed with a family in Sorrento. They made tomatoes stuffed with rice. I make more of a vegetable dish, using zucchini.

What are some of your favorite things to make when you have people over? I'm a big seafood guy, and I like making oreganata dishes. I pan-sear lobster with a little breading and finish it in the oven so it's got a little crispiness and serve it with a fresh horseradish sauce over pan-fried day-old sliced baked potatoes. I might have asparagus with garlic and lemon and a salad with apple-cilantro-lime dressing. For dessert: baked organic apples with a hunk of dark chocolate underneath.

Where do you like to eat out? One of my favorite Italian restaurants is San Marco in Hauppauge. For a nice local place, I like Hudson's Mill in Massapequa. ---- Joan Reminck

Stuffed Tomatoes

6 large vine-ripened tomatoes

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 small shallot, finely chopped

2 small zucchini, diced

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons seasoned bread crumbs, divided

1/4 cup Italian Fontina cheese, finely chopped

1/4 cup Parmagiano Reggiano cheese, grated

6 leaves fresh basil, 3 finely chopped, 3 thinly sliced

Sweet Hungarian paprika to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. With a paring knife, slice tops off tomatoes and remove the cores. Using a spoon, remove juice and most of pulp, reserving them in a bowl. The walls of the tomato "shells" should be about 1/8 inch thick.

3. Remove pulp from bowl and dice; return to bowl filled with juice. Dice tomato tops and add to bowl.

4. Over medium, preheat a 12-inch skillet. Add olive oil, garlic and shallot; saute until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add zucchinis; cook 2 to 3 minutes, maintaining a firm texture. Add diced pulp, tomato tops and juice; bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper. Slowly add 1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs, mixing well to moisten.

5. Remove to a mixing bowl. Fold in Fontina, Parmigiano Reggiano and chopped basil. Fill the tomato shells with mixture; sprinkle with reserved seasoned bread crumbs. Spray a little olive oil on top. Dust with paprika.

6. Place tomatoes in baking pan and bake 30 minutes. Garnish with sliced basil. Makes 6 servings.

Note: Instead of reserving tomato shells, everything may be chopped, combined and baked in a casserole pan.

KNOW A GREAT HOME COOK? Write WHO’S COOKING, Food Dept., Newsday, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY 11747 or Marjorie Robins at marjorie.robins@newsday.com.

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