Kitchen Accomplice

Cherry Tomato Appetizers with Shrimp and Vegetable Stuffing

By John Kirkendall

This is a host’s dream come true.  Everything is do-ahead and simply needs to be pulled from the fridge, the stuffing balls lifted into the cherry tomatoes and served.

This wonderful stuffing is made with shrimp, a few vegetables, and just a little heat from hot red pepper flakes.  Do the filling a day in advance to give the ingredients a chance to develop full flavor.

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon sliced garlic

1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

1/2 pound green zucchini, grated (about 1 1/2 cups)

1/2 pound yellow zucchini, grated (about 1 1/2 cups)

1 medium carrot, grated

Fine sea salt

2 to 3 large garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed

1 pound large (16-20 per pound) shrimp, peeled, deveined, and cut into 3/4-inch pieces

2 tablespoons dry white wine

1 large egg yolk

2 cups fresh bread crumbs

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Multi-colored heritage cherry tomatoes (allow 4 per guest and you will be safe.)

Heat 2 tablespoons of the pure olive oil with the sliced garlic in a large sauté pan over medium heat until it starts to brown, about 3 minutes. Add the hot pepper flakes, swirl in the oil, and immediately add the zucchini and carrot. Stir from time to time until the vegetables are soft and begin to break apart, about 20 minutes. The mixture should be fairly dry at this point. Season with salt. Spread the mixture on a baking to sheet to cool.

In the same pan, heat another 2 tablespoons of the oil with the crushed garlic cloves over medium heat. Gently shake and tilt the pan so the cloves are immersed and sizzling at one side of the pan in a pool of the oil. As the garlic starts to turn golden, lay the pan flat on the burner, then add the shrimp. Sauté until opaque but still tender, about 2 minutes. Season with salt. Deglaze the pan by adding the wine and scrape any bits with a wooden spoon from the bottom of the pan. Transfer the shrimp and residual cooking liquid to the baking sheet next to the vegetables.

When the mixture has cooled, working in 2 batches, pulse the shrimp in a food processor to break them down into small pieces without pureeing.

You can also do this by hand with a chef’s knife. Transfer to a bowl and combine with the vegetables. Adjust the seasoning. Mix in the egg yolk, bread crumbs, and basil. The mixture should be fairly dry and should hold together. Make the mixture up to a day in advance and refrigerate to give the flavors a chance to develop. The secret here is to take a small ice cream scoop or a melon baller and create balls of stuffing that will fit nicely into the cherry tomatoes – so when it is time to set the appetizer out for guests you can lift the balls of stuffing right into the prepared cherry tomatoes as I will show you.

The tomatoes:  take your cherry tomatoes and slice the tops off about 1/3 of the way down, sufficient to create a large opening to deposit the filling.  Using a spoon or a melon baller, remove the seeds and the inner portions of the tomatoes, sprinkle with salt and turn upside down on a rack to drain.  You may need to take a tiny sliver from the bottom of the tomatoes as well so they stand up perfectly on your serving plate. The draining of the tomatoes will take an hour.  Rinse the tomatoes thoroughly under running water after they have drained. With a paper towel, dry each cherry tomato well, inside and out, and place them all, covered, in the fridge overnight.  They will firm up and hold the filling beautifully.

In the morning of your fete, remove the balls of stuffing and the cherry tomatoes from the fridge.  Lift the balls of stuffing into one tomato, allowing the filling to rise nicely over the top of the tomato.  Taste the ensemble before filling all the tomatoes.  If more seasoning is needed, you may place a mixture of coarse sea salt, pepper and Cajun seasoning onto a tray, moisten the cherry tomatoes with some fresh lemon juice, using a brush,  and roll in the seasoning.  This is an especially nice touch, I think.   Test again with the filling.  This should do it!  Fill all the tomatoes.  Cover, refrigerate and get ready for the party!

As for the rest of your offerings, I would suggest a nice cheese platter.  Not the prepackaged bag of cubed cheese offered by every convention, but instead some nice cheeses with a theme: I like a Michigan theme for this.  On a cutting board line up some interesting cheeses with a linen lined basket with a variety of crackers spilling over.  One idea that is popular around our house is an ice cream scoop of Schuler’s bar Scheeze right in the thick of things.  You will want to get the cheeses out of the fridge in plenty of time to return to room temperature before being served. 

And if you have cheeses in the fridge that have developed hard edges, by all means, cut the edges off and put the hardened edges in the freezer for your next rendezvous into the realm of soup-making.

Chef David Shalleck, who provided the inspiration for the stuffing recipe, especially likes it as a stuffing for calamari.  I can see that would be excellent as well.  I chose cherry tomatoes because of the ease of serving and because guests will not be wondering about how to handle them. 

Besides, this is a cocktail party – not a sit down dinner.  And, they are downright delicious!  Your guests will be rewarded by your careful cleaning of the tomatoes so juices are not squirted all around as they nibble!

Judge Kirkendall is a retired Probate Judge. He presently serves on the Elder Law Advisory Board of the Stetson University College of Law. He has taught cooking classes for more than 25 years at various cooking schools in the Ann Arbor area and has himself attended classes at Cordon Bleu and La Varenne in Paris, as well as schools in New York, New Orleans and San Francisco. I am (thankfully) past president of the National College of Probate Judges. He can be reached at