The Circus Gardener's Kitchen

seasonal vegetarian recipes with a side helping of food politics

herb and Parmesan stuffed tomatoes

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The UK’s National Health Service is creaking at the seams as it struggles to deal with a growing wave of chronic conditions resulting from poor diet, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, heart disease, obesity and cancer.

Given the scale of this challenge, it is astonishing how many NHS hospitals continue to allow fast food franchises to operate on site. It’s not as if they need to generate more work for themselves.

A recent survey discovered that over one hundred NHS hospitals now have fast food outlets on their premises, including Burger King, Subway, Starbucks and Costa Coffee. This figure does not include the myriad WH Smiths outlets on hospital premises that try constantly to persuade customers to buy chocolate bars on apparent permanent discount. A hospital not all that far from me even has a Greggs sited in the middle of its state-of-the-art Heart and Lung Centre.

The incongruousness of these unsuitable partnerships between healthcare providers and fast food corporations is not confined to the UK. In the USA there are similar examples of hospitals with McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Chick-fil-A restaurants on their premises.

What a poor message this sends out to patients and visitors.

It is time to terminate these unsavoury alliances and allow our health services can be unequivocal in the promotion of good health, rather than making themselves another small part of the problem.

On to the recipe, an example of healthy fast food.

You will need to use firm tomatoes for this dish, which is surprisingly light and tasty. These stuffed tomatoes can be served as a light lunch along with a salad. They also make a good side dish and can be served as an alternative breakfast.

herb and Parmesan stuffed tomatoes


8 medium-large tomatoes
100 g breadcrumbs
40 g grated vegetarian Parmesan
2 spring onions, finely chopped
2 tbsp chives, finely chopped
2 tbsp basil leaves, finely chopped
½ tsp sea salt
50 ml extra virgin olive oil


1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (350°F, gas mark 4).

2. Slice across the top off of the tomato, and use a teaspoon to remove the seeds and pulp. Place base-down on a lightly oiled flat baking tray.

3. In a bowl, mix together the breadcrumbs, Parmesan, spring onions, chives, basil, sea salt and olive oil. Carefully spoon this mixture into each of the hollowed tomatoes.

4. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the tomatoes have wrinkled and the top of the filling has turned a golden brown.


Categories: vegetarian

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23 replies

  1. These look delicious, and a perfect accompaniment to any autumn meal. What I love to do with the fall tomato bounty is cut off the top, scoop out all the seeds, smear some pesto inside the tomato, crack in an egg, sprinkle over salt, pepper and Parmesan, put into a ramekin, and bake for 20-25 minutes. Soooo good! But I think I’ll give your method a try too! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Very healthy recipe and thanks to you for sharing 🙂

  3. Golly gosh what hospitals are you visiting?? There’s a non branded butty counter at my local hospital 😂 my home town was the same, league of friends selling butties and cakes. I get your message though. Me I’m too paranoid to eat most premade, packed, processed foods 😳 or even eat out cause quite frankly I could do better at a fraction the cost 😂
    My dad used to grow beef steak tomatoes which are fab for stuffing!! The mother however would stuff them with mince…. Now I’m not vegetarian as I’m not prepared to give up a proper Sunday roast 😉 but I eat a very plant based diet for better health

    • In my day job I visit hospitals on a regular, almost daily basis. I am based in the midlands and can personally vouch for the proliferation of fast food outlets there. Homegrown beefsteak tomatoes are hard to beat 🙂

      • I am a midlander too 😎 I must find the small quaint hospitals 😏 I have had the pleasure of that monster hospital in brum but I suffer anxiety/agoraphobia and was so focused on getting to where I had to be I must of missed all the crap around me

  4. Hello from Australia! Have just talked to Mr Google re Australian hospitals hoping to be able to fluff my feathers and say ‘not here’ !!!! Ha! Ha! Not only do the visitors by-the-look-of-it partake but many patients hate the quality of food served by the hospitals so much they prefer the unhealthy junk dealt out downstairs! A few, but a few only, hospitals have forbidden the practice!! The first hospital sign shown says:
    No comment bar to say the tomatoes look great and now I’ll have to find out what vegetarian Parmesan is 🙂 !!

    • Oh dear, how depressing (but thanks for the additional research!) Vegetarian Parmesan is made using vegetable – rather than animal – rennet. There are several brands of vegetarian Parmesan available in the UK.

  5. Hello Steve.

    You well know that I have seen more than my fair share of the inside of NHS hospitals this year.  Fortunately I was able to have my meals brought in otherwise my only choice would have been baked potato with baked beans for every meal – and I jest not. What also struck me were the high fat, high processed sugar meals on every menu given to the patients on the heart ward. Not one iota of deference to their condition was evident. And, of course, the poor blighters lapped it up. 

    I can also fully concur with your observations regarding the on-site food outlets. My local hospital also has snack bars run by volunteers. I would have thought they might be inclined to offer more healthy fare. But no!

    They remind me of our nearby, small independent supermarket. I liken walking into their entrance to a temple dedicated to heart disease, diabetes and obesity. All one can see are shelves stacked with cans of pop, boiled sweets, chocolates and crisps. All geared to attracting the unfortunate addicts whose trade they rely on.

    I think that’ll do for now.

  6. I want to add a little more to my previous comment as I wouldn’t want to leave the impression that I have any other grouses about our National Health Service. After all, I owe my life to the fantastic skills of the wonderful people who work within it. I just think it has let itself down when it comes to links between nutrition and health. Someone needs to look at the continuum it’s locked into by encouraging its attendees (patients, staff and visitors) to ingest the very items that will promote their return, again and again, as sick people, all for the sake of up front financial gain.
    You might know this Steve but has anyone calculated the cost implications that poor diet has on the NHS when compared with the rental money brought in by the junk food outlets? A very complex question, I know.

    • I believe that the people who make hospital food are subcontracted so its not the NHS itself directly and when a jobs outsourced someone’s going to be making money and that means poorer quality usually.

      • Most NHS catering was contracted out many years ago under the Thatcher government, along with cleaning and laundry services. The recent spate of hospital franchises with fast food venders is no doubt intended as a means of generating a little extra income for an NHS that is being starved of the finances it needs to function effectively, but it is sending out a bad message.

    • I agree with every word, Malcolm.

      I don’t think the research you allude to has ever been carried out, but in my view unhealthy food outlets should not be associated with the NHS even if the link-up was found to be generating revenue that is being put to good use. It reminds me of the days when cigarette companies used to sponsor major sporting events so that their brand names would be linked with sporting prowess. It is hypocritical as well as unethical. Steve

      • As I don’t really go out much, let alone eating out!! I wonder there such a thing as a healthy fast food chain?

  7. Love those beautiful stuffed tomatoes !

  8. With all of these ingredients this dish must be amazingly delicious 😀

  9. Thank you for this recipe! It looks delicious! I can’t wait to try it out with our tomato crop this Summer!

  10. Your recipe reminds the Greek traditional recipe of yemista (you can see the recipe on my blog if you are interested in learning more ) which I love. But the next time I have really good tomatoes I will try your recipe, it is very interesting!Thanks for sharing!

  11. Great post! I agree 100%! Add type 1 diabetes to your list too – it is caused by dairy consumption. But it’s not only the fast food outlets in hospitals that are the problem, it’s the hospital food too. When my daughter was in hospital some years ago they had to make something special for her because there was nothing vegan on the menu. And when she was ready to go home they said she had to take potassium supplements because her last blood test had revealed she was deficient. I asked if she was deficient when she came in to hospital and they said no. The deficiency had been caused by the unhealthy hospital food.

  12. Wow, that is really shocking 🙁

  13. Wow what great recipes on your blog. Many thanks for sharing.


  1. Herb and Parmesan Stuffed Tomatoes - Yum Goggle

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