Another Year in Recipes
A weekly cycle of catering to my culinary curiosity
The very hot weather we’ve been having has sent me paging through my cookbook collection for light, summery, everyday dinner appetizers for two. In three Italian books I found attractive versions of roasted stuffed tomatoes, all similar in some respects but different in the details. I decided to try the three on successive evenings to see how they compared. Here are the books I used:
The experiment was definitely a success. Tomatoes are now at their peak of flavor, all three preparations were very good, and each was sufficiently unlike the others to keep them welcome for the second and third days.
Baked Stuffed Tomatoes from La Tavola Italiana
Unashamedly, I started with the recipe from my own first cookbook for the first evening’s dish. (I knew we’d like that one.) I cut a thin slice off the top of two medium-sized round tomatoes, gently squeezed out the seeds and some of the juices, hollowed out the shells with my tomato shark – a very useful little gadget, by the way – and chopped the flesh.
For the stuffing I sauteed some minced onion in olive oil and mixed into it chopped basil leaves, tiny capers, a minced anchovy fillet, quite a lot of grated parmigiano and fine dry breadcrumbs, the chopped tomato flesh, salt, and a generous quantity of black pepper.
Once filled with this stuffing, the tomatoes got a drizzle of olive oil on top and went into a 350° oven for 20 minutes. I let them come down almost to room temperature before we ate them. The soft filling was very tasty, contrasting nicely with the bright acidity of the tomato cases.
Pomodori al Gratin from Naples at Table
The next day I made the recipe from Arthur Schwartz’s Naples at Table. I cut my two tomatoes in half across the diameter; scooped out the pulp and, without chopping it, put the little chunks in a sieve to drain; and salted the interior of the shells and set them upside down on a rack to drip off some of their moisture.
Compared to my own recipe’s stuffing, this one is much lighter on breadcrumbs and heavier on capers. It has finely minced garlic, dried oregano, and black pepper. No grated cheese or anchovy. I mixed in the tomato pulp, filled the half shells with it, and topped each with olive oil.
These went into a 400° oven for a full hour – “until the tomatoes have collapsed,” Schwartz says. Mine didn’t quite collapse, but they shrank noticeably. The long, hot roasting intensified their natural sweetness, and the modest amount of filling made a pleasant, crunchy contrast. Again, we ate them just slightly above room temperature.
Roman Rice-Stuffed Tomatoes from The Italian Vegetable Cookbook
Michele Scicolone’s recipe made the most substantial of the three tomato dishes. I hollowed out the tomatoes as usual, but took a deeper cut from the tops, saved the caps, chopped the pulp, and saved its juices. The base ingredient of the stuffing was short-grain Italian rice, which I simply boiled in salted water. Pulp and juice were stirred into the rice, along with a hefty dose of grated pecorino Romano cheese, chopped fresh basil, olive oil, and black pepper.
That made a lot of filling. I had to tamp it down into the tomato shells and pile it up under the little caps. Fortunately, it all held together for its half hour of baking at 425°.
Served just warm, this was a milder dish than either of the first two: The well-flavored rice was the star, with the tomatoes serving mainly as an edible container.
Tomatoes can be stuffed with many other ingredients, of course: small pasta, such as orzo or ditalini, are often used, along with diced ham or tuna. But these three recipes share an authentic southern Italian simplicity and tang that makes them perfect for summer dining. It would be interesting, I think, to serve all three on a major mixed antipasto platter, so the contrasts would be immediate. Making them would be a bit laborious, but since all the roasting can be done well in advance and the tomatoes can be eaten hot, warm, or at room temperature, the timing could be easily accommodated. Maybe some day . . .
PS I am having dinner Sunday night with Diane and her husband Tom Maresca ‘Tomatoes” ?