Pomodori col riso romano-londinesi (con cannella)- Roasted tomatoes stuffed with rice, herbs and cinnamon, from Rome and London

This is a classic recipe from Rome and one which can be successfully replicated also here in the UK, where good tomatoes are rare. However, in order to coax as much flavour as possible from the often lustreless UK, tomatoes, I have employed few tricks- a long, slow roasting, some flavour enhancers and careful seasoning.

After comparing few sources (Carla Tomasi and Rachel Roddy and Frank Fariello and Domenica Marchetti), I went back to the book that is considered one of the grand books on Italian regional cooking: La Cucina Romana, by Ada Boni (1928). Most recipes for pomodori col riso are similar, Ada Boni only however mentions “cinnamon”: adding a pinch of cinnamon to each tomato, gives this humble dish an exotic, fuller taste, much appreciated.

This is what I did;

Slice off the tops of the tomatoes and scoop out as much pulp as possible and the seeds, leaving an empty shell that is about 2 cm thick.
Cut up any large-ish piece of pulp: by the end you should be left with a mix that is brothy and full of rice-grain size pieces of tomato pulp (what u see in the picture is the tomato pulp pieces still uncut). Add a couple of teaspoons of tomato paste,  mix well and one and a half tablespoon risotto rice per tomato.

Dress the mix with salt, pepper, a pinch of sugar, a glug of oil, chopped parsley (maybe with some chopped mint leaves) and finely chopped garlic: as usual, authentic Italian cooking is discreet with garlic and I used only one fat clove for 5 large beefsteak tomatoes .

Carefully  and thoroughly, sprinkle the inside of each tomatoe with salt, pepper, a pinch of sugar and a pinch of cinnamon. Dribble a little olive oil too  (1 teaspoon per tomato).

Place the tomatoes in a large oven dish, already oiled and splashed with water. Fill the tomatoes, making sure to distribute the rice evenly (it helps if you give a good stir to the mix each time you fill a tomato) cover them with their lids, drizzle some more oil all over and bake at 170 C for a couple of hours. You want a long and slow bake to concentrate the tomato flavour and also to avoid splitting the tomato skin, which would happen at higher temperature. I also have a thing  with not properly cooked baked/roasted tomatoes (I hate them): for me a cooked tomato,  must be FULLY COOKED, meltingly tender but still retaining their shape for me. Half cooked tomatoes are disgusting. I pushed the baking to 2.5 hrs once and they were delicious. No, the rice does not overcook, because the temperature is gentle and because it is not swimming in liquid.

Let them rest and eat no warmer than room temperature. In Rome, they sometimes add potatoes, cut into wedges (dressed with oil and salt before going into the pan). If you do this, make sure not to crowd the dish, otherwise the whole lot will steam instead of roasting, so to speak.

 

Sedano al pomodoro – celery braised with tomatoes

braised celery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Until few yrs ago, I never though much of celery. Of course, it is one of the key ingredients of the classic battuto (generally equal quantities of chopped onions, chopped carrots, chopped celery), the basic of so much Italian cooking (fried in some fat, it becomes soffritto) and it is often served raw in pinzimonio, that is to say with other raw vegetables, to be dipped in the  best olive oil. Apart from this,  edano (celery) was a stranger to me. Moreover, I had always associated celery with the cold months only. Continue reading

Focaccia

Focaccia is one of the most famous Italian food. Here in the UK it can be found in many more or less artisanal bakeries and even in supermarkets. It is seldom good generally far too high and dense. Focaccia is  one of the most satisfying baked goodies to make at home: it is relatively easy and highly rewarding in terms of taste and texture.

This is one of the best focaccia recipes I have tasted in a long time. Its secret lies in the generous amount of oil and white wine in the dough. It is these ingredients that give this focaccia a full flavour, even if there is also a biga at work here. The inspiration came from Carol Field’s Focaccia book (via another splendid book: Recipes from Paradise, by Fred Plotkin), but I have consequently developed my own version, which I prefer. I have dramatically reduced the yeast and increased the time for the biga, from 1 hour to 12-14 hrs. I have also introduced 10% wholemeal flour, which I think gives the focaccia a more interesting crumb. Carol Field’s recipe uses white flour only and it is done and dusted over few hours (and it is very good, see notes), my version is over two days and I think it is even better. Continue reading

Pomodorini scattarisciati – crackling cherry tomatoes (Puglia)

It is now summer, or at least this is what the calendar says; it has been raining for days here in London and the sky is grey, an elegant pearly shade of grey, but grey nonetheless. Not fun. To raise my endorphins, I decided to make this Apulian tomato sauce, pomodorini scattarisciati, literally crackling tomatoes (in the local dialect) — vibrant, intensely tomatoey and uplifting.

The cherry tomatoes are fried in a rather indecent amount of oil, on high heat,  uncovered until they start bursting. Continue reading