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Pomodori col Riso, Tomatoes Stuffed with Rice

Rice is one of the most classic fillings for tomatoes; the tomatoes will work well as either an antipasto or a side dish, and can be served wither hot or cool. The recipe is drawn from Caróla Francesconi’s La Cucina Napoletana.

To serve 6 you’ll need:

  • 12 round, large tomatoes
  • 3/4 cup (150 g) rice
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • Fresh shredded basil or oregano

Wash and dry the tomatoes, then cut around their caps and scoop the pulp into a bowl with a spoon, catching all the tomato juice as well, and being careful not to puncture the tomatoes. When you are done blend the pulp and juice. Then combine the blended tomato pulp with the remaining ingredients except the wine.

Preheat your oven to 375 F (170 C).

Stuff the tomatoes with the filling without tamping down too hard, replace the caps, and put the tomatoes in a lightly oiled oven proof dish. Pour the wine into the dish and bake the tomatoes until done, about 45 minutes. Serve either hot or cool.

NOTE:

Livio Jannattoni gives a very similar recipe in La Cucina romana e del Lazio, though he increases the cloves of garlic to 3 and the rice to a cup (200 g). He suggests parsley in addition to oregano and basil, and also suggests that you slice some potatoes thinly and bake them with the tomatoes, observing that they become wonderfully tasty as they absorb the pan juices.

He also discusses a closely related Roman dish, tomatoes stuffed with pasta, which calls for a pasta shape known as cannolicchietti (small rings of pasta, of the same sort one puts into thick soups) – a tablespoon or at the most two per tomato.

Empty the tomatoes as you would if you were filling them with rice, reserving the pulp and juice and setting the caps aside. Mince basil, a little garlic and some parsley, and combine the mixture with the cannolicchietti, seasoning everything with salt and pepper to taste, and sprinkling some olive oil over it. Fill the tomatoes with the pasta mixture and put them in an oven-proof dish. Put the reserved tomato pulp through a strainer to remove the seeds and sprinkle it around the tomatoes, together with a little more oil; the liquid in the pan should reach half-way up the tomatoes (add more if need be).

Cover the tomatoes with their caps and bake them in a 360 F (180 C) oven for 30-45 minutes. Serve either hot or cold.

Salsa di Pomodoro alla Napoletana, Neapolitan Tomato Sauce

Fusilli Col Ferro With Tomato Sauce

Fusilli Col Ferro With Tomato Sauce

Though slow-cooking pomarola is quite tasty, there are times you’ll want something quicker, and then this classic Neapolitan sauce comes into play. It’s perfect for pasta, but will also work well with rice or pizza. To make a jar of sauce you will need:

  • 2 1/4 pounds (1 k) ripe plum tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) olive oil
  • 12 fresh basil leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Set a large pot full of water to boil. Meanwhile, wash the tomatoes and remove the brownish patches where the stems were attached using a sharp-pointed knife. Dump the tomatoes into the boiling water, blanch them for about a minute, and then run enough cold water into the pot so you can pick out the tomatoes without burning yourself. Peel the tomatoes, discarding their skins, seed them, slice them, and put them in a bowl. When you are done heat the oil and the garlic in another pot – traditionalists prefer terracotta – and stir in the chopped tomatoes before the oil garlic begins to crackle. Season with salt and pepper, simmer over a low flame for 10 minutes, stir in the basil leaves, simmer for five more minutes, and it’s done.

Figure about 1/4 cup of sauce (or more to taste) and 1/4 pound of pasta per serving; serve the pasta with grated cheese on the side.

Note: To keep the sauce from becoming heavy, it’s very important that the oil not get too hot before you add the tomatoes. Also, some Neapolitan cooks of the older generation made this sauce using lard rather than olive oil.

Eggplant Parmesan, Melanzane alla Parmigiana

In introducing this greatest of Neapolitan dishes, Ms. Francesconi tells of going to a wonderful restaurant on the Isle of Ischia, long before it was taken over by hoards of tourists, to enjoy the Pirozzi Sisters’ Eggplant Parmesan. It had a special touch nobody could figure out; some said eggs, and others even suggested chocolate as the secret ingredient. Ms Francesconi closes her introduction with the hope that somebody, building on this recipe, will manage to equal that marvel of yesteryear.

To serve 4-6 enthusiastic diners:

  • 4 pounds (a scant 2 k) eggplant
  • Olive oil for frying
  • 2 1/2 pounds (1 k) ripe tomatoes, blanched, peeled and chopped
  • A small piece of onion, minced
  • Abundant basil
  • 3/4 pound (350 g) fresh mozzarella (buffalo milk if possible)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano
  • Freshly grated pepper

Note: Since the wateriness of fresh tomatoes varies the above is a minimum. You can also use 3.6 pounds (1.5 k) canned tomatoes or 1 1/2 quarts (1.5 liters) bottled tomato sauce.

Chop the tomatoes, drain them well, and cook them with the minced onion and a sprig of basil. When they have softened, drain them and put them through a food mill, then cook them a little more over low heat, without letting the sauce thicken too much. Salt the sauce when it is done and don’t add oil, as the eggplant will have absorbed enough as it fries.

Peel the eggplants and cut them into quarter-inch slices; salt them and place them between to plates to press out the bitter juices. After 1 to 2 hours rinse them and pat them dry. In the mean time, heat a pot of oil almost to the smoking point, then fry the slices, a few at a time, removing them from the oil while they are still lightly colored. Set the slices upright in a rack to drain, then put them on a sheet of absorbent paper to remove all the oil you can.

Mince the basil and cut the mozzarella into thin slices, then cut the slices into strips.

Take a 10-inch diameter oven-proof dish that’s about 3 inches high and spread a couple of tablespoons of tomato sauce over it. Next, beat the eggs with 2/3 cup of tomato sauce.

Arrange a third of the eggplant in the bottom of the dish, overlapping the slices slightly, and cover them with 2 tablespoons grated cheese, 5-6 pieces basil leaves, 2-3 tablespoons of the tomato-egg sauce, and half the mozzarella. Repeat this process with another layer. Lay down a third layer, covering it with the remaining grated cheese, egg-tomato sauce, and, if need be a little more tomato sauce to cover.

Bake in a slow oven for about an hour, turning the heat up in the last few minutes to lightly brown the top. The dish should not be eaten hot – let it cool some, or better yet, entirely. It will be better the next day, and even better the day after that.

Variations:

  • Flavor the eggplant with a well cooked, but not excessively thick tomato sauce made with oil and minced onion. Bake the assembled dish at length in a hot oven, and brown it well.
  • Make a thick tomato sauce with no oil, heat the assembled dish over a low flame rather than in the oven, and remove it from the fire as soon as it begins to bubble.
  • Low fat: Rather than fry the eggplant, microwave it (see your microwave’s booklet for instructions) and don’t put any oil in the tomato sauce. Make the rest as normal.

Yield: 6-8 servings Melanzane alla Parmigiana, Eggplant Parmesan.

More Parmigiana:
A Lighter Version of Melanzane alla Parmigiana
Walter’s Variazione della Parmigiana, Illustrated

Eliche o Fusilli Alla Primavera, Twists or Corkscrews Primavera

This is a recipe devised by Caròla Francesconi, the late doyenne of Neapolin cooking, using the proportions given her by Monzù Gerardo Modugno.

To serve 6:

  • Vegetable broth
  • 4 1/2 pounds (2 k) asparagus
  • 6 artichokes
  • 10 ounces (250 g) freshly shelled peas
  • 1/4 cup (50 g) unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup (100 ml) olive oil
  • A small onion, sliced
  • 2 ounces (50 g) pancetta, shredded
  • 4 eggs
  • A sprinkling of white wine
  • Basil and parsley
  • 3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano
  • 1 1/3 pounds (600 g) short fusilli or corkscrews
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Wash the asparagus spears well and boil them in batches, in a narrow high sided pot with their feet in the boiling water and their tips out of it. When the tips are fork tender remove the asparagus spears and set them aside. Remove what is tender of the remainders of the stalks and blend it to obtain a cream, which you shlould thin with a little vegetable broth should it be too thick.

Cook the peas in a little butter, seasoning them with the onion and pancetta.

Strip away the tough outer leaves from the artichokes, and then you get to the tender inner sections (see instructions if need be) cut them into thin wedges, discarding any hair you might find in the chokes, and boil them briefly in lightly salted water and lemon juice. Drain them when they’re still firm, and sauté them in a skillet with olive oil and butter, sprinkling a little wine over them. Add the artichoke tips and purée, and the peas with their seasonings. Check seasoning, then mince and add basil and parsley to taste. Sprinkle a little more vegetable broth over it all to keep the sauce from being too thick, and keep it warm by transferring it to a double boiler.

Beat the eggs with the Parmigiano and a pinch of salt.

Cook the pasta until it is al dente in lightly salted water, then drain it and return it to the pot. Pour in half of the vegetable sauce and the beaten eggs, turning everything over a moderate flame while the sauces thicken (a couple of minutes). Pour the fusilli out onto a heated serving dish, pour the remaining sauce over them, and serve.

Peperoni in Padella, Saucepot Bell Peppers

A reader recently wrote to ask, “I am harvesting my Asti peppers and want to make peperonata. I have several recipes, including yours, that use tomatoes. Are there any without tomatoes in them?”

Peperonata is stewed bell peppers, and I do include tomatoes in them. Always have, and never thought about why. So I looked through a bunch of cookbooks, and discovered that so does everyone else: Some call for less, and others more, but  tomatoes are a constant presence in peperonata.

In my search I did find a couple of other uses for peppers that I’m going to try, including Peperoni in Padella, Saucepot Bell Peppers. It’s a Campanian recipe, and is frankly rather lusty. Since bell peppers will flavor the oil they’re cooked in, you should use a cup, and cook them in batches.

To serve 6:

  • 2 1/4 pounds (1 k) bell peppers of the colors you prefer
  • 1 cup oil for frying
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup pitted chopped black olives
  • 2 tablespoons salted capers, rinsed
  • 2 tablespoons minced parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Begin by stemming, seeding, and ribbing the peppers, and then cut them into squares. Heat the oil in a sauce pot over a brisk flame and fry the pepper squares in batches, draining the fried peppers on absorbent paper. When you are done frying, discard all but 2 tablespoons of the oil.

Heat the oil, and sauté the garlic, capers, and olives for a couple of minutes. Add the peppers and cook, stirring, for a few minutes more. Season to taste with pepper and (if need be) salt, dust the peppers with the minced parsley, and serve.
Yield: 6 servings saucepot bell peppers.