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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.

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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

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.

La Pasqua Napoletana: Carciofi Fritti, Fried Artichokes

Simplicity in itself.

For six people you will need:

  • 6 artichokes (they should be firm and feel solid — soft or light artichokes will probably have fuzzy hearts)
  • Salt
  • 1/2 a lemon
  • Flour
  • An egg, lightly beaten
  • Oil for frying

Squeeze the lemon into a bowl of water, drop the rind into the bowl, and add a pinch of salt and a little bit of flour (not enough to make a paste). Peel away the tough outer leaves of the artichokes, trim the tops perpendicular to the length of the artichokes, and cut the artichokes into eighths. Soak them in the acidulated water for an hour. Then rinse them, pat them dry, flour them, dredge them in the egg, and fry them until crisp and golden in moderately hot oil (you don’t want the outside to burn before the inside is cooked).

About artichokes and preparing them
Other Neapolitan Easter Recipes

La Pasqua Napoletana: Carciofi e Patate Soffritti, Sautéed Artichokes and Potatoes

To serve 6:

  • 8 artichokes (they should be firm and feel solid — soft or light artichokes will probably have fuzzy hearts)
  • The juice of a half a lemon
  • 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon olive oil for the artichokes
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Salt to taste
  • 3 pounds (about 1.5 k) baby potatoes (if they’re small and fine-skinned they need not be peeled)
  • 1 pint olive oil for the potatoes
  • A bunch parsley, minced
  • Pepper to taste

If the potatoes are young and fine skinned, wash and rub them with a rough cloth. Otherwise, peel them.

Trim the tough outer leaves off the artichokes (continue until the exposed leaves are almost all white), cut the tops off (perpendicular to the length of the artichoke) and cut them into eighths, putting the slices into water acidulated with lemon juice to keep them from turning black. When you have finished cutting them up, pat them dry and sauté them in a pan with the oil, garlic, salt, and minced parsley. Begin over a low flame, covered, and after a little while uncover them and turn them often so they cook well on all sides, browning and almost coming apart. When they’re done drain away almost all the oil.

In the meantime heat the remaining oil in a high-sided pot suitable for frying, and add the potatoes in one fell swoop with a half cup of water. Let them cook gently at first, covering the pot so that they soften, and then raise the flame and uncover them to brown them.

Once the potatoes have browned, drain them and add them to the artichokes, together with salt and pepper to taste, and simmer for about ten minutes over a very low flame.

About artichokes and preparing them
Other Neapolitan Easter Recipes