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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.

Abbacchio alla Romana, Roman-Style Lamb

This is one of Rome’s quintessential spring dishes, and well worth getting excited over. Don’t let the presence of anchovies throw you; they serve primarily as salt and will blend into the flavors of the dish quite well.

To serve four you’ll need:

  • About 2 1/4 pounds (1 k) lamb chops
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 salted anchovy filets, rinsed and boned (use three canned filets if need be)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • The leaves from a sprig of rosemary
  • 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Rinse the lamb chops and pat them dry.

Crush one of the cloves of garlic and sauté it in a pot with the olive oil until it begins to color. Add the meat and cook, turning the pieces, until all are browned on both sides. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper and cook over a moderate flame until done, about an hour in all.

In the meantime grind the rosemary leaves in a mortar (or whir them in a blender) with the remaining clove of garlic and the anchovy filets. Add the vinegar to the mixture and mix well.

As soon as the lamb chops are nicely browned and cooked to your liking remove them to a warmed platter. Stir the rosemary mixture into the pan drippings. And as soon as the vinegar has evaporated, spoon the sauce over the meat.

I would serve this with a deft Barbera, accompanying it with classic Roman artichokes and a tossed salad. If I also wanted a first course I might think of spaghetti all’amatriciana.

More about abbacchio and agnello, Italian lamb.

Saltimbocca alla Romana, Roman Veal Scaloppini with Proesciutto and Sage

Saltimbocca alla Romana

Saltimbocca alla Romana

Thoughts of sage bring to mind Saltimbocca, one of the most classic Roman dishes. The name literally translates as hopinthemouth and is singularly appropriate — you can never have too many of these veal scallops.

Assuming you want to serve 4 you will need a pound of veal cutlets or scallops (8, each about the size of a playing card), 4 slices of prosciutto  cut in half widthwise, 4 leaves of sage, unsalted butter or oil for sautéing, wooden toothpicks, and salt and pepper to taste.

Flatten out the cutlets with the flat of a broad-bladed knife, lay half a leaf of sage on each, and a slice of prosciutto. Affix the prosciutto to the veal with the toothpicks. Heat a couple of tablespoons of unsalted butter or oil in a skillet and sauté the cutlets until done, cooking them more on the veal side than the prosciutto side. Season to taste and serve them with their drippings.

As variations, you can sprinkle some (a couple of tablespoons at the most) white wine or lemon juice into the pan when the cutlets are almost done. In any case, these will go well with a white wine from the Colli romani.

Pasta all’Amatriciana

Pasta all'Amatriciana

Pasta all’Amatriciana

Amatriciana sauce is a zesty guanciale (or pancetta, in a pinch) and tomato sauce, and though it’s commonly considered one of Rome’s signature pasta sauces, it draws its name from the town of Amatrice, which was just over the border into the Abruzzo before Mussolini redrew the maps.

To serve 4 you’ll need:

  • 1 pound pasta, for example mezze maniche (shown here), bucatini, or thick stranded spaghetti (see note)
  • 1/4 pound (100 g) pancetta or guanciale, diced (see note)
  • 1 pound (400 g) ripe tomatoes (4-5 plum tomaoteos), blanched, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • Half an onion, minced
  • A hot pepper, seeded and shredded (or leave it whole if you want to remove it)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • An abundance (a cup) of freshly grated Pecorino Romano

Set the pasta water to heat, salt it when it boils, and cook the pasta. While this is happening, heat the oil in a skillet, add the diced meat, and cook until it browns, stirring the pieces about. Remove them to a sheet of absorbent paper with a slotted spoon and keep them warm. Add the onion to the grease in the pan, together with the hot pepper, and when it begins to color add the tomato pieces, which should be well drained. Cook, stirring, for 5-6 minutes, then return the diced pancetta to the pot and heat it through. Drain the pasta while it’s still a little al dente, turn it into the skillet with the sauce, cook a minute more more, stirring the pasta to coat the strands, and serve, with grated pecorino.

La Gricia, L'Amatriciana's Ancestor

La Gricia, L’Amatriciana’s Ancestor

Several Notes:

  • First, Romans traditionally make Amatriciana sauce with Guanciale, salt-cured pork jowl. It is similar to flat pancetta, but not as lean, and therefore has a richer, more voluptuous feel to it. If you can find guanciale, by all means use it, though in its absence pancetta will work. Bacon is not a good substitute, because it is smoked and also contains sugar not present in either pancetta or guanciale.
  • Second, Amatriciana sauce derives from a much older sauce called La Gricia, which the shepherds used to make by sautéing diced guanciale so gently as to keep it from browning, and adding freshly boiled pasta, a healthy dusting of pepper, and grated pecorino Romano. The Amatriciana sauce, with tomatoes, was initially enjoyed by the nobility, because only they could afford tomatoes.
  • Third, the people of Amatrice prefer to use spaghetti in preparing their signature dish. Romans often use bucatini, which do result in a different texture, but are happy to use other shapes as well, for example the mezze maniche shown here.

La Pajata

La Pajata, a Roman Treat

La Pajata, a Roman Treat

There are many classic Roman dishes loved the world over, for example spaghetti alla Carbonara, or pasta all’Amatriciana, Saltimbocca alla Romana, Carciofi alla Giudia, and Coda alla Vaccinara.

One just as classic Roman dish that Romans are more likely to keep for themselves is La Pajata, one of the noblest expressions of the Quinto Quarto, in other words the organ meats that don’t belong in the other quarters of a butchered animal, and that were once cheaper and therefore enjoyed by those unable to afford more expensive cuts.

And what exactly is Pajata? The intestine of a milk-fed veal (or lamb or kid, though veal is more common), containing chimo, the mother’s curdled milk, cut into lengths and tied into rings to keep the chimo from dribbling out, and then gently stewed. It’s a concept that takes a bit of getting used to, and a certain courage to try for the first time – there’s a wonderful scene in an Alberto Sordi movie in which he says to his guest, who wants to know what the Pajata he’s eating is, “I’ll tell you when you’re done.”

The Pajata pictured here was prepared by a Roman friend, Armando, who made a special trip to Rome to buy it from his family’s butcher, who had already prepared it for him, removing the membrane that surrounds the intestine, cutting it into 8-10 inch (20-25 cm, or a palm and a half, says Livio Jannattoni, quoting Giaquinto) lengths, and tying the lengths into rings using lace fat as string. He served it as a second course because he wanted us to enjoy and discover the full flavor of the dish (I confess I had never had it before because when I lived in Rome decades ago I was too skittish to approach it), while Romans also commonly use stewed Pajata to season tortiglioni or rigatoni, or even rice.

As occasionally happens, Livio Jannatoni quotes Ada Boni in “La Cucina Romana e Del Lazio” and then continues.

To serve 6 Mrs. Boni calls for between 1 and 2 kilos (2.2 and 4.5 pounds) veal intestine with chimo, and Armando cautions that it is very important that the chimo be white, with no traces of green, which would indicate that the veal was already being weaned when it was butchered, and the intestinal contents are shifting towards (ahem) fecal matter.

If your butcher did not do it, you have to trim away all traces of fat, and and then carefully remove the membrane surrounding the intestine, squeezing the intestine as little as possible to avoid squeezing out the chimo. At this point cut the intestine into the above mentioned lengths and tie them into rings.

Mrs. Boni also calls for 250 grams of rice (about a cup), or 500 grams (a slightly abundant pound) of tortiglioni, while Mr. Jannattoni notes that Carnacina suggests 2 k of Pajata for 6-8 people, and either 500 g of rigatoni or 350 g of rice, and then says that the best place to go for Pajata in Rome is Checchino dal 1887, in front of the old slaughterhouse in the Testaccio neighborhood. And having said where to go, he presents Ninetta Ceccacci Mariani’s instructions.

To serve 4:

  • 3 2/3 pounds (1.5 k) pajata, prepared as above
  • A scant pound (400 g) rigatoni
  • 1/2 a glass of dry white wine, ideally from the Colli Romani (don’t use something tremendously ripe or oaked)
  • Olive oil
  • Half an onion, peeled and finely sliced
  • Half a garlic clove, peeled and crushed
  • Coarse sea or Kosher salt
  • A clove
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 1/8 pounds (500 g) chopped canned tomatoes
  • Freshly grated Pecorino Romano

Heat a deep, thick bottomed pot with about a quarter cup of olive oil, and as soon as it’s hot add the pajata, with a dusting of salt, the clove, and a dusting of pepper. Brown the Pajata over a gentle flame, gently stirring the rings about lest they form crusts, stick, and break apart.

When the rings have browned, add the sliced onion and the garlic. Continue cooking until the onion is translucent, and then sprinkle the wine over all and let it evaporate. Cover the pot and simmer for another 15 minutes, and while it’s simmering blend the tomatoes or put them through a food mill.

La Pajata, a Roman Treat

La Pajata, a Roman Treat

Add the tomatoes and simmer over a low flame, covered, stirring occasionally, and carefully, lest you break open the rings. After about an hour, pinch one of the rings to see if it is tender.

If it is turn off the flame and leave it covered to absorb the essence of the sauce; if it’s not cook for another 10-15 minutes and check it again. In any case, when it’s ready set pasta water to boil, and when it does salt it and cook the pasta until it’s barely shy of the al dente stage.

Drain it and turn it into a fairly deep skillet while it’s still dripping. Ladle some of the sauce from the pajata over it and cook over a brisk flame for a minute or two to force the rigatoni to absorb some of the sauce, and then stir in freshly grated cheese to taste. Mix well, divvy the pasta into 4 heated deep dish pasta bowls, dust with a little more cheese, and top with several rings of pajata.

Enjoy!