Now and again I feel nostalgic for the “old” food. From my childhood, I often hanker for Vitello Tonnato. It is eaten cold, can be easily prepared beforehand and is a perfect dish as a starter or as a main meal. Left overs make a perfect panino.
There is an earlier post with the recipe for Vitello Tonnato, but this time I will let the photos guide the cooking.
I used a grirello – the eye round steak. The vegetables are onion, celery, carrots, garlic and herbs. I have tied the herbs (bay, rosemary, thyme) with string so that they can be easily removed at the end of cooking. Usually I like to include sage, but I have none growing at the moment.
I insert slices of garlic into the meat.
Some recipes indicate that the vegetables and meat can be boiled. I do not always repeat what my mother did but like her I lightly brown the vegetables and meat and this does add to the taste. I used a fish kettle for the cooking.
There is a bottle of white wine and some chicken stock ready to add. I added about 1 cup of wine and 2 cups of stock.
The liquid will add flavour and keep the meat moist. I always evaporate the juices at the end to concentrate the flavours of the sauce. Add seasoning.
Cook the meat to your liking. My mother always cooked it till it was very well done – that is how the older generation cooked meat in those times. My meat is lightly pink, but could have been rarer – on this occasion I had guests who prefer their meat well done.
Cool the meat and slice thinly.
Now for the sauce: egg mayonnaise, drained tuna (packed in oil), capers, anchovies and some of the vegetables that were used in the cooking of the meat. If the reduced sauce has cooled and jellied, add a little of the sauce.
Blend the ingredients. before adding the mayonnaise.
Add the mayonnaise and this is the sauce.
Build the layers – slices of meat, topped with the sauce. I made it the day before I served it. The sauce penetrates and softens the meat.
I have had modern versions of this dish in a number of places, both in Australia and Italy and the preference seems to be to place the sauce on top of some slices without covering each layer of meat.
I like the meat to be smothered with the tuna sauce.
Decorate it as you wish. This time was not my best, I used the left over carrots, topped them with strips of anchovies, stuffed olives cut in half and pink peppercorns. My mother probably would not have approved.
Albacore tuna is sustainable, cheap in price and much under rated in Australia. It is not sashimi grade so the Asian export market does not want it and therefore in Australia we also tend to undervalue it. It is denser in texture but still excellent for cooking (lightly or cooked for longer). As in Australia, Blue fin tuna is the preferred tuna in Sicily; if it is sustainable depends on how and where it is caught – it should be wild caught and aquaculture is not an option.
Unfortunately I rarely find albacore tuna where I live in Melbourne and if I do, I always grab it when I can and cook it as I would cook blue fin tuna.
I like tuna seared and left rare centrally but my Sicilian relatives eat tuna very well done and this is also how it is presented in the traditional home-style restaurants in Sicily.
In Sicily there are numerous ways tuna but Tonno alla stemperata is one of the favourites in the south eastern part of Sicily. It was first cooked for me by one of my cousins, Rosetta, who lives in Ragusa. She and her husband have a holiday house on the beach at Marina di Ragusa, and she usually buys most of her fish from the fishermen on the beach.
Although Rosetta prefers to use tuna in this recipe, any firm-fleshed fish, thickly sliced, is suitable. She prefers to cut the tuna into large cubes – this allows greater penetration of the flavours in the sauce and of course, it will cook to a greater degree and more quickly.
Rosetta cooked the fish in the morning and we ate it for lunch, at room temperature…in Australia you may find this unusual but eating it at room temperature and some time after it has been cooked allows the flavours time to develop.
A version of this recipe is also in my first book: Sicilian Seafood Cooking.
I have used Albacore tuna,trevally,mackerel or flathead (better choice category) successfully in this recipe.
tuna or firm-fleshed fish, 4 slices
sliced white onions, 2
capers, ½ cup, salted variety, soaked and washed
white wine vinegar, about 2 tablespoons or for a milder taste use 1 tablespoon of white wine and one of vinegar
extra virgin olive oil, about 2 tablespoons
salt, black pepper or red chilli flakes (as preferred by the relatives in Ragusa),
celery heart, 2 or 3 of the pale green stalks and young leaves, chopped finely
green olives, ½ cup, pitted, chopped
bay leaves, 4
Soften the onion and celery in about half of the extra virgin oil, and cook until the onion is golden, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add the fish, olives, capers, seasoning and bay leaves and sear the fish. The pieces of fish only need to be turned once.
Add the vinegar and allow the vinegar to evaporate and flavour the dish.
Remove the fish from the pan if you think that it will overcook and continue to evaporate.
Optional: Decorate (and flavour) with mint just before serving.
You can tell I am in South Australia by some of the photos of the fabulous varieties of fish I am able to purchase in Adelaide when I visit.
This Sicilian caponata is certainly different to the Christmas fare we are used to in Australia, but it makes a perfect antipasto or salad as an accompaniment to meat or fish .
Eggplants and peppers are summer vegetables and not in season in winter for Christmas, so this caponata is made with celery hearts, traditionally boiled first before being sautéed. In some parts of Sicily green, leafy winter vegetables (for example chicory, spinach, endives) are also used with the celery.
I do not pre-cook the celery; I prefer to slice it very finely and just sauté it till it is slightly softened.
It is a very unusual caponata with a combination of textures and flavours –sweet, salty, sour… soft and crunchy. This recipe is one of the many caponate in my first book Sicilian Seafood Cooking.
Sultanas or currants are both good to use. Muscatels and raisins are OK as well, but their size may not be as visually pleasing.
Sometimes I toast the almonds, sometimes I do not. I made this caponata in a friend’s kitchen and on this occasion I used whole almonds rather than chopped ( the was no food processor/ kitchen wizz). On other occasions I have used pine nuts.
I have paired this with meat and fish but I really like to eat it on by it self… especially at the start of a meal.
almonds, 1 cup, blanched, toasted and chopped
celery, 1 large, but remove the outer leaves and only use the centre, pale green stalks and some of the fine leaves
onion 1, large, chopped
sultanas or currants, ¾ cup, sun-ripened
capers, ½ cup, salted or in brine
green olives, ¾ cup , stoned, chopped
white vinegar, ½ glass
sugar, 3 tablespoons
extra virgin olive oil, ½ cup
salt and freshly ground pepper
These can be sprinkled on top when the caponata is ready to serve: Coarse Toasted Breadcrumbs, 2 tablespoons, made from good quality 1-2 day old bread and then toasted in a frypan with hot oil.
Slice the celery finely and chop the leaves.
Sauté the celery with the onion in a deep frypan until it has softened, add salt and cook for about 10 minutes.
Add the olives, sultanas and capers and cook for another 2 minutes.
Empty the cooked ingredients into a bowl.
Agro dolce sauce (sweet and sour sauce): To the frypan already coated with caramelised flavours, add the sugar and heat it very gently until it begins to melt and bubble. Add the vinegar and allow it to evaporate.
Add the vegetables to the sauce and some of the almonds, reserving some for decoration if you are not going to use the toasted breadcrumbs.
Leave the caponata in the fridge, at least overnight. Serve at Room temperature. Top with the rest of the almonds or breadcrumbs when ready to serve.
Caponata has evolved over the ages to become the dish, which personifies Sicilian cuisine and is a popular dish during festivities ( perfect for Christmas). As you’d expect, there are many regional variations and enrichments of what must have been a very humble dish, as well as the personal, innovative touches from the chefs of ancient, Sicilian aristocracy (called monzu, a corruption of the French word monseur).
In Sicilian cooking the melanzana (eggplant) is said to be the queen of vegetables, second only to the tomato and the principal ingredient in caponata is the eggplant.
If you eat caponata at my house you are likely to eat the version of caponata as made in Catania and it will include peppers as well as eggplant. This is because my mother was born in Catania and this is the caponata I grew up eating. The caponata which is common around Palermo has no peppers.
I prefer to keep my caponata di melanzane simple, but again, variations in the amounts of ingredients are endless. Some versions add garlic, some have oregano, several recipes include anchovies, others add sultanas and/or pine nuts or toasted almonds. These are all acceptable and authentic variations.
In keeping with the tradition of what is customary in Palermo, just before serving add a sprinkling of coarse breadcrumbs (toasted in a fry pan in a little hot extra virgin olive oil) or almonds — blanched, toasted and chopped.
For me, Peter Robb in his book Midnight in Sicily captures the essence of a Sicilian caponata, when he describes how very different the caponata he was savouring in Palermo was to the caponata he had been eating in Naples.
I realised caponata in Palermo was something very different. It was the colour that struck me first. The colour of darkness. A heap of cubes of that unmistakably luminescent dark, dark purply-reddish goldy richness, glimmerings from a baroque canvas, that comes from eggplant, black olives, tomato and olive oil densely cooked together, long and gently. The colour of southern Italian cooking. Caponata was one of the world’s great sweet and sour dishes, sweet, sour and savoury.
The eggplant was the heart of caponata. The celery hearts were the most striking component: essential and surprising. Pieces of each were fried separately in olive oil until they were a fine golden colour and then added to a sauce made by cooking tomato, sugar and vinegar with a golden chopped onion in oil and adding Sicilian olives, capers …….
As Robb discovered: eggplant is the purple heart of Sicilian caponata – and it is the principal ingredient.
There are a variety of caponate (plural of caponata) and the variations and inclusions of different ingredients in the basic caponata recipe are many.
Some traditional recipes use tomato paste rather than chopped tomatoes, some add garlic, others include chocolate (or cocoa). Many recipes contain nuts – almonds or pine nuts or pistachio, fresh in some, in others they are toasted. In a few recipes the caponata is sprinkled with breadcrumbs and sometimes the breadcrumbs have been browned in oil beforehand. Frequently herbs are added – sometimes basil, at other times oregano or mint. Certain recipes also include raisins or currants and some fresh pears. Several include fish, singly or in combination and include canned tuna, prawns, octopus, salted anchovies and bottarga (tuna roe).
You will need a deep, large fry pan. If you use a non-stick frypan you may not need as much oil, but the surface will not be as conducive to allowing the residue juices to form and caramelise as in a regular pan. (After food has been sautéed, the juices caramelise – in culinary terms this is known as fond. Non-stick pans do not produce as much fond).
Although the vegetables are fried separately, they are all incorporated in the same pan at the end. When making large quantities I sometimes use a wok.
extra virgin olive oil, ¾ cup (depending how much the vegetables will absorb)
eggplants, 3-4 large, dark skinned variety
onion 1, large, chopped
red tomatoes, 2 medium size, peeled and chopped or 2 tablespoons of tomato paste and a little water or some canned tomatoes
capers, ½ cup, salted or in brine
green olives, ¾ cup, stoned, chopped
celery, 2-3 tender stalks and the pale green leaves (both from the centre of the celery)
white, wine vinegar, ½ cup
sugar, 2 tablespoons
salt and freshly ground pepper
Cut the eggplant into cubes (approx 30mm) – do not peel. Place the cubes into abundant water with about 1 tablespoon of salt. Leave for about 30 minutes – this will keep the flesh white and remove any bitter juices while you prepare the other ingredients. Although it is not always necessary to do this, the eggplant is said to absorb less oil if soaked previously.
Prepare the capers – if they are the salted variety, ensure that they have been rinsed thoroughly and then soaked for about 30 minutes before use, and then rinsed again.
Chop the onion.
Slice the celery into very fine slices and chop the green leaves.
Peel, and coarsely chop the tomatoes (or use tomato paste or canned tomatoes).
Drain the eggplants and squeeze them to remove as much water as possible – I use a clean tea towel.
Heat a large frypan over medium heat with ½ cup of the extra virgin olive oil.
Add eggplant cubes and sauté until soft and golden (about 10-12 minutes). Place the drained eggplants into a large bowl and set aside (all of the vegetables will be added to this same bowl).
Drain the oil from the eggplants back into the same frypan and re-use this oil to fry the next ingredients.
Add the celery and a little salt gently for 5-7 minutes, so that it retains some of its crispness (in more traditional recipes, the celery is always boiled until soft before being sautéed).
Remove the celery from the pan and add it to the eggplants.
Sauté the onion having added a little more oil to the frypan. Add a little salt and cook until translucent.
Add the tomatoes or the tomato paste (with a little water) to the onions, and allow their juice to evaporate.
Add the capers and olives. Allow these ingredients to cook gently for 1- 2 minutes.
Empty the contents of the frypan into the other cooked vegetables.
For the agro dolce sauce (sweet and sour sauce):
Add the sugar to the frypan (already coated with the caramelised flavours from the vegetables). Heat it very gently until it begins to melt and bubble. Add the vinegar and allow it to evaporate.
Incorporate the cooked vegetables into the frypan with the agro dolce sauce.
Add ground pepper, check for salt and add more if necessary.
Gently toss in all of the cooked ingredients over low heat for 2-3 minutes to blend the flavours.
Remove the caponata from the pan and cool before placing it into one or more containers. Store in the fridge till ready to use and remove it from the fridge about an hour before eating– it will keep well in the fridge for up to one week.
When ready to eat, sprinkle with either toasted almonds or toasted breadcrumbs. I like to add fresh basil or mint leaves.
CAPONATA DI MELANZANE CON CIOCCOLATA (Caponata with chocolate)
In Sicilian cuisine there are a number of recipes, which include chocolate to enrich the flavour of a dish (see HARE or RABBIT COOKED IN CHOCOLATE) and chocolate in eggplant caponata is a common variation in certain parts of Sicily.
In the early 1500s, the Spanish conquistadors discovered a variety of unknown foods in the New World.Among these was xocolatl, (chocolate) obtained from ground cacao seeds. Spanish nobility arrived in Sicily during the 15th and 16th centuries and they brought their exotic ingredients from the New World to the island. This was also an ostentatious period of splendour and opulence for the clergy and the Sicilian aristocracy.
Although many traditional Sicilian dishes are said to be Spanish legacies, it is more accurate to say that some Sicilian cuisine incorporated both Sicilian and Spanish traditions.
Follow the recipe for eggplant caponata above and add cocoa or good quality, dark chocolate.
Cocoa: The majority of the recipes for caponata enriched with chocolate suggest the use of cocoa powder (about 2 tablespoons of cocoa to 2 tablespoons of sugar dissolved in a little water to form a thick paste). Add this mixture to the pan after you have made the agro dolce sauce and before you add the cooked vegetables.
Dark Chocolate: My most favoured alternative is to use 50g of dark, extra fine chocolate (organic, high cocoa content – 70%). Add the chocolate pieces into the agro dolce sauce and stir it gently as it melts, and then I add the cooked vegetables. This results into a much smoother and more luscious caponata.
In a modern Sicilian restaurant with a young chef, I was presented with an eggplant caponata where the chocolate was grated on top, much like grated cheese on pasta.
In my first book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking there is whole chapter devoted to caponata. I have also written other posts with recipes on the blog :
This Sicilian recipe – Pipi ca Muddica – begins with roasted peppers.
I made a large batch of these recently for a gathering (I used 4 k of peppers) but when I am busy I do not always have time to take photos. These are the leftovers so as you can see, they were popular.
To roast peppers
Roasting peppers is easy and great for the hot weather as they can be roasted (or grilled) over an open flame on a barbecue. I have never used my oven to roast peppers, but some people do.
Select a variety of colours. Peppers should be, whole, firm and unbroken.
Place whole peppers on the hot metal grill over an open flame or coals. Turn them over a few times and the skin should soften and their skin will char after 15-20 minutes of cooking. and you get a nice smoky flavor.
Once you’ve roasted your peppers, you will need to complete the cooking and the softening of the peppers by steaming. This process will help you peel the tough skin. My mother used to place them in a heavy brown paper bag or a plastic bag and seal it. I place them into a casserole with a lid and leave them there for at least 30 minutes.
Peel the peppers and seed them and tear them into strips. The roasted peppers are now ready to make into a salad. By far the most common Sicilian recipe for roasted peppers is to add a couple of red tomatoes that you have also charred on the open flame and use this to make the dressing.
Remove their skin, mash with a fork add slivers of garlic, extra virgin olive oil, fresh basil, salt, pepper and some lemon juice. Dress the peppers, mix well and once dressed serve them within an hour.
I say ‘within and hour’ because roasted peppers if left to stand begin to weep their juices and you will find that the dressing has been diluted significantly. An alternative is to leave the peppers (can be stored in the fridge), drain them well and dress them just before serving.
The recipe for Pipi ca Muddica – Peperoni con la mollica (Italian) uses some breadcrumbs and this is one way to absorb some of the juices that are released.
Breadcrumbs are very important in Sicilian Cuisine and there are many recipes that use either coarse, fried bread crumbs or fine and dry (for coating food to fry).
Use 1-3 day old white bread (crusty bread, sourdough or pasta dura).
These are used as a topping for baked recipes and stuffings. Remove crust, break into pieces, place into a food processor and make into coarse crumbs. They can be grated or crumbled with fingertips.
These provide greater flavour and texture and are usually sprinkled on cooked foods, for example: Pasta con Sarde or Caponata.Heat about ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan and add 1 cup of coarse breadcrumbs (see above). Stir continuously on low temperature until an even, golden brown.
Depending on in what I am using the bread crumbs, I may add all sorts of goodies to these, for example there may be: grated lemon peel, pine nuts, cinnamon, nutmeg, a little sugar.
Pipi ca Muddica – Peperoni con la mollica
There are a number of versions of this Sicilian recipe from different parts of the island and the most common are those versions that add fried onion or some raisins, or pine nuts. This version of Pipi ca Muddica is from the area around Syracuse.
It can be an entrée (as a small course served before a larger one) or as a vegetable side dish.
1.5 k of roasted peppers torn into strips
1 cup of bread crumbs (Coarse, see above)
2-3 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup of capers
3-4 tablespoons wine vinegar
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and black pepper
Lightly and gently sauté the chopped garlic in the oil, add the breadcrumbs and stir them around in the hot pan until golden. Add the roasted peppers, the capers and the wine vinegar. Add the seasoning and toss the contents around over moderate- to hot heat until the vinegar evaporates 5-10 mins. Some cooks add a little bit of sugar- the sweet and sour taste is very common in some Sicilian cuisine.
Place the contents into a dish and let cool – Pipi ca Muddica should be served cold. They can be placed in the refrigerator for about 1-2 days. Remove them from the refrigerator about half an hour before serving.
Basil leaves are not compulsory, but I do like this herb.
Mountains of eggplants, peppers, celery, onion, capers and green olives…..a few red tomatoes, pine nuts, basil and the characteristic caramelized sugar and vinegar to deglaze the pan that makes the agro – dolce sauce for caponata.
Two days before Christmas and the caponata needs to be made so that the flavours mellow.
In a couple of days it will be perfect!
Ready for more fresh basil and pine-nuts and ready to be presented to guests. The first lot will be on Christmas eve – it will be served as the antipasto without any other food, just a little, good quality, fresh bread for those who wish to mop up the juices.
Caper bushes are everywhere in Sicily, growing wild in small crevices on stone walls.
I can remember my father being very excited when he found some caper bushes growing in the crevices of the wall of a very old church called San Giusto in Trieste (the patron saint) – my father never imagined that capers could grow so far north. They grow well in countries around the Mediterranean – Cyprus, Turkey, Greece.
I prefer to use capers preserved in rock salt rather than in brine – they taste like unadulterated capers rather than capers in vinegar. Salted capers need to be thoroughly rinsed, then soaked for about 30 minutes and rinsed again, but this will depend on the brand of capers – the easiest way to tell if they are still too salty is to taste them and then soak them again. Capers in the vinegar brine impart a particular flavour and are more acceptable in recipes where wine or vinegar is one of the ingredients.
They are extensively used in Sicilian cooking and Sicilians prefer the smaller capers. Good quality ones come from Salina (one of the Aeolian islands) or Pantelleria (an island, southwest of Sicily and closer to North Africa).
We now have Australian capers growing on the dry rocky slopes of the River Murray. Some nurseries sell the seeds or plants and they are being grown in some home gardens.
Apparently in some parts of Sicily, it is common to boil the leaves and the young shoots in salty water, then they need to be drained well, dressed with good quality olive oil and lemon juice and eaten as a vegetable.
The caper buds need to be soaked in water for at least 2-3 days (apparently they have some bitter taste, like olives) and then are preserved under salt or under vinegar.
Those of you living in Australia may remember how nasturtium berries used to be pickled in vinegar and called capers – we Italians knew better. Mind you, my family knew nothing about rhubarb. Our neighbours gave us some and we threw away the stalks and boiled the leaves to eat as a vegetable. Fortunately, because they tasted so bad, we did not eat them.
Olive pastes have been around for a long time and probably Tapanade is the one we know best. This is made of puréed or finely chopped olives, capers, anchovy fillets, and olive oil with the addition of many variations such as mustard, garlic, and being a Provençal dish any of the following herbs common in the South of France – basil, thyme, rosemary and parsley. Olive oil (good quality, extra virgin) is essential. Some add lemon juice, some brandy. Although it is most commonly made with black olives, green olives also make a good paste, very different in taste of course.
Below, Tapanade made with green olives and caper berries.
Clifford A Wright (Food Historian and author) offers a plausible explanation for why it is called Tapenade:
The caper plant was known as tapeneï in Provençal, and the flower buds, the part of the caper used for culinary purposes, was the tapeno, which were preserved in amphora filled with olive oil since vinegar was not used at that time. The capers became mushed together in the amphoras to form a kind of pâté of crushed tapeno, the ancestor of the modern tapenade. This is why it is today known by the word for caper rather than olives, which is actually, in volume, the greater constituent ingredient. In the second century A.D., vinegar came to be used more in preserving and so too garlic, the great universal medication in the medieval period when the Greek physician Galen’s medical theories were prevalent.
I have written about Tapenade once before and there is a recipe for tapenade on my blog:
Italians, Spaniards and Greeks also have versions of olive pastes – usually the pastes made in these countries only contain very few ingredients apart from olives and good olive oil, with maybe some herbs or garlic.
Now what about Olive jam?
I think Italians would find this hilarious and as an Italian food purist I was very skeptical. Yet it is no different from having a fruit chutney or a dab of a strong-tasting, thick paste. It is called Camilo Olive Jam.
It was the sweetness that made me wonder, but the paste still definitely tastes of olives. The ingredients are black olives, salt, apples, Camilo honey, lemons and chilli, sugar (22.8g per 100g).
I am finding the Olive Jam very pleasant ( with cheese, meat and fish) and when I have offered it to friends and they too are as surprisingly delighted as I am. Who would have thought!!!
This cauliflower is ceramic. I remembered I had this photo and chose to use it instead of one of a real cauliflower. It was one of the many beautiful decorative objects in Le Pont De L’Ouysse Restaurant in the countryside of Lacave, not far from Rocamadour, in the Lot, South West of France.
The restaurant is recommended in Stephanie Alexander’s Cooking & Travelling in the South-West France. I stayed with my partner and two friends in the same converted barn – La Vieille Grange in Mercadiol , a small hamlet in the South West of France.
And all this to tell you about olive Tapenade which I love to eat with steamed cauliflower.
Tapenade made from black olives, mustard, anchovies, capers (some use brandy) comes from Languedoc, further south than the Lot, but the olive tapenade I prefer is from Provence. It is fresh and light and very summery. In the Occitan region in the south of France (Occitan –romance language spoken in southern France), the word for capers is tapéno, hence the name for this popular spread.
I present it with bread but sometimes I accompany it with some vegetable crudities. Raw or steamed cauliflower flowerets are a pleasant addition.
But Tapenade also comes in very handy as a sauce or condiment for simply cooked fish or vegetables, especially steamed cauliflower.
Tapenade is a pesto and traditionally made with a mortar and pestle. I cut my herbs by hand (otherwise they can taste grassy) and then add them to the olives that I have chopped in the food processor.
I also need to give credit to y friend Liz who introduced me to Tapenade as made in Provence, many years ago.
I do not weigh/measure ingredients when I make this but the following works.
pitted olives, 2 cups (I use Kalamata because I like their strong taste)
capers, 2 tablespoons
garlic, 2 cloves crushed
extra virgin olive oil, 1 cup
lemon juice, 1 lemon
freshly ground pepper, to taste
fresh herbs, cut by hand, 1 cup of each: Italian parsley, thyme, basil (sometimes, I have added marjoram or fresh oregano)
Place olives crushed garlic in a food processor and chop to a medium grind (I do not like it too smooth).
Cut all the herbs and add them to the olives, add oil lemon and pepper.
Blend again for 5 seconds to mix the ingredients.
Place the tapenade in a sterile jar and cover it with a thin layer of olive oil – keep it in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
It comes in very handy!!
Bridge destroyed in 1966 (can see this from restaurant)
These stuffed tomatoes were cooked by my friends. They are hydroponic tomatoes and I was very surprised to find that they were very flavoursome – in fact, they tasted almost as good as real tomatoes. Of course, the stuffing helped.
I am even more surprised by the quality of the photo, which was taken with my friend’s mobile phone.
I usually never buy hydroponic tomatoes. As it happens, I used not to buy any tomatoes when they were out of season, until those growers in Murray Bridge (South Australia) and Mildura (Victoria) miraculously extended their growing season and arranged transportation to one particular stall in the Queen Victoria Market. We shall probably have to wait for the heirloom varieties and local tomatoes till late December.
Pomodoro is tomato in Italian. Interestingly, they were first called pomo d’oro (meaning golden apples) and apparently tomatoes were yellow when they were first introduced to Europe – it is said to have originated in Central America. Maybe the oro (gold) reflects its golden status in cuisine.
My friends used Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe for stuffed tomatoes from Plenty, his latest book.
Ottolenghi has several take–home food shops in London. His cuisine reflects contemporary Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavours; I had the pleasure of attending one of his sessions at The Sydney international Food Festival in October this year.
In his recipe he uses a mixture of breadcrumbs, onion, garlic, black olives, capers, oregano, parsley and mint. The tomatoes are baked in olive oil. He calls it a Provincial-style starter and suggests serving them with a little salad of seasonal leaves and a few broken pieces of robust goat’s cheese.
Stuffing tomatoes was one of my childhood tasks therefore Ottolenghi’s recipe bought back many memories. We ate them warm or cold as a contorno or as an antipasto.
Although adding black olives, garlic, grated cheese and anchovies and mint are common regional variations, but my family preferred to keep the flavours simple. Grated cheese, anchovies or black olives (and just one of these ingredients) were only added when the stuffed tomatoes were to accompany a dish of strong flavours for example, a heavily spiced fish stew or sardines, (hence Ottolenghi’s suggestion to present them with some robust goat’s cheese seems appropriate).
tomatoes, firm and ripe, 6 (estimate 1 per person and depending on their size)
extra virgin olive oil, 1 cup
garlic, 3 cloves, chopped finely
bread crumbs, 1 cup made from fresh 1-3 day bread
parsley, ½ cup , cut finely or fresh basil
oregano, dried, ½ teaspoon, or 1 tablespoon cut finely if fresh
capers, ½ cup, rinsed and soaked, if salted
salt and freshly groundblack pepper
Cut the tomatoes, into halves. Scoop out the seeds and leave them upside down to drain.
Preheat the oven to 180 C.
Sauté the garlic in a little of the oil. Let cool.
Add the sautéed garlic and herbs to the breadcrumbs and mix with some of the oil, seasoning and the capers.
Fill the tomatoes with the mixture but don’t press it down– it will expand as it cooks.
Arrange the stuffed tomatoes in an oiled baking pan and dribble a little olive oil over each.
Bake for about 30 mins, or until the tomatoes are soft and the breadcrumbs are golden.