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I Pomodori


In Italian the word is correct. Il pomodoro (the love apple) best conjures the passion and beauty of summer. On the slopes of Vesuvius tomatoes grow in the rich volcanic soil and are the sweetest of them all, but right across Italy, tomatoes in summer taste of the sun and the soil and love. In the garden of Eden, Eve did not tempt Adam with an apple, it must have been an irresistibly sexy summer-red tomato.


Until I tasted an Italian tomato, I hadn't tasted a tomato. Why tomatoes taste better in Italy is one of life's enigmas. Even when we grow them in our gardens, they still are not quite right, not sweet enough, not tasty enough, not juicy enough.

We all scour the market for the best tomatoes and the word passes between family and friends. Stall 56 Greenside Greengrocer was the best but sadly, old age and the unpredictable patterns of COVID have pushed the stall owner Mario into retirement, leaving us once again to hunt and taste. We have settled on stall 37, run by Rommy, a Cambodian greengrocer. His are good because they are grown locally in the sun and the soil and picked when they are ripe.




I only eat tomatoes fresh in summer, and then from jars, tins and bottles for the rest of the year because they still hold the warm sunshine from when they were picked and preserved. There is nothing sadder and more sulky than a winter tomato with it's hard thick, pale skin, green seeds and floury flesh.


There are so many things to cook with fresh, ripe summer tomatoes. These recipes match the hot weather, the lush green of summer herbs and the brightness of the sky and sea. Their vivid red is a celebration of life at a time when we feel most alive.


Orecchiette con pomodoro crudo

The dish from Puglia is served when the tomatoes are at their ripest and the temperature is at its hottest.


Ingredients

Pasta - orecchiette (or a macaroni such as penne or rigatoni)

Sweet ripe tomatoes ( you can have a mixture of colours and sizes, cherry and large)

Excellent extra virgin olive oil with lots of taste

Salt and black pepper

1 clove of garlic, crushed

A large bunch of fresh basil

(Optional) Other fresh summer herbs such as oregano, marjoram, thyme

Grated cheese - caccia ricotta (hard to get in Australia) or ricotta salata, or a mild pecorino.


Chop the tomatoes into small chunks and put them into a large bowl that will later fit the pasta.

Put in with the tomatoes plenty of olive oil, salt, pepper and chopped basil and other chopped herbs (optional) and stir them all together.

Leave them in the bowl for at least 30 minutes for all the flavours to infuse and the juice of the tomato to begin to leak out.

Boil a large pot of salted water. When it is bubbling, put in the pasta and cook until it is tender.

While the pasta is cooking, gently heat the oil in a frying pan with the garlic. When the garlic is brown, take it out.

Just before the pasta is cooked, pour the hot oil into the tomatoes and mix together. The hot oil will draw out the flavours of the tomatoes and herbs and increase their juiciness.

Drain the cooked pasta and add the pasta to the bowl of tomato.

Stir well.

Serve immediately with a good sprinkling of cheese and some more black pepper.



Stuffed tomatoes

My friend Nicky makes them the Greek way with rice, meat and aromatic spices. They have a deep warm and complex flavour and are delicious.

This recipe is lighter and very summery as well as being vegan.


Ingredients

8 large ripe tomatoes

salt

8 basil leaves

10 tablespoons risotto rice (Arborio or Carnaroli)

7 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

freshly ground back pepper

capers (optional)


Cut the tops off the tomatoes and set them aside. One by one, hold the tomatoes over a bowl and scoop out all the flesh, leaving the skin in tact. Sprinkle each cavity with salt and place them cut side down on a clean tea towel.

With a food mill or processer, blend the tomato flesh until smooth. Add the basil leaves, torn into small pieces, then the rice and the olive oil.

Season well with salt and pepper, stir and leave for at least 45 minutes.


Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.

Pour a little oil in an oven pan.

Spoon in the stuffing to the tomato shells and and place the tops back on.

Place them into the pan and cook for at least 1 hour until the rice is soft and plump and the tomatoes are soft and starting to shrivel.

Let them sit for a while before you eat them. They are also yummy served cold.




Bruschetta, Frise and Friselle

So many abominations have been created in the name of bruschetta.... or as it is often mispronounced in Australia - "brooshedda"

It is a simple snack made with old bread and whatever vegetable is available... in summer tomato and basil. There are versions of dishes made with old bread and tomato all over Italy from the north to the south in the fine tradition of not wasting anything.

Bruschetta is made of toast but in the south there is a whole industry of dried bread called a range of things, depending on where they come from. In Calabria, they are friselle, in Sicily, pani duru, in Campagna, freselle, and in the Salento in Puglia, frise. They are usually flat disks of dried bread with a hole in the middle and sold in packets of 6-8 in the Alimentari. In the Salento you can also find ceramic pots specifically designed to wet and drain the Frise. These have a landing ledge with draining holes which sits over one side of a deep bowl. You dip the frise in the bowl of water and then leave it to drain on the ledge.

Raf's mum, Assunta would make a version when she wanted a quick lunch. She would take a piece of stale bread, pass it quickly under a running cold water tap, squeeze out the excess water, drizzle it with oil, put on some fresh tomato and sprinkle if with salt. She did all of this including the eating, directly over the kitchen sink. What a refreshing snack on a hot summer day.


For Frise Sprinkle the dried bread with a little water and drizzle it with good, tasty olive oil and let it sit until slightly soggy but still with a bit of crunch. While it sits, dice up tomatoes, chop some garlic and tear up some basil, mix this together and put it on top. If you like, you can pour more oil over. Instead of basil, you can use capers.


For bruschetta, the process is very similar except you toast your day old or stale bread, drizzle it with olive oil and then taking a peeled clove of garlic, rub it on the top of the toast, and add the chopped tomato and basil. Drizzle the top again with olive oil.



Insalata Caprese

This famous salad is from the Amalfi coast in the shadow of Vesuvius because that is where the best buffalo mozzarella is made and the best tomatoes are grown.

It is extremely simple and should not be messed with, although I prefer to cut the tomatoes smaller and mush the mozzarella, rather than the usual way which is to slice the ingredients are arrange them in order.. red, white, green etc. ( just like the Italian flag)

Ingredients are tomato, mozzarella, basil and olive oil. Place the cheese and vegetables on the plate, sprinkle with salt and black pepper and lots of olive oil. Eat with fresh bread so you mop up the oily tomato juices.


Mozzarella is a fresh cheese made with buffalo milk. (If it is made with cows milk it is called Fiore di Latte). In Australia we have recently begun to breed Italian buffalo and make mozzarella. It is possible to buy imported Italian mozzarella, but because it comes such a long way, it loses its freshness and flavour. The local cheese is good and fresher (although weirdly no cheaper!)




Spaghetti with cherry tomatoes

I love to capture the sweetness of cherry tomatoes by cooking them slowly in a pan until their skins pop and their juices ooze out and mingle with the oil.


This pasta dish is extremely simple and takes almost no time.


Pour in a generous amount of olive oil into a frying pan with a squashed clove of garlic. Once the garlic is browned, take it out and put in cherry tomatoes. Slowly cook them in the oil until their skins are withered and popped and juice has mixed with the oil. They should remain largely whole. Add salt and black pepper to taste.


While the tomatoes are cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and add in the spaghetti to cook.


Drain the spaghetti and put it into the pan with the tomatoes and a small amount of the pasta water. Mix together and serve with a grating of pecorino or a dollop of fresh ricotta.










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