pomodori

Discover hydroponic waterboarding, travel to Italy and eat tomatoes filled with rice and basil

For those of you eager for my recipes, feel free to skip today's anecdote about family life, but do click here to join me on an adventure to DISCOVER MAREMMA, one of Italy's best kept secrets. The trip is scheduled for the 3rd week in September. My 5th grader told me Thursday morning he needed a total of 20 small potted plants of 4 different kinds to conduct and experiment that would start exactly at 12:40pm.

We rushed to the local garden center to acquire the plantlings while I prodded for details. Ernesto and his classmates had devised 4 different hydroponic environments in which to observe how the same plant reacted. Why 5 of each then? He needed a control living in an ideal environment, he then explained the numbers/letters cross referencing grid he drew to chart the progress of the trial.

The ideal environment? "Soil, of course", Ernesto said. Then he gathered a couple of different kind of vinegars and asked that we stop to get a sports drink on the way to school. By Tuesday, I should know exactly what age balsamic is best to kill an organic basil plant in 48 hours or less.

Boston Participation medal
Boston Participation medal

This charmingly fallacious study in plant waterboarding may have in part been inspired by my excitement about Caleb Harper's CityFarm project, at which I got a first row look last week when I spoke at MIT MediaLab as one of the panelists who considered the intersection of tradition and innovation in large scale food production.

Plants waterboarding

Plants waterboarding

If I can get my kid to forego the vinegars and sports drinks, our loft might even see its own vertical farm soon. In the meantime, I managed to save one of the basil plants for this oven friendly tomato dish I so adore.


Pomodori al riso con patate

Rice filled tomatoes with potatoes

for 6 people

6 round cluster tomatoes

salt to taste

1 garlic clove

lots of fresh basil leaves

9 tablespoon rice

olive oil

2 to 3 medium size yellow potatoes

pepper to taste

Wash the tomatoes and cut a thin disk off the stem side of each tomato. Set the disks aside as you will use them later as a lid.

Using a melon baller or a small spoon, remove the pulp and seeds of the tomato, leaving a shell of skin and flesh. Salt the interior of the tomato shells and place them open side down to drain on paper towels.

Discard the harder parts and save the softer, more liquid part of the pulp.

Chop the garlic roughly and tear the basil leaves with your hands.

Place the saved tomato pulp, garlic and basil in the food processor or blender. Add a quantity of water equal to about 1/3 of the liquid you already have and 1/4 cup olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and blend for a couple of minutes

Peel the potatoes and cut each in 8 long wedges. Season them with salt, pepper and olive oil.

Spoon 1.5 tablespoons of rice in each tomato shell, then fill to the brim with the blended tomato mixture. Mix using the back of the spoon and top with more liquid if needed.

Arrange the tomatoes in a baking dish lined with parchment paper and cover each with the "lids" you set aside.

Stick the potato wedges in between the tomatoes. Sprinkle with some salt and drizzle with olive oil. Everything should be quite snug in the baking dish.

Bake at 350˚F for about an hour. The rice and potatoes should both be thoroughly cooked and the tomato skins a little wrinkly. They are best served between warm and room temperature and are a perfect midnight snack.

NOTES

  • My mother taught me that the best tomatoes for this are what I know as costoluti-meaning they have costole-ribs. See their picture below, if you find them. most definitely use them, as their sweet flesh and thin skin definitely pays off.

Cooking in Italy: pane cunzatu

cooking in bikini:PanareaWhile in Panarea, pane cunzatu was one of the specialties most eateries advertised. This dressed bread is a cooked until hard crown of pane di semola-hard wheat bread, softened with the juice and flesh of little tomatoes and enlivened by capers, basil, oregano, olive oil...kind of a seminal food for one like me. I tried my hand at it. Two things were happiest about playing with pane cunzatu: cooking it in a bikini and watching the joy and taste with which the children ate it.

 

 

pane cunzatuPane cunzatu Dressed bread

1 pound cherry tomatoes salt to taste 1/3 cup capers packed in salt 1 handful fresh basil leaves 1/4 of a small red onion 2 to 3 teaspoons dried oregano pepper to taste 1 10-12" crown hard semolina bread (this is fairly common in Italian bakeries) olive oil to taste Quarter the cherry tomatoes and place them in a colander inside a bowl. Season them liberally with salt, toss them well and squeeze them gently to let the juices run. Set aside.

Rinse all the salt off the capers and soak them in warm water. Stack the basil leaves, roll them and slice them gently in very thin ribbons. Slice the onion very thinly. Drain and rinse the capers then squeeze off the excess water.

Add the oregano, basil, capers and onions to the tomatoes and toss well. Adjust salt and pepper.

Lift the colander, you should have plenty of tomato juice.

Lay the bread on a platter and crack it in chunks by hand. Sprinkle it lightly with salt then pour the tomato juice all over it. It should be nicely wet and soft, but not soaked to the point that excess water sweats out of it. If it needs it, just add a bit of still water to it.

Dress both the bread and the tomatoes generously with olive oil. Toss the tomatoes again and taste for flavor, adjust seasoning if it needs it. If there is more tomato juice, pour it on the bread.

Arrange the tomatoes all over the bread and garnish with a few basil tips and flowers . Bring to the table.

NOTES:

  • This dish can be enriched with many things to make it a more filling meal
  • I served sides of tuna packed in oil, soft boiled eggs, anchovies, olives, shaved aged ricotta that people could pick from
  • I am, of course and as always, partial to anchovies