Seeing red

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It was all so green when I left. A week away –  a bonny wedding weekend on an island in the Scottish Hebrides called Tanera Mòr and then a few days slightly too far outside London with my family – and Testaccio market is splattered, like a Cy Twombly canvas, with red. There is still green of course, a market patchwork of asparagus, peas, spinach, slim beans, forest green chard and soft heads of spring lettuce. But it’s the startling splatters: tomatoes, strawberries, crimson cherries and bunches of blushing radishes that are catching my eye.

I’ve never found peeling tomatoes a faff. Quite the opposite in fact, I find the spa-esque process – a hot plunge, a nick with a sharp knife, a cold plunge before peeling –  thoroughly pleasing. Maybe I should get out more? My carelessness with a handful of tomato skins once blocked the sink in the smart kitchen Romla and I were doing some rogue catering in. Fortunately the husband of the house, a man so handsome I turned the same colour as the tomatoes, happened to be in the kitchen while our twenty-three year old selves were peering anxiously into the blocked Belfast. He strode over (I think he might even have been wearing buff riding breeches) plunged his aristocratic hand down the plughole, scooped out the offending red skins and complimented us on the suggestive smell of dinner.

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These are Sicilian pomodori Piccadilly. They are fleshy, flavoursome things the size of small plums that smell of the tangled vine they grew on. Tomatoes like this make me forget my jaded self who has shaken off much of her Roman romanticism, and remember the Rachel who first arrived in Italy nine springs ago. The woman who stood staring in gastronomic awe at the mounds of red: tiny orbs, beefy cow hearts, fat fluted saucers, pendulous plums and who ate them chopped, sliced or simply squashed idly onto bread with a careless quality of olive oil and too much salt day after day after day just because she could.

Having sung the praises of Italian pomodori when I know full well many of you might not be able to find such full hipped and red lipped tomatoes, I should hasten to add today’s recipe is a forgiving one. Extremely forgiving, as it involves the saving grace of many-a-mediocre tomato: a flesh shriveling, flavour intensifying roast.

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Having peeled your tomatoes, sliced them in two and set them cut-side-up in a well-oiled baking dish, you tuck a thin sliver of garlic into the soft pulp and place a quarter of anchovy filet on top of each half. You then scatter some soft, craggy breadcrumbs, a little finely chopped fresh rosemary, salt and black pepper over the upturned faces before dousing the whole tray, fearlesslessly and drunkenly with extra virgin olive oil. I find a glass of wine is helpful when a reckless olive oil hand is called for.

You bake your well-seasoned tomatoes at 180° for about 20 minutes or until they are extremely soft, collapsing, curling sweetly at the edges and starting to suggest sauce. Until the anchovies have dissolved into the tender tomato flesh and the olive oil inebriated breadcrumbs are crisp and golden.

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The combination of roasted tomato: sweet and savory with the intense, salty fishiness of the anchovy, a warm notes of tomato smothered garlic, the smoky, floral rosemary and crisp olive oil soaked breadcrumbs is a mighty good one. A mighty good one that sings. I agree with the brilliant Niki SegnitIf you have ever wondered what Unami is, a mouthful of tomato and anchovy should settle the matter.’ I’d go one step further and say a mouthful of roasted tomato with anchovies (the fat, plump Sicilian ones preserved under coarse salt that you need to soak and then de-bone) rosemary and olive oil breadcrumbs and the Unami matter is settled and some.

You could eat your tumbling mess of anchovy, rosemary and breadcrumbed tomatoes with a grilled lamb chop, pork chop or slice of roast chicken. Alternatively – and I appreciate the suggestion of breadcrumbs on bread might sound odd –  they are excellent smeared on toast. Or you could do as I did today.

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That is mash your baking tray of warm tomatoes clumsily into a rough sauce with the back of a wooden spoon and then stir this sauce into some al dente linguine or spaghetti. Don’t worry about serving bowls or dishes, mix the pasta with the sauce directly in the baking tray, making sure you diligently scrape and stir every sticky, oily morsel and crumb. Someone will also have to take a crust of bread to the tin once all the pasta is served-up.

This is how I (we) like to eat: pasta with a sauce that both strokes and punches. A green salad of lettuce, lovage and wild rocket and then a dozen crimson cherries made a nice finish to a Wednesday lunch.  Now about that flat hunting.

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Linguine with oven roasted tomatoes, anchovies, rosemary and breadcrumbs

Serves 4

  • 1 kg ripe but firm and flavoursome tomatoes (plum-shaped Piccadilly work particularly well)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 plump cloves of garlic
  • 6 large or 8 small anchovy filets (preserved under oil or better still under salt)
  • 60 g soft, craggy breadcrumbs
  • a little finely chopped rosemary
  • salt and black pepper
  • 450 g linguine

Set the oven to 180°

Peel the tomatoes by plunging them first into boiling water for 60 seconds and then very cold water. The skins should slip and pull away easily.

Half the tomatoes and sit them – cut side up –  in an oiled baking tin. Peel and slice the garlic very thinly. Tuck a sliver of garlic into the fleshy pulp of each half. Using scissors, snip the anchovy fillets into quarters and sit a quarter on each cut tomato. Scatter the breadcrumbs and chopped rosemary over the tomatoes. Sprinkle and grind a little salt and black pepper then douse everything very generously with olive oil.

Bake the tomatoes for 20 minutes or so or until the tomatoes are very soft and starting to collapse and the breadcrumbs are golden and crisp. You need to keep a beady eye on them.

Cook the linguine in a large pan of well-salted fast boiling water. Using a wooden spoon, gently mash the tomatoes into a very crude, rough sauce, add the drained pasta, stir and serve immediately.

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60 Comments

Filed under food, pasta and rice, rachel eats Rome, Rachel's Diary, recipes, summer food, tomato sauce, tomatoes

60 responses to “Seeing red

  1. Sounds like a lovely lunch. I will have to check on the tomatoes at my market this weekend — I’m sure my houseguest would appreciate this!

  2. I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you that this dish looks absolutely perfect for me. Looking forward to my own tumbling mess. One day I will try it with plump salt preserved Sicilian anchovies.

  3. Just think—in only three months I’ll be able to make this, too!

    I need to move back to Italy.

    • rachel

      First a long visit, there are two places (one trattoria one hole in the wall) we all need to go to and then you can cook tomatoes for us all in my kitchen.

      • Dennis

        Which trattoria? Which hole in the wall? Those of us who rarely get a chance to visit Rome need to know too!

  4. Cheri

    That second paragraph made ME feel 23 and is one of the best I’ve read in quite awhile ;) Love your writing Rachel. Now I’ll go read the rest of the story. (and save this recipe for when I finally have tomatoes in August or September from my garden.)

  5. Roast okay tomatoes (mine, not yours); get great tomatoes back. Love it. Ken

    • rachel

      It’s true, roasting is the cure for tomato mediocrity. Hope you are both well?

      • Thank you for asking. Two nights ago Jody participated in “Boston Bites Back,” an enormous culinary fundraiser for bombing victims, held in Fenway Park, Boston’s beloved baseball stadium. It was a great success. People have been so sweet, especially those writing from places that have already had their own fair share of terrorist violence. Ciao. Ken

      • rachel

        Boston is an inspiration to us all. xx

  6. wonderfully written. delicious recipe. and that “window”….still love that window. :)

    • rachel

      I love my window too. I can’t believe I will be leaving it very soon. I will find another nice window though, it is my flat requirement.

  7. Oh, you hit me deep into that bare, vulnerable part of me that misses Italy desperately. It is small, but it usually has to deal with sunny spring days and limitless tomato salads. Sob.

    • rachel

      I know the feeling (well the other way round feeling). Our reversed lives give us such a sense of companionship. talking of which, next time I am in London can we please eat cheese (i will smuggle a tomato or two for you)

  8. This sentence: “pasta with a sauce that both strokes and punches” is why I keep on coming back to your blog (and the great recipes of course!) and why Italy is starting to grow on me more and more – the food is so much more than nutrition, it is the country’s lifeblood!

    And I hear you on the flat-hunting. I have been going through this for the past 6 weeks or so and the years and years of flat-hunting in London did not prepare me for flat-hunting in Rom – never has the word ‘luminoso’ been so over-used and used in the wrong places as in the descriptions of the dark and drab flats I have been viewing these last few weeks. And don’t get me started on flats where each room is painted in a different colour (one flat was green, yellow, red and rose!) and the myriad flats in Rome that lack not only an oven (what?) but also make do with 2 hobs only, usually paired with a window-less kitchen and bathroom, all of course at exorbitant rents paired with the laments of the prospective landlord of how much more they were able to charge before the ‘crisi’. All that is to say, I wish you best of luck that you find what you are looking for (I think we might have just gotten there but I am keeping my fingers crossed until the contract is in fact signed, we have been handed our keys and the key fits the lock to our flat!).

  9. Sigh. I, too, must wait what seems like enternity before I can enjoy those beautifully ripe tomatoes.

    • rachel

      It will be a while before I have the really local tomatoes too, meanwhile Sicilian and Neopolitan plums. Rxx

  10. Ha ha ha, Mr Darcy clearing a blocked plug hole. That image will stay with me for quite some time. Lovely tomatoes, very jealous.

  11. Love, love, love the way you write. It’s prose that relaxes yet intrigues & captures at the very same time. Big applause for you.

  12. Oh my, Rachel. How I wish I weren’t going out to dinner tonight…

  13. Looks exactly my kind of thing Rachel. Yum. (But I’ll be waiting for the local tomatoes to come into season.)

    • rachel

      It is (she says claiming to know you well ). I had convinced myself Sicily and southern campania was local (ish). I will be even better with the real local deal. Beer next week xx

  14. I am always looking for new things to do with all the tomatoes that will be coming out of my backyard garden later this summer. I love this idea. An abundance of tomatoes! What a lovely problem to have.

    • rachel

      I am envious of your future backyard tomatoes. I would love to think my next flat might have a yard, a tiny balcony even but I know the chances are extremely thin. This is a good recipe to tuck up your sleeve for tomato heavy days.

  15. I am growing tomatoes in my greenhouse, and always have a glut. I love the look of this recipie. I have filed it away and will definitley be trying it. I love your blog. I’ve been following for quite a while and often share it on facebook. It is very inspirational.

    Leanne xx

    • rachel

      Hi Leanne, It is so nice to have you here reading (and sharing – thank you) along. Thank you too for you kind words, they mean much R

  16. Christine

    Oh it will be quite a while before I start seeing any good tomatoes at my market, but I bet cherry tomatoes halved would do in a pinch, althoug they won’t hold the anchovies as well.

    In the summer I roast containers and containers of cherry tomatoes to be frozen. Next time I’ll punch it up with some anchovy.

    And not food related, but I love Luca’s little fingers at the table! what a doll.

    • rachel

      I think cherry tomatoes would work! Pesky to skin but then a tiny piece of anchovy would balance nicely. Little finger that are good at both eating and flinging food at the nearest wall!

  17. Lauren

    Perfect timing Rachel, I have a bucket of tomatoes from the garden sitting on the bench demanding attention, but after a long summer I was lacking the inspiration♡

    • rachel

      A bucket of tomatoes for the garden! they put my sicilian kilo to shame – luck you. I do hope you try, it is such nice recipe. R

  18. This looks divine. I just threw out one recipe for my long weekend (in Canada) menu plan and put this in its place. Thank you for always reminding me to slow down and enjoy the beauty and simplicity I have found in Italy.

    • rachel

      I often need reminding to sit down and enjoy the beauty and simplicity too – writing this bog helps. Thank you for reading along.

  19. laura

    Oh, I have missed being able to read you! And I see that I have a plethora of wonderful posts to savor – in all senses. When I write a comment, I am always torn in trying to decide whether I’ve enjoyed the recipe or the writing more. How lucky that I don’t really have to decide. Joyful pleasures abound thanks to your felicitous verbal and culinary choices.
    In bocca al lupo for your flat hunt.

    • rachel

      Laura – I was wondering where you were. I was concerned I must confess and thinking all sorts of things. So glad to have you and your equally felicitous verbal choices back baci Rx

  20. Oh, Rachel just when we seem to have taken two steps back to winter here your gorgeous summery post pops into my inbox. Will be on the lookout for Italian tomatoes at market tomorrow to bring a touch of summer to London. My, but Luca is sitting at that table like a little angel! Always good to be home.

    • rachel

      And as you well know he is not always quite so angelic at the table. I am still thinking about that sticky pistachio bun. Hope you find nice red things at Maltby street tomorrow x

  21. I love your description of peeling tomato as spa-esque.

    • rachel

      I’m glad, I felt slightly foolish writing it but peeling tomatoes alawys makes think of a spa. Come to think of it I could do with a plunge, nip, plunge and peel

  22. Cy Twombly, indeed. And, were that not enough, those little nips and twinkles of silver I spied, then gasped over, then scoured the text after were (!) in fact (!!) the beloved little fishes I’d hoped. Blessed be. And pass the pan. Pasta, schmasta. A fork’ll do fine.

    • rachel

      In fact we wouldn’t even bother with bowls us two, just two forks over the baking tray ( and then two crusts for moping up oily, tomatoey juices).

  23. I am seriously impressed that you can limit yourself to only a dozen cherries! I don’t think I’ve ever managed to stop eating before the bag is empty, and then no more cherries for me :(
    PS I still haven’t got round to making Nigel’s cake – I got sidetracked by a blood orange and Campari cake I spied in Polpo, and spent so long dreaming about it that blood oranges went out of season. Fail!

    • rachel

      I was quite impressed too, I should note I know the exact number as my little boy loves counting and then flinging cherries. I booked-marked that Polpo cake with campari blood too!

  24. wonderful! delicious! simple(y) beautiful.

    • rachel

      it was (which was very very little to do with me and everything to do with the winning combination that is tomatoes, anchovies, bread and loads of olive oil)

  25. Lauren

    I made this for lunch today it was perfect! So was the sneaky bottle of wine, perfect late Saturday lunch ♡♥♡ thanks Rachel

  26. Oh, I am in the throes of flat-hunting too. Funny, I never before thought of myself as an indecisive person? Thanks for this recipe — just the thing to cheer me up! (P.S. Good luck!)

    • rachel

      Luck gratefully received, in fact, several hours after your comment I found a flat. Sending you love and luck x

  27. Patrick Orr

    This blog has been nothing short of a godsend for me. I live in Argentina and, although we have some excellent fresh and cheap produce, particularly meat and veg, the food here is often a little repetitive and bland. I lived for six month with an Italian girl who taught me a lot about her home cuisine (from the North, lots of heavy, thicky stewy things) but your blog has been so useful when out of ideas of what to cook. I copied you pasta e ceci for my Italian friend and she said it was (almost) as good as her mother’s!

    Today I looked up your blog trying to think of something to do with tomatoes apart from my usual Penne all’arrabiatta, and voilà, here it is!

    I’m sorry I don’t usually comment on things but I wanted to let you know that even 10,000 km away in South America your food brings a little bit of light to a dreich porteño afternoon.

  28. Rachel I’m so glad I found your blog. A girl after my heart, cooking with anchovies. I’m Italian and I like a punch that’s not overkill in my food. You do it well.

    • rachel

      I Angela I am so glad to have you here. Compliments from Italians always make me feel especially chuffed. Thank you

  29. Pingback: Vital signs | rachel eats

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