Rachel Roddy’s recipe for stuffed tomatoes | A kitchen in Rome

Usually our lesson took place in the living room, at a big teak table with a felt cover, under a wall of books, many of which appeared to be legal. But every few weeks, when my Italian teacher’s husband was working at home (consulting the books, I hoped), we had our lesson in the kitchen. It was not a big room, with fitted units on all four sides, and brown-and-orange tiles on both walls and floor, making it seem even smaller than it was. Nevertheless, it managed to fit a square table with a Formica top, two chairs and two stools. And that is where we’d sit and go through verbs or read simplified newspaper articles about unsolved murders.

If I hadn’t liked my teacher so much, I might have found that room claustrophobic. But I did like her, as well as the verbs and the murders and the tiles, so I loved being in her brown kitchen. She would always make us tea, which, when we were in the living room, meant she disappeared. Sitting at my teacher’s kitchen table, however, I could watch as she boiled the water in a pan, and used a step stool to reach the teapot and bone china cups. She took milk in her tea, a habit she had picked up when she lived in Bradford as a young woman, she told me, along with a fondness for malted milk biscuits.

The other thing about sitting in that kitchen was a glimpse of supper. The pan of soup on the stove, a glass bowl of cooked green beans with a plate on top, or something under tin foil on the counter – this was almost always cooked vegetables, the warm smell of which teetered between pleasant and farty, but even that I loved. The kitchen also had a big window with a sill that met the counter and, one summer evening, when there was a tray of stuffed vegetables sitting half in, half out, we really discussed those, how resting was important, how the crumbs should be soft and the oregano dry.

Years later, I came across Jeanne Caròla Francesconi’s recipe for stuffed peppers in her vast book on Neapolitan cooking and was momentarily back at my teacher’s table. Here, I have swapped the peppers for tomatoes, as well as added cubes of fried aubergine to the filling of capers, olives, minced parsley, oregano, soft white breadcrumbs and a few chopped anchovies.

You could, if you want, scatter some diced potatoes or aubergine around the tomatoes while they bake – just make sure they are cut small, so they cook in the same time as the tomatoes, and are well coated in the oil. Once they come out of the oven, leave the tomatoes to rest for half an hour, and up to three in summer, so the flavours settle. A window sill is the best place for that.

Stuffed tomatoes

Prep 25 min
Cook 40 min
Serves 4

8 ripe, firm, fleshy, medium‑sized tomatoes
Salt
6 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves
, peeled
1 small aubergine, cut into 1cm cubes
1 tbsp capers
100
g pitted olives
1
tbsp minced parley
1
tsp dried oregano
6 tbsp soft white breadcrumbs
46 anchovy fillets (optional)

Cut the tops off the tomatoes and set them aside, then scoop the insides – flesh, seeds and juice – into a bowl. Sprinkle a little salt into the cavity of each tomato and set them aside, too.

Pass the tomato flesh, seeds and juice through a food mill or sieve, or mush it with your hands, pulling out and discarding any hard bits.

In a frying pan, warm the olive oil on a medium flame, gently fry one of the peeled garlic cloves until lightly golden, then discard. Add the diced aubergine and fry gently – it will soak up all the oil, but keep moving it around the pan. Once the aubergine is slightly golden, mince the other garlic clove and add it to the pan with the capers, olives, parsley, oregano, breadcrumbs and anchovies (if using), and a little of the reserved tomato liquid.

Heat the oven to 180C (160C fan)/350F/gas 4. Sit the empty tomato shells in a lightly greased ovenproof dish, spoon the filling into the shells, then put the lids back on top. Zigzag the tomatoes with more olive oil, then bake for 40 minutes, until the tomatoes are soft and slightly wrinkled and the filling is plump.

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