We haven’t had Italian in a while, so let’s ease back into it. I had made these tomatoes some three months back, but the pictures were left to sit in the archives until now. After remembering how delicious it was, I question myself as to why I hadn’t shared this one earlier. The recipe hails from Puglia, region located in the heel of Italy’s boot, and it comes from none other than my favorite celebrity chef, Lidia Bastianich. Honestly, nothing that this woman makes fails to impress me. I am forever grateful for her contributions in the world of Italian cuisine, and I hope that one day I can have just a fraction of the talent she has.
Whoops, I guess you just caught me in the middle of one my chef-idolizing rants again. Why don’t we move away from that and get to this recipe? We all know that roasting any sort of vegetable brings out its natural sweetness. These tomatoes end up just like that except for the fact that they have a crunchy breadcrumb crust. Capers and grated pecorino cheese not only hit on the salty notes, but they bring in a distinct and rather feisty savoryness that can best be described as an umami explosion. Roasting tomatoes also intensifies their deep red color, beautifully contrasted by the perky green bits of basil on top.
Highly versatile in function, these oven-roasted tomatoes can be served as a side dish alongside grilled meats, tossed into a salad, or combined with pasta to make a meal on their own, as I will show you today. Lidia paired these with fusilli lunghi on her show, and I couldn’t agree more with her pasta choice. Embedded with a series of groves, this pasta has a supple mouthfeel, a playful tactile sensation which will have you slurping on those bumpy ridges with delight.
Recipe from Lidia Bastianich
- 1/2 cup plain dried breadcrumbs, I recommend using panko
- 2 tablespoons small capers, drained and chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, adjust to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 1/3 cups grated Pecorino Romano cheese
- 10 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
- 1 1/2 pounds plum tomatoes
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 pound fusilli lunghi (long fusilli)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, capers, 1 tablespoon of the basil, salt, crushed red pepper flakes, oregano, pecorino cheese and four tablespoons of the olive oil. Mix around until everything is combined and moistened.
Slice the tomatoes in half and place them on a greased baking sheet. Top each of the tomatoes with about tablespoon or so of the crumb topping, compressing the it lightly so that the topping remains on the tomato. Be sure to use up all of the topping and make sure that all of the tomatoes are coated evenly. Drizzle the tomatoes with some olive oil and then roast in the oven for about 30 minutes, till the crumb topping is browned and the tomatoes have shriveled slightly. Allow to cool on the baking sheet for about 15 minutes before removing. If some of the tomatoes are too large, cut some of the halves into 3 or 4 pieces so that you can easily toss them with the pasta.
While the tomatoes are roasting, mix the garlic with 4 tablespoons of the olive oil and allow to infuse.
Boil the fusilli lunghi in a pot of salted water according to the package directions. The strands should be al dente, or tender to the bite. Toss the pasta in a big bowl with the roasted tomatoes, infused garlic oil, and the remaining 1 tablespoon of basil. Serve right away warm, with extra grated pecorino for passing around the table.