Ciao Italia: My Lifelong Food Adventures in Italy
Mary Ann's newest book contains over 150 recipes, 60 gorgeous food photos, and many scenic pictures of Italy taken by Mary Ann on her travels through the years.
One day while sitting in my friend Emma Berti's kitchen, I quizzed her about what she liked to cook. Emma is Neapolitan by birth but lives near Florence. I expected her to shower me with information about Neapolitan cooking when she said: "Let me show you my quick tomato sauce."
Out came a well-worn pan. I expected the tomatoes, olive oil, and garlic to be next, but Emma surprised me when she poured milk into the pan and heated it, and then took a whole tube of tomato paste and squeezed it into the milk!
But for me, the real triumph in her kitchen was the baked plum tomatoes stuffed with a parsley and garlic pesto, and topped with a dice of mostarda di frutta, a delicious mixture of such whole fruits as pears, cherries, and plums preserved in sugar syrup.
Mostarda di frutta can be found in Italian specialty shops or purchased by mail order. If it is not available, substitute diced candied fruits. Serve this dish warm as an antipasto.
6 fresh plum tomatoes (1 1/4 pounds), washed
1 cup packed Italian parsley, leaves only
2 cloves garlic, peeled
4 to 5 tablespoons Filippo Berio Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/3 cup diced mostarda di frutta or mixed candied fruit
1/3 to 1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
12 small slices bread
Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Core the tomatoes, cut them in half lengthwise, and squeeze out the seeds. Or use the handle of a teaspoon to scrape out the seeds.
Spray a 12-inch baking dish with vegetable spray. Place the tomato halves in the dish, cut-side up. If the tomatoes do not sit level in the dish, shave a small amount off the bottom of the tomato with a small knife.
Put the parsley and garlic in the bowl of a food processor. Grind the mixture until it is coarse. With the motor running, add the olive oil, a little at a time, until a paste the consistency of pesto sauce is obtained. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir in the salt.
Fill the tomato cavities with some of the parsley mixture.
Bake the tomatoes, uncovered, for 25 to 30 minutes, or until they soften but hold their shape. Remove the tomatoes from the oven and spread a little of the diced fruits over the top of each one.
While the tomatoes are baking, heat the olive oil in a sauté pan and brown the bread slices on both sides. Transfer them to a towel-lined dish.
Place each tomato half on a slice of the bread and serve immediately.