UPDATE: I re-worked this recipe and achieved better results. Read about it here.
Here’s a tasty, herb-filled dish with a very Mediterranean character. I posted about this recipe a while back, and linked to the original Italian version. I’ve taken the liberty to translate it to English and clear up the translation errors. I have added my comments so you can make this dish easily. This is a really delicious dish that took full advantage of my very ripe and very large Cor di Bue tomatoes. I used a Brandywine as well so fudged a bit on the ingredients so I would be able to fill up three tomatoes.
Don’t let the name of the recipe frighten you. Most Americans think salt when they think of the anchovy. Most Americans think salt when they think of olives. These are pizza toppings, not filling for a tomato. But think again. There are many more olives than the few pizza-top varieties most Americans are familiar with. Granted, cured anchovies have some saltiness and that will need to be adjusted in this recipe which calls for fresh anchovies. Unfortunately, its not easy to find fresh anchovies in my area, and I am unsure what kind of fish would make a good substitute. But salt-cured anchovies packed in oil will still add a savory touch to this very Italian dish. I will also be trying this recipe with some other fish, I think it would be a nice recipe with shrimp or squid as well.
Here is the original Italian recipe, translated to English, with my annotations:
- 2 large ox heart or beefsteak tomatoes (I used two large Cor di Bue and one medium Brandywine tomato)
- 12 fresh anchovies (I used 8 or 9 strips of cured anchovies, that’s a lot of salt. Use fewer, or use fresh ones if you can find them. See the “lessons leaned” section below)
- Bake 12 olives (Not sure what “Bake” is there for in the Italian recipe, but I used 12-14 gourmet olives from my grocer’s olive bar. I chose a green mellow variety, one nutty black variety and one red olive that was more buttery than salty)
- 2 green onions (I used a single green onion, could have used 2)
- 1 clove garlic (I used 2, always add another clove of garlic!)
- 4 large basil leaves (I used 5 or 6 and some small leaf clusters)
- 1 sprig of marjoram
- 1 sprig of thyme (I chopped up most of the stems except the thickest, oh the smell!)
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (use a bit more, to taste. Not the canned stuff, get real cheese)
- 2 or 3 slices of semolina bread (I used an Italian loaf from my grocer’s bakery that had semolina flour in the ingredients)
- 1/4 tsp. fresh ground black pepper (or to taste)
Wash and dry the tomatoes, cut the top open and use a spoon to scrape out the pulp and seeds (Keep this goodness from some other use). Lightly salt the inside (skip if using salt-cured anchovies). Clean the fresh anchovies and divide each fillet into two parts. If you are using cured anchovies, only use 4 to 6 filets or less. Make the decision based on the size of your tomatoes and the salinity of your olives.
Pit and coarsely chop the olives. Mince the garlic and chop the onions. Chop the thyme and marjoram finely. Roll and slice the basil into fine, attractive strips.
Cut the bread into 1/2” cubes and sauté in a hot skillet with a drizzle of olive oil. They should be lightly browned and crisp on the outside, but don’t worry if all the sides don’t get browned. Just stir them around and enjoy feeling like you know how to cook!
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, including the Parmesan cheese and pepper, and mix it thoroughly to get all the flavors and herbs mingled well. Using a spoon, carefully fill the tomatoes, pack them tightly, don’t waste it. Bake in preheated oven at 425° for 15 minutes or until tomatoes are soft and well done. You may find it beneficial to make some rings of foil to seat your tomatoes in if they are true ox hearts, otherwise they will fall over. A large beefsteak will stand on its own.
Lessons learned: I enjoyed this recipe, it was absolutely delicious, though a bit salty. What will I do next time?
• Saltiness: It was a bit heavy on the salt because I over-estimated the salinity of the cured anchovies. I used 8 or 9 filets divided between three tomatoes, and I salted the inside of the tomatoes according to the recipe. I should have used 1 to 2 anchovy filets per tomato. They should serve to add savor and depth to the dish, not saltiness. While my general philosophy has usually been to err on the side of excess, that is clearly unwise when cooking with salt. Next time I will cut back on the anchovies quite a bit. The other option is to explore making the dish with some other savory fish. That might kill the Mediterranean nature of the dish though.
If you wish to learn about anchovies, here is a nice taste test that ranks the best anchovy filets. I have a couple on my shopping list now.
• Olives: The olives need to be mellow too. If you have an olive bar at your local grocer (Our Kroger has a nice one and they allow tasting), then try several varieties. I found three nicely cured olives that were buttery and mellow, not too salty. The nasty green and salty olives out of jars would be a disaster.
• Temperatures: One other lesson learned. When translating recipes from the rest of the world to US English, don’t forget to convert the cooking temperature from Celsius to Fahrenheit.
The Verdict? Try this recipe, it might surprise you. Though I had a bit more salt than necessary, I enjoyed it immensely. It was a worthy use of a lovely heirloom tomato and I will make it again.