Savor the vibrant and sun-kissed flavors of Italy with a classic dish that embodies the very essence of Mediterranean cuisine: Pan Roasted Tomatoes with Herbs. Picture plump, ripe tomatoes gently kissed by the heat, their juices caramelizing and mingling with a medley of fragrant herbs. This simple yet profoundly flavorful dish is not just a culinary delight but also a journey through history.
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A Brief History of Tomatoes in Italy
Tomatoes, a quintessential ingredient in Italian cuisine, actually have their roots in South America. When the Spanish Conquistadors explored the New World in the 16th century, they brought back with them a treasure trove of produce, including the tomato. Initially, Europeans were skeptical about these red fruits, partly due to their resemblance to the toxic belladonna. However, as time progressed, tomatoes began to carve their niche in the kitchens of the Mediterranean.
By the late 17th century, tomatoes had taken Italy by storm. They thrived in the Mediterranean climate, and the Italians embraced them with open arms, incorporating them into their traditional dishes. In this setting, the simple yet delightful concept of pan-roasting tomatoes was born. It is said that Italian peasants, known for their ingenuity in creating hearty meals with minimal ingredients, first made this dish. They would harvest ripe tomatoes and herbs from their gardens and pan ‘roast’ them as a way to celebrate the fruits of their labor.
Nonna’s Recipe: Pan Roasted Tomatoes
As we savor our favorite version of this dish— made with Nonna Margherita’s time-tested recipe—she frequently reminds us of these origins. This dish epitomizes the Italian philosophy of ‘la cucina povera’, or the poor kitchen, where simple ingredients are transformed into sumptuous meals.
It’s the little details that make Nonna’s recipe so divine! For instance, removing the tomato seeds and taking the time to let the salt extract the water from the tomatoes to concentrate the tomatoes’ flavor are critical steps. Whenever we’ve been in a rush and skipped these crucial steps, our tomatoes never turn out as good as Nonna Margherita’s! Don’t make that mistake!
Serve it as a side dish, toss it with pasta, or enjoy it on a slice of crusty bread! This Italian classic is bound to tantalize your taste buds and warm your soul. Our favorite part of this might be the little sugo (sauce) that the tomatoes produce, which we love to scarpetta (sop up) with a freshly toasted Italian bruschetta!
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Nonna’s Pan Roasted Tomatoes Recipe
- 2 large pan or skillet depending on size of halved tomatoes
- 5 large fresh tomatoes round and ripe; cut in half horizontally
- 4 pinches fine salt or to taste
- 2 pinches black pepper freshly ground; to taste
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- ½ tbsp fresh marjoram minced
- ¾ tbsp fresh basil minced
- 3 leaves fresh basil
- 1 clove fresh garlic minced
- 1 tsp dried oregano preferably Sicilian or Greek, which are stronger!
Prepare the Tomatoes
- Cut tomatoes horizontally in half. Remove tomato seeds and the water around them with a small spoon or your fingers. Do this over a large saucepan letting the seeds and tomato water fall into the pan/s where you will cook the tomatoes.5 large fresh tomatoes
- Place all tomatoes cut-side up in the large skillet/s with the tomato seeds. Salt each tomato half generously. After all the tomatoes are salted, turn them face down in the pan.4 pinches fine salt
- Let the tomatoes rest face down in the pan for 30 minutes. The salt will extract water (and bitterness) from the tomatoes. This will give the tomatoes a more concentrated flavor and allow them to cook in their own juice which will reduce. In the meantime…
Prepare the Herbs
- Mince together: the fresh marjoram and fresh basil. Mince 1 clove of garlic and add it to the herb mix.½ tbsp fresh marjoram, ¾ tbsp fresh basil, 1 clove fresh garlic
Season the Tomatoes
- After the 30 minutes, flip the tomatoes back over (cut-side up). Drizzle olive oil generously in the pan, and on top of each tomato. Sprinkle each tomato with a pinch more salt and a pinch of black pepper.3 tbsp olive oil, 2 pinches black pepper
- Distribute the marjoram/basil/garlic mix evenly on each tomato. Coax the herbs into the tomato crevices (where the seeds used to be). Sprinkle the dried oregano on the tomatoes.1 tsp dried oregano
Cook the Tomatoes
- Over high heat, cook the tomatoes covered for about 2 minutes. This will help to extract the most bitter, watery part of the tomato.
- Remove the lid and cook on high for 5 more minutes. Add 2-3 fresh basil leaves (whole) for fragrance.3 leaves fresh basil
- Cover the tomatoes again, reduce the heat, and cook for 15-20 minutes—or until tomatoes are tender with a concentrated flavor. During the 20 minutes, spoon the liquid in the pan over the tomatoes every 5 minutes or so as they cook.
- When tomatoes are tender, remove the lid. Cook uncovered for about 5 more minutes until the juice in the pan has reduced. Buon appetito!