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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Pomodoro al riso--tomatoes with rice

When I first came to Rome, a woman in my English class offered me a ride home after class. As we negotiated the traffic, she pointed to burn on her wrist, explaining that she had gotten it the night before preparing a dish for a potluck at her daughter’s school. She had been making pomodoro al riso (tomatoes with rice), a classic Roman favorite. When I told her I didn’t know the dish, she was appalled. She promised to bring me the recipe at the next class.

Ten years later, I still have the handwritten recipe, the first anyone in Rome gave me. It itself is a classic because it demonstrates the imprecision of Italian recipes. The directions included un pugno di riso, un filo d’olio extra virgine, and sale q.b. Those mean, a fistful of rice, a thread of extra virgin olive oil, and “enough amount” salt, which I take to mean salt to taste.  I offer you a recipe for Pomodoro al Riso with a little more guidance.

The tomatoes for this dish should be nice, fat round ones about four-five inches in diameter. They should be firm and unblemished. Pomodoro al Riso is a perfect potluck dish because it’s equally good when it comes out of the oven, when it comes out of the fridge, or when it’s been sitting on the table for an hour. This recipe serves four, but it’s easy to double or triple for a crowd.

Pomodoro al Riso
4 tomatoes (see above)

1 cup rice (I suggest medium grain)

2-3 leaves of fresh basil, torn into small pieces
1 clove of garlic, minced

Extra virgin olive oil (about 2 tablespoons, but be flexible here)
1 large potato (the waxy kind)

Salt and pepper to taste.
1.      Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. (180 C.)

2.      Carefully cut around the tomato to remove a little cap (see photo). Reserve.

3.      Using a grapefruit or other spoon, scoop out the pulp of each tomato into a bowl, being careful not to break through the outer wall.

4.      Sprinkle the interior of each tomato with salt and invert on paper towel to allow excess liquid to drain.

5.      Meanwhile, peel the potato, cutting it into slices.

6.      Add the rice, minced garlic, and basil to the tomato pulp and mix well. Salt and pepper to taste, but remember that the tomatoes have already been salted.

7.      Fill each tomato loosely with the rice mixture. Place the tomatoes in a baking dish brushed with olive oil. Top each tomato with its cap.

8.      Arrange the potato slices around the tomatoes, using the potatoes to prop the tomatoes upright where necessary. Drizzle with that thread of olive oil over the entire dish, making sure the potatoes are coated.

9.      Place the baking dish in the oven and bake for about 45 minutes, checking from time to time to make sure the potatoes are not sticking.
Patricia Winton writes about two of Italy’s great works of art: food and crime. Her story, “Feeding Frenzy,” appears in Fish Tales, The Guppy Anthology. She is currently working on her second book featuring the sleuth introduced in that story. She blogs on alternate Thursdays at Italian Intrigues ( and Novel Adventurers ( She invites you to drop by for a visit

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