Roasted Tomato Halves (Pomodori a Mezzo)
A sneak peak recipe from PORTICO to celebrate tomato season!
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Oh my goodness everyone, it’s almost time! The official publication date for Portico: Cooking and Feasting in Rome’s Jewish Kitchen is right around the corner (Aug 29 - have you preordered your copy yet?). I am so beyond excited about this book, I want to shout it to the rooftops. But shouting a little bit in my newsletter is nice too.
Portico shares the history of Rome’s Jewish community—a story that spans more than 2,000 years of unimaginable hardship (including 300+ years of being forced to live inside a cramped, slum-like ghetto), breathtaking perseverance, and deeply knit community. I spoke and cooked with so many wonderful Roman Jews while researching the book—first over Zoom (boo Covid!), and thankfully also in person. Along with their recipes, Portico highlights the people who make the Eternal City’s Jewish heartbeat pulse so vibrantly today.
Portico is also the most personal of all of my cookbooks. Rome is a city that held me when I was smarting from a painful college breakup. It is a city where, several years later, Yoshie and I celebrated our honeymoon. And it is where—over a Shabbat dinner filled with dishes I had never eaten before, but which all immediately tasted like home—my passion for global Jewish cuisine was forged.
As I write in the book’s introduction: “Portico is my attempt to give something back to the city that has been so generous and inspiring to me.”
In this week’s newsletter, I’m sharing a sneak peak recipe with paid subscribers for one of my favorite dishes in the whole cookbook: Roasted Tomato Halves (Pomodori a Mezzo). Because while the book isn’t out quite yet, tomato season is here and begging for you to enjoy it right now! These roasted tomatoes are a great place to start.
As I write in the book:
No Roman Jewish Shabbat table is complete without pomodori a mezzo—halved tomatoes generously drizzled with olive oil and roasted until they are caramelized and lusciously soft. The dish is traditionally made with ruby-colored Casalino tomatoes, a regional variety that is round, slightly flat, and ribbed like a mini pumpkin. If you cannot source them, swap in the best-quality ripe tomatoes you can find.
When I visited Rome back in September, 2021 while researching Portico, I ate a million plates of pomodori a mezzo—at restaurants, at an al fresco dinner party in a community sukkah, and around the Shabbat table. They were all delicious. How could tomatoes + olive oil + garlic + a blast of heat not create pure, distilled summer magic? Pomodori a mezzo captures everything I love about Rome’s simple but vibrant approach to cooking. And it is hugely important to Rome’s Jewish table.
Pomodori a mezzo makes an ideal plus one to just about anything I serve in the summer. With roasted chicken? Perfection. With grilled fish? Famously not my thing, but if it’s yours, it would be delish. Heaped onto focaccia or toasted sourdough with a schmear of ricotta? Absolutely! Garnishing a plate of hummus? Oh goodness, yes. I have even been known to top boxed macaroni and cheese with a few of the saucy, sultry little tomato halves. Talk about an upgrade.
If you haven’t preordered Portico yet, you can do that here (or anywhere you’d like). Meanwhile, find the recipe below.
But first: a little update from our garden. When I was a kid, my mom grew tomatoes in our backyard most summers. I was far too picky an eater to ever try them. (What a shame!) But I remember loving the musky, herbal smell left on my fingers after I picked them. And I enjoyed keeping tabs on which of the fat, ruby orbs were ready to harvest.
This summer I’m passing that tradition onto Max and Bea. Back in early May, we planted two cherry tomato saplings in 12-gallon pots on our tiny terrace. I have never had a terrace in New York City before, so this is my first time attempting to *actually grow something* rather than just keeping our indoor houseplants alive.
Now, in mid-July, we are reaping the benefits. Yoshie and I gleefully head outside to pick a couple tomatoes for a sandwich. I’ve already gifted some to our downstairs neighbors. And now it is Max and Bea’s turn to be on “ripe tomato watch,” and help us pick the ones that are ready. Neither kid has any interest in eating them, but they’ll get there someday.
Roasted Tomato Halves (Pomodori a Mezzo)
Serves 4 to 6
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