When Margaret Giustizieri shared her memories of picking sun ripened tomatoes as a child, I was so taken by the image of beautiful tomatoes that I wanted them to be a star in my next recipe.
Tomatoes are a key ingredient in many cuisines. They are so celebrated in Spain that there is a tomato throwing festival! Biologically, a tomato is considered a fruit but their nutritional profile has them grouped with vegetables due to their low kilojoule content. They are part of the nightshade family (which includes other vegetables like potatoes, eggplants, pepper and chilli) which some people may find difficult to digest.
For most of us though, tomatoes are a wonderful staple that is incredibly versatile. For today’s recipe I’ve chosen Roma tomatoes for an authentic Italian flavour. If you cannot find these, I would suggest trying some cherry or Rosa tomatoes – these smaller tomatoes have great, intense flavour and their smaller size makes them easy to mix with the beans.
I wanted to explore an aged balsamic vinegar with this dish. Traditional Balsamic vinegar starts its life as reduction of cooked white grape juice which is allowed to ferment for a few weeks and is then aged in wooden barrels. True balsamic vinegar, like Champagne, is only made in a very specific region and use of the name is very tightly controlled. What we know as balsamic vinegar in South Africa is not balsamic vinegar but rather a cheaper, balsamic condiment. I did not find any aged balsamic vinegar at Cremalat’s store or at my local supermarket but I did find an aged balsamic condiment online and soon after my parcel arrived, I also found some at a local delicatessen. While these are still not a true balsamic vinegar, some are made in the traditional way and at a fraction of the cost.
The reason I have used vinegar and wine (or lemon juice) in this recipe is because they are all examples of natural acids. When added to food, an acid can help develop and intensify the flavours of a dish. Next time you’re tasting a dish and think it’s missing something, try a squeeze of lemon or a drop of vinegar before reaching for the salt shaker.
While wine is acidic, it also contains alcohol which vinegar does not. Have you ever wondered how much alcohol remains in a dish after cooking? Does it all boil off or does some of it remain behind? I found the answer to this question in a great magazine called food and nutrition* which credits research done at the University of Idaho, Washington State University the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Nutrient Data Laboratory for the following information:
- Alcohol, no heat, stored overnight: 70% alcohol retained
- Alcohol added to boiling liquid and removed from heat: 85% alcohol retained
- Alcohol flamed: 75% alcohol retained
- Alcohol, stirred baked/simmered 15 min.: 40% alcohol retained
- Alcohol, stirred baked/simmered 30 min.: 35% alcohol retained
- Alcohol, stirred baked/simmered 1 hour: 25% alcohol retained
- Alcohol, stirred baked/simmered 1.5 hours: 20% alcohol retained
- Alcohol, stirred baked/simmered 2 hours: 10% alcohol retained
- Alcohol, stirred baked/simmered 2.5 hours: 5% alcohol retained
- Alcohol, not stirred in, baked 25 min.: 45% alcohol retained
This means that there will be at least 40% of the alcohol retained in the finished dish below. Know someone that cooks with alcohol and would like to know this information? You can use the share buttons at the end of the post to share this page.
Please let me know what you think of the recipe and share pictures of your dish with the hashtag: #informedappetite.
- 4-6 Roma tomatoes (or 400g Rosa or cherry tomatoes)
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 red onion, finely diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 tin of cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves
- ¼ cup dry white wine or juice of ½-1 lemon
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Parmesan for grating over the whole dish
- Slice tomatoes in half and arrange on a roasting tray covered with baking paper.
- Mix remaining ingredients in a tea cup or small bowl and then brush over the cut side of the tomatoes. If using smaller tomatoes, it may be easier to slice them in half and then toss with the dressing in a mixing bowl or on the baking tray.
- Bake at 180° Celsius until soft (about 30 minutes depending on the size of the tomatoes). If you have bigger tomatoes, you can turn the heat up a bit more but watch the tomatoes closely to make sure you don’t scorch them. You want the tomatoes to soften but not dry out. When the tomatoes are almost done, start the beans. If you do not like tomato skins, they are easy to peel off once the tomatoes have slightly cooled.
- Use pan over medium heat to soften the onion and garlic in the olive oil.
- When the onion is translucent and soft, not browned, add the remaining ingredients. You want most of the wine or lemon juice to evaporate and the beans to be warmed and well mixed with the herbs.
- Season with a good amount of black pepper and salt if needed. If using lemon juice, check if enough was added. Too little leaves the dish tasting bland.
- To serve, dish at least two to three tomato halves per person. Top the tomato halves with warm beans. Using a fine grater, grate a small amount of parmesan or similar hard cheese over the beans. This last step really makes the dish pop.
- If you used smaller tomatoes, you can mix them gently with the beans in the warm pan before serving.
- This dish is delicious served with a rocket-based side salad as a light lunch for two. It will also go well as a side dish for red meat.