Some of my greatest summer memories are on the Italian island of Ponza where I learned there’s no such thing as overcooked tomatoes, just perfectly pulpy, falling apart juiciness. During a long weekend from Rome, the commencement to which was delayed by a transport strike, I ordered a takeout dinner from a rosticceria near the port upon my late arrival. There wasn’t much left, just some potatoes that had seen better days and roasted tomatoes that were practically bursting at the seams topped with seasoned breadcrumbs. I’ve made this compulsively as a side dish ever since. You absolutely must use in season ripe tomatoes to do the Ponza version justice. Modify the breadcrumbs seasoning as you see fit, just make sure the topping browns before serving. I don’t use fresh cheese in my topping, but I wouldn’t be mad at a few cubes of mozzarella or scamorza here.
2 pounds tomatoes, cored and halved lengthwise
¼ cup unseasoned breadcrumbs
¼ cup finely grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tablespoons oregano
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Lay the tomato halves on a baking sheet cut side up. Season with salt.
Combine the breadcrumbs, ⅛ cup of the Pecorino Romano, oregano, and 1/4 cup of the olive oil. Season with salt and black pepper. Cover the tomatoes with the breadcrumbs mixture, dividing evenly. Sprinkle over the remaining Pecorino Romano and drizzle with the remaining olive oil.
Cook, covered with aluminum foil, for 15 minutes. Uncover and cook until the tomatoes are falling apart, 10 minutes more. Serve immediately.
Photo credit: Ed Anderson