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That Little Red Dress

Buon giorno!

A rose may be a rose, but a tomato is definitely NOT a tomato! (…and no you have not just stumbled into a bad poetry blog) The truth is that not all tomatoes taste the same, are interchangeable, and can be counted on for flavor. This brings me to the subject of one of my favorite fresh tomatoes which happens to be in season at this very moment – summer. The Campari Tomato is special in so many ways. It is the very best tomato, in my estimation, for the easy, healthy, and delicious preparation of Roasted Tomatoes as a side dish. Let’s talk about why Roasted Campari Tomatoes are worthy of that review.

What is a Campari Tomato: It is not in any way related to the wonderful tart Campari liquor that is the basis of so many Italian aperitivi . Ah! But that vivid red…yes they do have that bright show-stopping red color in common. That is where the similarity ends. Unlike the tart, biting, liquor, the Campari tomato is very sweet and very juicy. This tomato makes you savor its flavor, taunting you to let it to linger on the tongue, and promising more to follow it. They are small, round, and plump. Unlike its distant relative, the less flavorful cherry tomato, the Campari bursts with sweetness when bitten and packs very little acidity. The name Campari not only defines this special variety of tomato, but also designates a trademark.

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The little red dress: To further elevate this tomato, think of it this way. The Campari is a lot like that “little red dress”. You know the one. It hangs in your closet, waiting. It is not selected often or for just any occasion. Instead, it waits patiently.. for that special evening – that singular event for which no other frock will do. It is sassy, ripe, a little siren. You save it when you want to make a statement. The red dress is the one your mother keeps telling you to wrap up with a sweater or shawl. Your girlfriend wants you to adorn it with some tacky necklace. YOU know better! You know that all it needs is a simple pair of pumps – just high enough. You know you don’t have to work that “little red dress” as it does all the work for you. OK – I digress. You get the idea. Similarly, Campari Tomatoes need no elaborate cover-ups, no sauces, no frills. They do it all. Just let them shine. They will work the runway – uh – the plate – in an understated manner while leaving your guests wondering how something so simple just rocked the meal and their taste buds.

Keeping Campari’s happy:  Always, always store your Campari Tomatoes at room temperature. Never refrigerate them as this causes them to lose their flavor as it does with most tomatoes. In this case, it would be a tragedy to lose such sweetness. Try to use them soon after you purchase them to get the full benefit of their flavor and goodness.

The KISS method: You all know this one! KISS as in Keep It Simple Stupid. Such is the way to reap the most success from Campari Tomatoes. My favorite preparation for these little stars is to roast them in halves, simply, with just a few fresh ingredients. They will perform perfectly on the most formal menu as well as on the most casual. As a side to roasted or grilled meats and fish, they serve as the perfect choice always complimenting the other flavors. Another way I love to serve them – is oiled and just lightly roasted whole, still on the vine – served with an oozy cheese like Buratta or even a creamy goat cheese like the one made at Caly Road Creamery.

On the outside chance: It probably won’t happen, but if you possibly have any leftover: throw them over pasta or make sandwiches with them the next day – just killer!

Here’s how to do it!


Serves: 6

Prep: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes


12 Campari Tomatoes washed and split in half and rubbed on the outside with a little Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

2 Cloves Fresh Garlic chopped very finely

Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper to taste

1 Tbsp. Chopped Fresh Oregano

1/4 c. grated Pecorino Romano Cheese or Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese

About 1/3 c. Chopped Fresh Basil for garnish

1 Tbsp. Fresh Lemon Juice


Oil a baking dish. Place tomatoes cut side up in the dish.

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Sprinkle garlic and salt and pepper over the top of tomatoes.

Sprinkle fresh oregano over the top.

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Sprinkle with cheese.

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Give a generous drizzle of the Extra Virgin Olive Oil over all.

Roast at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.

When finished, sprinkle with Chopped Fresh Basil and Fresh Lemon Juice.

Warning:  The aroma of the ROASTED CAMPARI TOMATOES will be intoxicating!


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Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography

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  1. Jessica says:

    This tomato recipe looks so tasty and refreshing. I can’t wait to try it myself!

  2. This sounds amazing I’ll be trying it tomorrow!

  3. Hi Linda,
    What kind of cheese do you use for grating?

    When growing up, (also in an Italian kitchen), my Grandma always grated her own cheese.
    I have tried Romano, Parmigiano and neither on seems to taste or smell like it did in the good old days.

    I recently bought a slice of Asiago and that smells and tastes more like what Gram used, but it doesn’t seem like it would grate right.

    Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    • Great question, Nancy! The answer is – all kinds of cheeses depending upon the dish. Asiago is a good one – softer than Parmigiano and crumbles more – but the flavor is great. For salads and some Northern Italian dishes I like Montasio which is from Veneto. It is milder and sweeter than Parmigiano. When I was growing up, my parents used more aged Provolone than anything else because that is what they liked. It was a stronger cheese. Pecorino Romano is stronger and saltier than Parmigiano and I like it for dishes with more intense flavors and those from the South. I also use some Ricotta Salata with dishes like Pasta alla Norma from Sicily.I use a good bit of Parmigiano-Reggiano as an all purpose grated cheese as it is universal and seems to blend well with everything.

      • Thanks for your reply, Linda.
        That’s funny, I just tried Pecorino Romano this evening and its been the closest yet to what I’m looking for.
        I wonder if Gram used the aged Provolone, too, that is a lot like the smell of the cheese I’m remembering.
        I’ll try that one too.
        Again, thanks for your help!