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Friday, July 30, 2010

It's summer: let's have some Pomodori!!

Dear friends,
How are you?
I hope you are enjoying the summer time!! L’Estate is my favorite time of the year for sure! I love the sun, the warm weather, I love to spend time outside and I love to be anyplace near the water!! I do love the beach, the warm sand and blue water!! My element is indeed the sea!!

And of the summer I also adore the variety of fruits and vegetable that you can find! So colorful and tasteful…pure joy for my soul everywhere!!
Being Italian I love the “pomodori”, tomatoes, and right now are flooding the markets: I’m very picky when it comes to tomatoes though. Once you taste a good tomato, well it’s going to be very difficult for you to eat a bad tomato ever.

I’ve had the chance to eat the cherry tomatoes that were growing in the garden of my grandmother in the south of Italy when I was a child and those were to die for!! Got spoiled with the good stuff and I can’t go with the bad stuff anymore!!
To make you understand how great those tomatoes were, once, when I was 5 years old, I got to eat so many of them that I got very sick!! They were very sweet and full of taste. I loved them as much as I loved candy!! I was picking them from the plant in the garden of grandma, washing them and eat them like candy!! I will never forget that taste!!

And I can never forget the days that the family was making sauce for the rest of the year!! Tomatoes everywhere, the smell of it in the air, the red color of the tomatoes on the clothes and the hands of grandma and on mine!! The whole day outside watching the family making the sauce and at time helping them as well. You know children in Italy have to learn from the family to cook!

And at the end of the day grandma was making pizza in her wood oven outside in the garden with a breathtaking view of the mountain of Rome!! Those are so many precious memories of my childhood I can never forget: and the taste of that pizza with those delicious tomatoes on top of it, fresh basil and oil of olive …for sure the better food I’ve ever tasted!!
If you have tasted those tomatoes like I had and the great tomatoes sauce that I had, well you won’t easily eat any kind of tomatoes and you won’t like any kind of red sauce on your pasta either!!

The tomatoes that I love the most are the cherry tomatoes and the San Marzano tomatoes, the plum tomatoes that find their way into salads when they're still tinged with green, and into sauces once they're fully ripe. I’m always spending time looking for the good stuff in the local markets and in the supermarket, and unfortunately most of the time I go home disappointed since I cannot find the ones that I like!!!
This is another reason I love to be in Italy in the summer…for those wonderful sweet red tomatoes that are growing under the sun in the garden and that taste like sugar!! And all those wonderful and simple recipes you can make with it!! So yummy!!

Being Italian I do love the red color in my food for sure and the “pomodori” are part of some of the greatest Italian recipes.
It’s quite difficult to imagine Italian cuisine without “pomodori”, but I’ve learned that it took to us Italians a very long time to accept them: though they were introduced as ornamental plants in the 1500s, the earliest evidence of their use in the kitchen comes only in 1700.
While selecting tomatoes, we, Italians, divide them into two classes: da insalata and da salsa. Da insalata, are salad tomatoes, to be eaten raw. Generally they are selected to be not-too-ripe, in other words quite firm, with streaks of green running through them, and with a lively acidity that complements the flavor of the greens in the salad.
Pomodori da salsa, on the other hand, are for cooking and should be ripe: explosive red, rich, and slightly sweet too.
Me personally, I love the very red ones for the both of them! The sweetest the better for me!!
And while talking about the sweetest I have to talk about the San Marzano, the best pomodori for the red sauce! The name denotes both a point of origin and a variety of tomato.
Well the story goes that the first seed of the San Marzano tomato came to the region of Campania in 1770, as a gift from the Kingdom of Peru to the Kingdom of Naples and that it was planted in the area that corresponds to the present commune of San Marzano. They grown in volcanic soil in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius and this is consider to be the secret of their sweet taste!! Compared to the Roma Tomatoes, with which most people are familiar here in the USA, San Marzano tomatoes are thinner and pointier in shape. The flesh is much thicker with fewer seeds, and the taste is much stronger, sweeter and less acidic. The skin is thick and easy to peel, and when fresh and ripe, the tomatoes are a dark, almost brownish red.   I've had the chance to shop vegetable markets in southern Italy many times and when you bay a bag of fresh San Marzanos, you can turn them into a quick-cooked pasta sauce.  Both when eaten raw with a touch of sea salt, or after a few minutes of cooking with olive oil, their flavor is very close to those that are canned:  a strong tomato taste, less sweet yet not too acid, with few seeds and a meatier flesh.
Tomatoes come from nature and that means a change in rainfall or an unpredictably cool summer means one can of tomatoes may not taste like the next.  But the San Marzanos are consistently of excellent quality with a deep red color, firm flesh and having a rich, mellow flavor. They're said to stay longer on the vine than the other quality of tomatoes, and are harvested and canned only when perfectly ripe.  Most San Marzano brands are canned in juice, not purée, and many, although not all will contain a sprig of basil. I personally I always discard this.
In 1996 the producers of San Marzano tomatoes has received the prestigious E.U. "Denominazione d'Origine Protetta" designation, which declares a product as superior. Every can of authentic San Marzano tomatoes will prominently show "D.O.P." on its label. All San Marzano tomatoes come from Italy.  All are imported.  While some plum tomatoes grown here in the U.S. may be delicious and good quality as well, they are different.  San Marzano tomatoes are not just a species -- they are unique to where they are grown and how they are processed.
"San Marzano-style" is not San Marzano tomatoes.  Nor is "Italian style" the same thing as imported from Italy.  And just printing the words "pomodori pelati", which only means peeled tomatoes, on the side of a can doesn't make what's inside Italian. I think that it’ a wonderful that we all have different taste and we all like different stuff, but if you ask me for the sauce those are the best!!
I also always buy whole tomatoes, preferring to cut them myself because then I know what I'm getting, instead of someone else's definition of crushed or diced or puréed.  Depending on my recipe I just give them a quick cut, or a squish with my hand, or occasionally a full purée with a blender.

There is nothing as delicious as the just canned tomatoes from my grandmother of course. But I’m always traveling and I still want to have a good red sauce for my recipes. And thank God I’ve learned that I can find good San Marzano tomatoes available in supermarkets almost everywhere. My favorite ones here in the USA are those from Cento for sure. Those are D.O.P. (Protected Designation of Origin), which basically certified that the San Marzano tomatoes are grown in the Agro Sarnese Nocerino region of Italy, renowned for its especially fruitful soil as a result of its proximity to Mount Vesuvius. The real deal!
When it comes to my salad tomatoes, I go and buy my tomatoes at a small local markets, organics and grown under the sun!! And I use the secret that my grandma thought me. She used to say “when it comes to tomatoes it’s not about the look but the taste”. And a lot of the hothouse grown or trucked in from elsewhere as a last resort tomatoes tend to look beautiful but be tasteless, as a result of agro-engineering on the part of the food industry of nowadays!! So I go for crazy shapes tomatoes…those are for sure more tasteful and healthy!! If they all look the same…good chance that they are tasteless!!! So I remember grandma saying and I don’t get fouled by the beauty of them!! Dirty and strange in shape can be better!!
And since we’ve talking about the San Marzano here is a recipe I love to make, typical of the region of Naples, where they are from!!

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca is an absolutely delicious classic Italian dish made with tomatoes, olives, capers, anchovies, garlic, and chili flakes. Its name translates as "Pasta in the way a whore would make it". The reason for the dish having such a name is debated. Some say it refers to the spicy, pungent aroma produced by its ingredients that enticed passing customers; others claim realistically that this out-of-the-larder dish was the quickest meal prostitutes could prepare between customers.
Today people cook it because it has a remarkable flavor, is quick and easy to prepare. This colorful and spicy dish can be put together in less than an hour.
3/4 cup fine-quality olive oil
1 cup onion, finely diced
3 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
6 anchovy fillets, chopped
1/4 cup dry white wine or vermouth
4 cups San Marzano Italian plum tomatoes with juice, hand-crushed
1 cup Gaeta olives, pitted and sliced (or other black olives)
2 tablespoons salt-packed capers, well rinsed
1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes, to taste
Salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1 pound spaghetti
10 fresh basil leaves, torn
1 pinch dried oregano
2 tablespoons Italian parsley (flat-leaf), chopped

Place oil, onion, and garlic in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat. Sauté for about 5 minutes or until onions are translucent but not brown. Stir in anchovies and sauté until anchovies have dissolved into the oil.
Raise heat to high, add wine and bring to a boil. Stir in tomatoes, olives, capers, and, if using, red pepper flakes, and return to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, and simmer for 10 minutes more.
Meanwhile, cook spaghetti in a large, deep pot in rapidly boiling salted water until al dente.
Just before serving, stir basil and oregano into the sauce.
Drain spaghetti. Return drained spaghetti to pot. Over medium-high heat, stir in about 1/2 cup sauce. Using a wooden spoon, toss together for 1 minute. Remove from heat and pour into a large warmed serving platter or bowl. Spoon remaining sauce over the top. Sprinkle with parsley and serve and Buon appetito!!
Perfect wines to pair this pasta: dry white wines!!
Makes 4 servings as a main course, or 6 servings as a pasta course.
And stay tune for my next Tuesday Music blog about the famous song “Torna a Surrento” and next Friday my “ Italian Lifestyle blog” about another beautiful and romantic place of Italy the “Valle dei Templi” in Sicily and another of my favorite recipe!!

Love always,

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