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US tomatoes for Italian uses


Maureen B. Fant
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Putting final touches on a manuscript. I explain that Italians prefer firm, tart, greenish tomatoes for salads or raw use in general (not including the whole cherry tomato spectrum, which needs to be red), but editor has asked me to name varieties that North American readers can find. Can anyone throw me a rope?

Many thanks.

Edited by Maureen B. Fant (log)

Maureen B. Fant
www.maureenbfant.com

www.elifanttours.com

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Maureen - that's a tough one.

For use raw, they pretty much have to be in season - then you've got everything from Beefsteak to Green Zebra. We like our heirlooms.

For a raw tomato sauce, I always prefer the roma.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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It's the everything I don't know. What would be the closest to a nice tennis-ball sized crisp, acidic, green-tinged Italian salad tomato? We also use greenish San Marzano. Are your raw romas green? (yes, of course, in season!)

Thank you!

Maureen B. Fant
www.maureenbfant.com

www.elifanttours.com

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Talk to these guys, they really know their tomatoes, and have a broad selection.

Forni-Brown Organic Gardens

http://www.epicuring...-april-mayfree/

My question for you: What did Italians do for tomatoes year-round before the debasing convenience of canning?

Sun-dried tomatoes are fantastic for their intended purposes, but harsh as a substitute for fresh or canned; their US novelty uses are rather bizarre. Many US chefs, such as Keller, Colicchio, advocate some form of tomato conserve to heighten the flavor and preserve tomatoes for later use. Their methods are rather fussy and involved when one's crop is coming in 30 pounds at a time, and too targeted to be as broadly useful in, say, Indian cooking as Italian.

We preserve our annual California crop (from Forni-Brown plants) 20 to 30 pounds at a time by blanching 45 seconds in boiling water, plunging into ice water, skinning, slicing onto dehydrator trays, sprinkling with sea salt, and partially drying. Rest a day in a bowl in the fridge to equalize moisture, then vacuum pack for a chest freezer. (A FoodSaver can manage the modest liquid present; we instead use chamber vacuum pouches and an impulse sealer, where the liquid is enough to squeeze the air out.)

Italian-American families in the US still "can" (jar) their own tomatoes for each year. In Arthur Avenue, Bronx, New York one sees massive sales of crates of plum tomatoes each year for this purpose. A Neapolitan handyman in my New York apartment building found me drying Arthur Avenue tomatoes as described above, and now regales me each year with tales of how many jars his extended family puts up each year. I don't recall, but the number is staggering.

Other US consumers got so adapted to the taste of "can" in canned tomatoes that when manufacturers first reformulated canning to minimize this taste, there was consumer revolt. I really don't like the taste of canned tomato in even moderately upscale restaurants. Were I involved in a restaurant, I'd bet the bank on some conservation technique like I describe above, to avoid having to buy commercially processed tomatoes.

I mentioned Keller while discussing this at Forni-Brown, and I believe the response included "Tommy", which startled me. They're in Napa.

Per la strada incontro un passero che disse "Fratello cane, perche sei cosi triste?"

Ripose il cane: "Ho fame e non ho nulla da mangiare."

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Talk to these guys, they really know their tomatoes, and have a broad selection.

Forni-Brown Organic Gardens

http://www.epicuring...-april-mayfree/

My question for you: What did Italians do for tomatoes year-round before the debasing convenience of canning?

Sun-dried tomatoes are fantastic for their intended purposes, but harsh as a substitute for fresh or canned; their US novelty uses are rather bizarre. Many US chefs, such as Keller, Colicchio, advocate some form of tomato conserve to heighten the flavor and preserve tomatoes for later use. Their methods are rather fussy and involved when one's crop is coming in 30 pounds at a time, and too targeted to be as broadly useful in, say, Indian cooking as Italian.

We preserve our annual California crop (from Forni-Brown plants) 20 to 30 pounds at a time by blanching 45 seconds in boiling water, plunging into ice water, skinning, slicing onto dehydrator trays, sprinkling with sea salt, and partially drying. Rest a day in a bowl in the fridge to equalize moisture, then vacuum pack for a chest freezer. (A FoodSaver can manage the modest liquid present; we instead use chamber vacuum pouches and an impulse sealer, where the liquid is enough to squeeze the air out.)

Italian-American families in the US still "can" (jar) their own tomatoes for each year. In Arthur Avenue, Bronx, New York one sees massive sales of crates of plum tomatoes each year for this purpose. A Neapolitan handyman in my New York apartment building found me drying Arthur Avenue tomatoes as described above, and now regales me each year with tales of how many jars his extended family puts up each year. I don't recall, but the number is staggering.

Other US consumers got so adapted to the taste of "can" in canned tomatoes that when manufacturers first reformulated canning to minimize this taste, there was consumer revolt. I really don't like the taste of canned tomato in even moderately upscale restaurants. Were I involved in a restaurant, I'd bet the bank on some conservation technique like I describe above, to avoid having to buy commercially processed tomatoes.

I mentioned Keller while discussing this at Forni-Brown, and I believe the response included "Tommy", which startled me. They're in Napa.

re: Italian tomato preservation without canning.

In the case of Pomodorino del Piennolo del Vesuvio, they're bred to hang on the vine for many months. As I understand it, they're often lightly smoked before hanging. They're not dried like a sun-dried tomato, their acid level is what preserves them for later sauce making.

I have seed to plant, I'm anxious to see exactly what they're like.

re: sauce making

I'm not sure if it's original, but I came up with a technique to create conserva and consomme without the harshness of lengthy cooking and canning.

re: tomato varieties.

If we're talking tomatoes available at a farmer's market and the like, it's possible that there could be any number of dozens and dozens of Italian tomato cultivars. More likely, generic San Marzano and Roma, which are the most well known, but, unfortunately and IMHO, they're not great flavorwise.

re: green-shouldered tomatoes

Same deal with the green-shouldered tomatoes in Spain, I was surprised at how tasty they are.

A couple suggestions if you want to included cultivars that folks can grow themselves.

Red Pear Piraform, for a green-shouldered slicing tomato of Italian origin.

Martino's Roma, for a good, highly productive and flavorful tomato for sauce or drying.

There are, of course, others that I highly recommend, but, some are not so easy to obtain.

HTH

~Martin

Edited by DiggingDogFarm (log)

~Martin :)

I just don't want to look back and think "I could have eaten that."

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It's the everything I don't know. What would be the closest to a nice tennis-ball sized crisp, acidic, green-tinged Italian salad tomato? We also use greenish San Marzano. Are your raw romas green? (yes, of course, in season!)

Thank you!

No, widely available US roma varieties are never seen green. And most US consumers have an extremely limited tomato selection, even in season. The rock-hard, pinkish mechanically harvested tomatoes predominate in the mainstream marketplace. "Nice" salad tomatoes are a seasonal and fleeting thing, and the varieties vary quite a bit across the US due to the huge climate & growing season differences across the country. For example, I see lots of Early Girl tomatoes on CA menus, but this variety doesn't perform very well in my part of the USA, so they're not terribly popular in the Gulf Coastal south. I'd probably describe the sort of tomato desired, much as you've done above, because the average US reader will not be able to find specific named varieties anyway.

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  • 5 months later...

Putting final touches on a manuscript. I explain that Italians prefer firm, tart, greenish tomatoes for salads or raw use in general (not including the whole cherry tomato spectrum, which needs to be red), but editor has asked me to name varieties that North American readers can find. Can anyone throw me a rope?

Many thanks.

So. Getting back on topic.

I grew up in Florence, and my experience and conclusions (supported by other Italians I've known who've lived outside of Italy) are that going after the best tomatoes locally available is more likely to bring a dish to the desired place than trying to match/parallel what would be used in Italy. Some general guidelines regarding size and texture would be useful, but emphasizing the importance of becoming familiar with what is locally available seems far more important, particularly since many Americans seem to prefer sweeter tomatoes than Italians do.

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