Yes, there really is a World Tomato Week, and it was celebrated at Expo 2015 from June 14-21 – in Italy, appropriately, the world’s third largest tomato producer.
The tomato is the quintessential summer food. Its reassuring, refreshing presence accompanies practically every summer dish, and not just in Italy: garden salads, pasta and rice salads, insalata caprese, Greek salad, sandwiches, burgers, soups like gazpacho in Spain or Manhattan-style clam chowder in the States, tomato mousse, even tomato ice cream. And let’s not forget that summer brunch classic, the Bloody Mary – which, if you’ve never had one made from fresh tomatoes (peeled and seeded, of course) instead of processed tomato juice, you really need to try!
Whether fresh, sundried or pureed, the tomato is as versatile as it is indispensable. Aptly called pomodoro in Italian (meaning ‘golden apple’), it is a concentration of dietary virtues: water, protein, organic acids, antioxidants, vitamins A and C, and practically no sugars (1%). It is the undeniable king of the Mediterranean diet. And thanks to its more than 1,000 varieties, people around the world can enjoy it throughout the year. Though let’s be honest, it’s always at its best in the summer.
The list of tomato varieties can be broadly divided into salad tomatoes and sauce tomatoes, depending on factors like juiciness, pulpiness, skin thickness and flavor – which is more variable than you may think, in that some tomatoes taste better cooked than raw, while others should only be eaten fresh.
The names are seductive in and of themselves: Perino, Pero d’Abruzzo, Regina, Costoluto Fiorentino, Pizzutello…..
There’s the Camone, whose green ‘collar’ might mislead non-connoisseurs to assume it is perennially unripe, but which in fact has a dense consistency and rich flavor that make it truly exceptional.
The San Marzano variety is at its peak in August, much to the delight of grandmothers everywhere who use it to prepare tomato sauce by the boatload, preserving it for the coming winter.
The adorable little datterino tomato boasts a sweet flavor with very little acidity and an ultra-thin skin, making it perfect for an infinite range of recipes, although many people are unaware that they’re meant for anything other than popping into one’s mouth like grapes (thus the Anglophone nickname, ‘grape tomato’).
Insalataro: this tomato is big, hard, dense, with a very thick core and is deliberately eaten when it’s only half-ripe. It’s mostly an Italian thing, you don’t see them much elsewhere.
Cluster tomatoes: if harvested at the right moment, they’re sweet with a creamy pulp. If you’ve got a hankering for a stuffed tomato, this is the variety you want to use – it holds its shape even when heated in the oven, making it a perfect container for any kind of filling.
Ox heart: its distinctive features are its lobed appearance and its ‘grainy’ texture. Like the insalataro, you either love it or you don’t. But no one can deny that its form is fascinating, and that it looks great in a fruit bowl.
Roma: this variety, gorgeous for its depth of color and tapered form, is the most versatile of all, in that it can be used for salads, sauces, stuffing, grilling, making preserves and sun-drying. When in doubt, go for the trusty Roma.
Cherry tomato: the best, hands down!
With all these varieties, it goes without saying that the possibilities are endless. But to bring out the best from any tomato, there are certain combinations with other ingredients and preparation secrets that a friend of ours, chef Federico Delmonte, has agreed to share with us in the form of recipes for three of his favorite tomato-based dishes: an antipasto, a pasta course and a dessert.
Check out the video!
Since presentation plays a key role in the enjoyment of good food, to help you present your tomato recipes in the best light, we’ll close with a few ideas from the DishesOnly catalogue.
Our Fifty Shades of Red…..
Antipasto: Three States of the Tomato
Ingredients for 4-6 people
2 Camone tomatoes (or any similar green winter tomato)
1 can of peeled whole tomatoes
250 ml of amaro with Alpine herbs (Fernet Branca, Braulio, Amaro Nonno, etc.)
20 g za’atar spice blend (oregano, sesame seeds, sumac – recipes vary)
Salt to taste
4-5 basil leaves, chopped
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove grated garlic
500 g day-old Italian or French bread, torn in small chunks
½ cup white wine
1 liter chopped cooked tomatoes (see below)
Pepper to taste
For the topping:
Cook the garlic in half the olive oil until blonde, then add the bread. Add the wine, stir with the bread and simmer for a couple of minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes (previously peeled, seeded, then baked for 50 minutes at 65°C). Mix well and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat and add the pepper, basil and the rest of the olive oil.
For the reduction:
Pour into a saucepan and reduce by 85% on a low flame till the liquor becomes syrupy.
For the assembly:
Place a thick center slice of Camone tomato on each plate, salt lightly, then drizzle with the herb liquor reduction. Place a heaping spoonful of the topping on the tomato slice. Quickly pan sear four canned tomatoes, press one side into the za’atar spice blend until it adheres like a crust, then stack it on the topping, spice side up.
Served in Pietra handmade bowl.
Pasta course: Cappelletti and Shrimp in Tomato Broth
Ingredients for 4 people
800 g cappelletti (the video shows Chef Federico making them by hand with a tomato filling, but feel free to use packaged tortellini or ravioli with vegetarian filling, i.e. spinach and ricotta)
1.5 – 2 kg fresh ripe tomatoes
12 very fresh red shrimp
3-4 basil leaves
Run the tomatoes in batches through a blender using the pulse function. Prepare a container by stretching cheesecloth over the top, pour the resulting pulp onto the cheesecloth. Place in refrigerator and let the pulp drain overnight.
Peel and clean the shrimp, chop into bite-size chunks, place in a bowl and coat with tomato vinegar.
Bring 2 liters of generously salted water to a boil. Dispose of the tomato pulp and gently heat the tomato broth without boiling.
Cook the cappelletti (10 minutes if you make them from scratch; according to instructions if packaged).
Distribute the cappelletti among 4 bowls, add the raw shrimp to each, then cover with the warm tomato broth.
Add a teaspoon or so of tomato vinegar, garnish with torn basil leaves.
Served in Acquarello porcelain bowl.
Dessert: Ricotta with Tomato Chutney
Ingredients for 4 people
300 g fresh ricotta (preferably from goat’s milk)
4 mint leaves
4 leaves lemongrass
150 g muscovado sugar
For the chutney:
3 green tomatoes
30 ml extra-virgin olive oil
50 g sugar
80 ml white wine vinegar
Cayenne pepper to taste
Salt to taste
For the tomato chutney, dice the tomatoes and set aside. In a saucepan, combine the olive oil, 50 g of sugar, a pinch of cayenne pepper and a pinch of salt. Heat over a low flame till the sugar dissolves. Add the vinegar, then the diced tomatoes and 2-3 tbsp of water. Cover and simmer over a low flame for 1 hour. Uncover until cool, then refrigerate.
Mix the ricotta and muscovado sugar, divide the mix among 4 bowls. Spread a layer of tomato chutney over the cheese, garnish with fresh mint and lemongrass.
Served in Etnico ceramic hand painted bowl.