Saturday, 25 May 2013


When you think of Italian food and ingredients, you will probably naturally think of tomatoes. Tomatoes are served at meal times throughout Italy practically everyday either in sauces, salads, as a stuffing or stuffed, stewed or simply as they are as an accompaniment. There are believed to be around 5000 different varieties of tomato grown in the world today, but it is Italian cooks who have truly raised the profile of this simple fruit to a thing of beauty that it is today. 

It must be remembered that the tomato first reached the Mediterranean in the middle of the 16th century, however it was not welcomed into the Mediterranean kitchen until 200 years later. Even in Italy's tomato capital, Naples, the tomato was believed to be poisonous and was only grown in ornamental gardens for decoration. Tomatoes did not make it into the Italian vegetable garden until around 1750 when people finally accepted that the tomato, or pomoro d' oro (golden apple), fitted very well into the cuisine of Italy. 

In the 18th century tomatoes were only cultivated in Campania, but from then on the tomato has grown in popularity and spread throughout Italy's twenty individual regions and could now be described as an iconic image of the Italian way of life. The tomato had such an impact on Italian food and culture that even in Naples, people changed their whole eating habits to accommodate the tomato, resulting in them changing their name from mangiafoglie (leaf eaters) to mangiamaccheroni, because instead of vegetables and salads, the people mainly ate pasta, with a tomato sauce of course.

Tomatoes are harvested in Italy from summer to late autumn, so the ingenious Neapolitons developed methods of preserving them, preventing them going without their beloved tomatoes throughout the winter.  Throughout the 19th century these preserving techniques were developed. It was not until the 20th century that the tomato preserving industry, as we know it today, began in the most unlikely of places - on the foothills of mount Versuvius in Campania. The regions best varieties were selected  and through selective breeding where developed into a high-yielding, top quality tomato, San Marzano. The ash deposits and high mineral content in the soils around Versuvius produced a small plum-shaped brilliant red tomato variety, fleshy skinned with few seeds which was suitable for both industrial processing and domestic use.

Preserved Tomatoes
The regions of Campania and Emilia Romagna were the true pioneers of the tomato preserving industry. In northern Parma there were specialist machine builders who developed large-scale machinery for the tomato preserving industry. It will come as no surprise that even today, Italy is the worlds largest exporter of preserved tomato products, whether they be canned, bottled or dred. It s estimated that in Campania alone, 25 million hundredweight of tomatoes are preserved each year.

There are a variety of different ways in which tomatoes are preserved  -

  • Pomodori  Pelatti - whole skinned tomatoes preserved in a jar or can
  • Polpa di Pomodori - canned, chopped tomatoes.
  • Passata di Pomodori - blanched, skinned then sieved tomatoes 
  • Concentrato di Pomodori - tomatoes cooked down to a paste to concentrate their flavour
  • Estratto di Pomodori - a speciality Sicilian concentrated tomato paste.
Tomato Varieties

Of all the 5000 different species of tomato, only a mere handful are commercially available. Here is brief run down of some of Italy's best known and loved varieties.
San Marzano
A sweet, firm, elongated variety used for canning, drying and eating fresh.


A hybrid-variety of the more well known San Marzano tomato which has a softer, thinner skinning making it ideal for preserving chopped or as passata.

Pomodoro di Cerignola 

A member of the large family of cherry or cocktail tomatoes. It has a sweetish flavour, which means it can be eaten raw in salads or cooked in sauces.


As with other southen Italian varieties, Marena is a wonderfully ripe, red, sweet variety.

Another southern Italian variety, grown on potash-rich soils. Roma is mainly used for preserving either canned or dried.



An intensely flavoured, however slightly sour Italian cocktail variety grown in the Sicilian town of Pachino, from which it gets it's name.



An elongated, firm skinned, thick fleshed variety most often used in the preserving industry to make Pomodori Pelati.


A winter ripening variety most often used in salads or eaten raw. Also grow in a yellow variety.


This variety got its name from the rami (strong branches) from which the clusters of small, sweet tomatoes hang.



A variety normally found growing on the potash-rich soils around Versuvius. It is similar to San Marzano only smaller and rounder.

Palla di Fuoco


Palla di Fuoco (Fireball) is probably the most popular to ago variety in northern Italy. It is great in tomato salads and wonderful for making sauces.

Cuore di Bue


Cuore di Bue (Ox heart) is a large, fleshy tomato with very few seeds. It is a great salad tomato which can even be eaten while it is still green and un-ripe.



Probably the sweetest and most aromatic variety of tomato in Italy. It can be found fresh o preserved whole in cans or jarred.












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