Friday, October 31, 2008
San Marzano Tomatoes
This tin of San Marzano tomatoes was an unexpected find at Kirk Food the other day. They are an heirloom variety and are specifically grown as sauce tomatoes. San Marzano are in the plum family of tomatoes, along with Roma, but differ from others by being slightly longer and pointier, with thicker flesh and few seeds. Because they have less acidity than other tomatoes, they taste somewhat sweeter. Wikipedia says that, 'Many people describe the taste as bittersweet, like high-quality chocolate."
Grown in the region of San Marzano, on the fertile volcanic soils of Mt Vesuvius, it is the only tomato to have its own EU DOP, protecting it from imitation. Being an heirloom variety also means it is susceptible to disease and according to the International Society for Horticultural Science in 1997,
'This variety used to represent a major part of the canned peeled tomato production in the Campania region but is presently little cultivated due to both phytopatogenic and structural problems. Recently the UE Regulation nr. 1263/96 has given the "DOP" to San Marzano as typical regional product, thus renewing the interest in this ecotype.'
Italian growers seem to have found ways to overcome these shortcomings, which is fortunate, as it's the only type of tomato allowed in an authentic Neapolitan pizza. They also make wonderfully full-flavoured pasta sauces, but given that San Marzano tomatoes have a DOP and are a little difficult to successfully grow, they are a bit more expensive, but definitely worthwhile. As Kirk Food says on their website,
'Because the tomato known as the "San Marzano" is delicate in nature and highly regarded, Italian farmers have taken extreme measures to protect the new hybrid seeds. They have formed a consortium that regulates the production and marketing of the San Marzano tomato. Due the additional administrative costs associated with running the consortium, tomatoes purchased with the Italian consortium's official seal are definitely more expensive than tomatoes grown in the same region but not under the auspices of the consortium.'
If you baulk at the extra expense but have a green thumb, you can still try this variety as many nurseries around town are selling seedlings marked as San Marzano. If you are constantly looking for extra flavour from tomatoes, these are a worth a look. San Marzano tomatoes show off their best in this sauce, which is unexpectedly greater than the sum of its parts.
(dresses 500g dry pasta)
50ml olive oil
8-10 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 800g tin San Marzano tomatoes
1/2 bunch basil, chopped or torn
pinch dry chile flakes - optional
Heat the olive oil in a wide saucepan, large enough to accommodate the cooked pasta and gently sweat the garlic slices until softened. Place the San Marzano tomatoes in a bowl and with your hands squeeze them to a pulp, discarding any hard bits, alternately, blitz them with a stick blender, add to the saucepan, bring to the boil, add the basil, chile flakes if using, season to taste, then simmer for as long as the pasta takes to cook. Just before the pasta is ready, drain and add to the sauce for a few moments to finish cooking. Serve with grated Parmesan and extra basil to garnish.
Note: The amount of garlic may seem excessive to some, but it works really well in the sauce. Do try it.