July 2, 2024 - Written by: Nancy Pollard
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It’s The Season

Early Girls and Lemon Boys with Salsa VerdeOne of my husband’s favorite KD posts features the Early Girl Tomato, and since it has had several thousand views, he apparently is not alone. Part of the appeal has to be the video of Joe Schirmer’s sons demonstrating tomato seed gathering. He who turns up his nose at cardboard-tasting tomatoes, but cannot resist trying a new-to-him variety (probably raised hydroponically in a converted airplane hangar) during the dreary JanFebs, is the same person who preaches about the best times to buy the “golden fruit.” He is going through a period of adjustment in regard to Italian tomatoes.

 

Sweet Memories

We have great corn and marvelous tomatoes in the US. They are, after all, like potatoes, a New Worldtarte mathilde in US KD kitchen offering to the Old World. Italian farmers pretty much only offer dent corn varieties, so we won’t be looking for Silver Queen here. We loved going to the Waterpenny Farm stand at the Arlington Farmers Market, where they displayed row upon row of different heirloom tomatoes – Big Rainbow, Cherokee Purple,  Black Russian, Brandywine, Arkansas Traveler, and Mortgage Lifter. Don’t you just love the names of tomatoes?! I could never choose a particular favorite, so I did my own version of the Italian Insalata Caprese with all of them sliced on a platter, juices oozing out into one happy slurpy dressing. Or I made the fictitious  Tarte Mathilde from Smitten Kitchen. 

Here, the hunt is on either at Mercato delle Erbe, (an indoor market of independent vendors and restaurants) or the previously described Mercato Ritrovato, and of course the famous vendors featured in every Bologna-centric guide and blog, on Via Pescherie Vecchie. So far we have discovered and loved  the following tomatoes:

Amore Vero

Cuore di bue tomatoes ortitaly websiteCuore di Bue  means Ox Heart, and while it originated in the US, I had never seen it on our summer tomato pilgrimages. There are several varieties of this beefsteak style tomato found frequently in grocery stores and farmers markets alike. They are large but dryer on the interior, more meaty one might say. Rather than being smooth, they have huge ribs or pleats. Ironically, this tomato, one historical source states, was originally grown in Virginia in the early 20th century. There are other varieties of Cuore di Bue, including smaller and smoother heart-shaped ones, but all of them have very narrow seed cavities and more edible pulp in the interior. Cuore di Bue Albenga from the Ligurian terraced fields is particularly sought after here. 

 

Costoluto  – roughly meaning “ribbed’ – is a rounder, usually smaller tomato than the muscular Cuore di Bue, but still with a ridged exterior. There exist many regional varieties. This may be my husband’s favorite (still early in the tomato hunt game though). It is sweeter than the Cuore di Bue and more meaty than many of our small tomatoes. It is highly resistant to pests and can be grown in an open field as well as a greenhouse, which is why I probably see variants of Costoluto year round in the grocery store. It has a thin skin so it is easy to peel if you use it for a cooked sauce. It was also the favorite of  the late Russell Norman (the co-founder of Polpo who recently created Brutto, a Florentine style restaurant in London). He wrote both eponymously named cookbooks -simple recipes but so, so good. One of Brutto’s dishes are  thinly sliced Costoluto tomatoes arranged closely together on a plate. Sprinkle crushed sea salt over them (no pepper), and small – not large – basil leaves are a nice option here. As you serve, drizzle a little of the best EVOO you can find. That’s it. It’s all about ingredients. 

 

Principe borghese tomatoes from rareseeds.com72Principe Borghese – this may be my favorite “cherry tomato” (but again I am new to the tomato hunt too). It is a small oval, and some varieties have a little pointy nipple at the end called more scientifically, its peduncle. . It has very few seeds and is really meaty for such a little guy. It has a distinct sharp flavor too. Apparently, they are the tiny tomato of choice for drying, as well as for making a pasta sauce. Yellow versions of Principe Borghese have been cultivated 

 

Pachino tomatoes from the town of the same name in southern Sicily are an interesting story. I sawPachino Tomato types fields and fields of assorted Pachino tomatoes in a designated agricultural area in Sicily.  They have been given a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI),  which means that they are particularly suited to that particular zone and can only be sold under that name if they are from the said area. The seeds were a development of Hazera Genetics, a seed producer in Israel. Tomato farmers in the Pachino area had grown only “normal” tomatoes, but these seeds were developed for that particular soil and climate and were officially acquired for exclusive cultivation by Pachino authorities. This effort had wildly successful results, and you can buy the four types of tomatoes with the Pachino PGI status – Ciliegino di Pachino, Costoluto di Pachino, Tondo Liscio di Pachino and Grappolo di Pachino. 

You Say Tomato

In case you were wondering why we call them tomatoes (even the French say “tomate”)   whereas the Italians use the word pomodoro/pomodori, it is one of those chance linguistic introductions that stuck. Tomato is an English derivation of the Spanish derivation of the Nahuatl (one of the Mexican tribes  conquered by Spanish explorers)  word “tomatl” – roughly meaning swollen fruit. Tomatoes were grown by the indigenous populations in Mexico and Central America for thousands of years. The Spanish invaders returned to Europe with their many New World finds including the tomato. Much of Italy was under Spanish domination in the 16th century and a steward in a Tuscan court described (and recorded) the tomatoes as “ pomi d’oro” or golden fruit and the rest is linguistic history. There is no earthly explanation, though, why I say “tomahto” and my husband says “tomayto”.

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Mark Moynihan
18 days ago

That was (yet again) a wonderful article. Conspicuous by its absence is the San Marzano tomato. Any reason why? Just curious. I had San Marzano in Naples, and they were a life-changing experience!