Aug 31, 2009

Espresso coffee, 3 ways

Are you sleepy too? You look tired. I know I need a pick-me-up.
Can I make some for you too? Something to jolt us out of this inertia? Good idea.
Here, sit. You can have the paper first. Read, relax. Put your feet up while I make us some coffee. But not just any old coffee.

Image copyright Tipi d'aMare

I have three kinds of custom espresso in mind.
Let's begin with something classic.
Image copyright Giardino dei Ciliegi

1. Orange-flavored Espresso
Delicious aromatic after dinner coffee

4-6 large cups of strong espresso
The rind of 2 unwaxed oranges, white pith removed (turns everything bitter)
1 cinnamon stick
Sugar to taste

Steep the orange rinds and the cinnamon in the hot coffee for 5 minutes, then discard. Pour through a cheesecloth and serve in tall mugs, stained with just a droplet of milk, and sweetened with a suspicion of sugar.
Image copyright Pastry Chef Online

2. Cafè Argentino
Droolworthy caramel cream coffee. Generally used as a base for desserts in Argentina, dulce de leche lends coffee a sweet, almost sensual flavor.
500 ml (2 cups) boiling hot espresso (not too strong)
50 ml (1/4 cup) dulce de leche (can be found in specialty stores)
Milk or cream

Divvy up the coffee in 2-3 large teacups. Add a tablespoon of dulce de leche to each and stir until completely dissolved. 
Add milk or cream and sit down in comfortable chairs, Carlos Gardel playing loud.

3. Nocciolato
Choco/hazelnut coffee. Not your everyday moka. Beyond decadent.

500 ml (2 cups) piping hot, weak espresso (made by adding more water in the making)
50 ml (1/4 cup) hazelnut liqueur (like Frangelico)
50 gr (1/4 cup) Nutella (or any hazelnut-chocolate spread)
Sugar to taste

Whip the cream with an electric beater until quite stiff and refrigerate. Divvy up the coffee in 2-3 large teacups. Add a shot of Frangelico and 1 heaped tablespoon of Nutella to each, stirring carefully - scraping the sides of the cups - until completely dissolved. Sweeten to your taste (no need, really) and garnish each cup with a dollop of whipped cream.

Which is your favorite?

Aug 30, 2009

Growing hope

As I was walking in the midday heat, eyes glued to pavement, head buzzing with overlapping worries and thoughts, my eyes fell on an encouraging image.

This little plant was able to see daylight, stubbornly creeping up through thick layers of dry dirt, asphalt and grime. And mind you, it hasn't rained here in over 2 months. I stared down at this perfect image of strength and will, and understood its message.

A small, dusty sapling was teaching me a huge lesson.

Aug 25, 2009


In Veneto, drinking Spritz is not only aperitivo, it's more of an appointment. Gathering for a Spritz is an opportunity to meet, chat, gossip and laugh in good company. Spritz is a lifestyle. And an excellent excuse to go hang out in the bar at sundown, when everybody looks pretty.

Image source Spritzlandia

Spritz is a simple drink, whose roots date back to the Austrian occupation of northeastern Italy; Austrian incumbents of the Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia regions regarded wine as too strong a drink and in an attempt to lighten it, diluted it with water. The battling local Veneto folk, in order to restore some vivacity back to the beverage, responded by adding liquor to the new Hapsburgic solution. That’s how Spritz was first invented and how it got its Austrian name, which roughly translates to injection/addition.

Image copyright Nan McElroy

The orange-hued alcoholic beverage native to lagunar lands - but now commonly enjoyed all over northern Italy, including the regions of Emilia Romagna and Lombardia - is commonly also named Spriss, Spriz or Sprisseto. I have worked and lived some portions of my professional life on the road in northern Italy and I have compiled a Spritz Tour Catalog of choice bars and cafes where I have enjoyed the best Spritz in Italy. 

Among them Padova's consolidated Spritz shrine in Piazza delle Erbe and the Padova Ghetto; or Campo Santa Margherita in Venice; Porta San Tommaso in Treviso; the area around Piazza Matteotti in Udine; Piazza delle Erbe in Verona; Piazza dei Signori in Vicenza; the lighthouse beach and numerous cafes along Via Bafile in Jesolo Lido; the gorgeous Piazza Unità d'Italia in Trieste; at the Bar Roma in San Donà di Piave; Piazza Libertà in Bassano del Grappa; Piazza Giorgione in Castelfranco Veneto; beneath the Loggia dei Grani in Montebelluna; Asolo's Caffè Centrale; in the chic locales that dot Corso Italia in Cortina d'Ampezzo; Piazza Cima in Conegliano Veneto. Or in my beloved Chioggia, where traditionally Spritz is enjoyed in osterie along the snaking canals, paired with spit roasted fish called "scòta deo", which means 'finger-burning'.

There is no unambiguous composition for Spritz, rather city variations on the local barman's own whim. A common denominator in the varieties offered is however the presence of dry white wine and sparkling water or seltzer/club soda, whose quantities have to at least be 40% to 30%; the remaining 30% can be completed by a myriad of alcoholic alternatives; granted their mixture maintain the drink's signature bright orange color. Alcoholic grading is therefore variable, but should not exceed 15°. Here's how I like to make Spritz.

40% dry white wine
30% soda water
30% Aperol bitter

Some make Spritz with Campari instead of Aperol, a bit too bitter for my happy hour palate. I prefer classic Aperol, which gives the drink a sweeter yet peppery taste. This brand produces a new popular ready-made mix called Aperol Spritz.

But I rather like to make it myself and serve it on the rocks with an orange wedge, accompanied by frittata squares, fried polpette meatballs, artichoke heels, polenta sticks, and other cicchetti-like goodies.

I love cocktail hour, don't you?


Aug 23, 2009

Puntarelle recipe

Rome's curious curled chicory salad, Puntarelle are the number two Roman quintessential vegetable after artichokes. They are the sprouts of a chicory variety called cicoria di catalogna, puntarelle chicory or asparagus chicory, picked while still young and tender. Of course I am craving them now. And of course, like many other of my cravings, they are in season only in winter...


The preparation of this raw salad is a little complex, fortunately puntarelle are sold in Rome’s farmers’ and corner markets already trimmed and "curled." If I was able to find puntarelle in a supermarket tucked away in the hills above northern Bologna, I’m sure you can get your hands on a crate too, whatever your location.

The sprouts and shoots of the puntarelle are cut lengthwise into long, thin strips and soaked in acidulated ice-cold water for an hour.

This causes the crunchy pale green chicory to curl up in extraordinary Shirley Temple-style, to become juicier and less bitter. The recipe for the punchy dressing of this very particular salad dates back to ancient Rome. Another bizarre flavor combination, but a delicious one at that.

When come November, your mind drifts to the Eternal City, and you mysteriously begin to long for the unique smell of roasting chestnuts and the particular glint of wet cobblestones in the morning sun, go ahead and assemble the following ingredients for a taste of true Roman flavor.

1 kg (2.2 lbs) puntarelle (can be substituted with Belgian endive or the youngest curly chicory you can find)
8 anchovy fillets packed in salt, cleaned (can be substituted with regular oil-preserved anchovies in extremis)
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
Red wine vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare a creamy pesto with minced garlic, anchovies, splash of lvinegar (not too much!) very little salt, pepper and plenty olive oil. Pestle and mortar would be best, but if you use a mezzaluna or a kitchen knife to chop finely you can then mix with a wire whisk. 
Stir and allow the obtained "sauce" to sit for 10 minutes.

Drain the puntarelle, dry with a kitchen towel or spin-dry carefully. Trickle the velvety beige sauce over the chilled and curled puntarelle salad, toss, allow to sit for a few minutes, and––given the garlic content––expect to face reduced social life for the next 3 days.

Image © su-lin
Note: If you're particularly in a rush and decide to use anchovy paste instead of fillets, just cut down on the salt and count on my discretion.

Aug 19, 2009

Vitello Tonnato recipe

Some simplify and make this typical Piemontese summer dish with mayonnaise, but the true recipe doesn't call for it. I don’t know what this digression comes from, as there is nothing mayo-like in the original preparation of the exquisite veal delicacy. The egg, perhaps.

A little bit complex but rarely a disappointment, authentic vitello tonnato is made with:

1 kg (2.2 lb) "girello" roast, or boned veal (rump cut)
500 g (1 lb) white onions, thinly sliced
1/2 bouillon cube
150 g (7/8 cup) good quality canned tuna, drained of excess oil (not the water packed kind!)
1 egg yolk, hard-boiled
5 pickled capers + a pinch more for garnishing, rinsed
Dry white wine
Extra virgin olive oil

Heat the meat in a stew pot, searing it in oil for a few minutes, or until evenly browned. Add the onion and the 1/2 stock cube, and cook until the onions are translucent. Pour in the wine, reduce the heat to a low flame and braise covered, adding more wine if necessary (if the meat looks dry). Do not salt!

After about 30 minutes, check for doneness by poking the roast with a fork, if the meat is tender, it's done. Should the resulting juices be too liquid, fish out the roast and set aside. Raise the heat and reduce the onion sauce to a dense gravy-like texture.

In a food processor, blend the tuna (hence the 'no salt' part), egg yolk, capers and the onion gravy into a thick cream.

When the veal has cooled, carve it thinly across the grain and arrange the slices on a large platter (you want one layer). Slather the creamy tuna sauce over the sliced meat, covering it completely; and garnish with more capers (just a few). Cover with plastic wrap and chill before serving.

From the refrigerator, also produce a frosty bottle of Dolcetto di Dogliani and go crazy.

I knew what I was getting into as I was typing the words 'veal' and 'tuna' in the same sentence. Trouble.

I don't know if Italian calves face the same horrid death they do overseas. But this particular meat is very much part of the Italian diet; and being faithful to my pledge to blog about authentic Italian dishes, I felt I could not overlook this fact.

Tuna is still angled with "tonnare," a brutal death chamber-style technique in which often porpoises and other marine species get caught by mistake. I'm not a defender of the practice, I cringe at the mere idea and I find it cruel.

But I am an omnivore. And I actually love the taste of vitello tonnato described here. Paradoxical.

My intent was the usual one, entice palates, share my recipes and tell a little of Italy's eating habits. Never to offend, disgust or perturb my non veal/tuna-eating readers. 
Please accept my heartfelt apologies if I have.

Aug 17, 2009

Bellini cocktail recipe

After all that hard work canning tomatoes,  and the energy spent scarfing Ferragosto fare, I thought we deserved a little reward.

I'm making a popular treat for us.
It combines elements I have spoken about earlier in these virtual pages...
The city of Venice...

...and peaches.

Can you guess what it is?

Today's recipe is for cocktails.
Let's make decadent and refreshing Bellini.

Image copyright rfarmer

Courtesy of Champagne Resource:
The Bellini was originally poured in Venice at a famous place called Harry's Bar. Created by Guiseppe Cipriani in 1931, the Bellini's delicate flavor is still popular more than 75 years later. Harry’s Bar was named after co-owner Harry Pickering, an American millionaire. Guiseppe, a bartender at a Venice hotel, took a leap of faith when he loaned a patron, Harry Pickering, 1,000,000 lire (at the time worth $5,000) after Pickering had been financially cut off by his family. For his generosity, Pickering repaid Giuseppe $25,000 two years later and together they opened Harry's Bar.

The Bellini quickly became the signature drink at Harry’s Bar, though it was not officially called the Bellini until some time in 1948, when it was named in honor of the artist, Giovanni Bellini. This drink uses fresh peaches and an Italian sparking wine called Prosecco. It's a little known fact that there is no actual Champagne in a traditional Bellini. While Prosecco is a light and effervescent wine, its sturdy bubbles actually hold up well against the fruit’s pulp. Since high quality vintage champagne tends to have extremely small bubbles, many believe that utilizing vintage champagne will result in an inferior Bellini.

Image copyright iessi

To make this mind-blowing cocktail you will need:
1 small white peach per person
4 oz Prosecco sparking wine per person
champagne flutes
blender/food processor

Slice the peaches vertically, peel and remove the flesh from the pits. Whir the slices in the blender or food processor to obtain a frothy puree. While many naively believe that a can of peach nectar can be used, this should only be a last minute option. There is truly no substitute for the complexity of flavors that emerge from the fresh fruit.

Put the peach puree in a shaker or a beer mug, and place it in the freezer until it is thoroughly chilled, but not frozen solid. Pour the cold Prosecco into the chilled puree and stir gently. Once well blended, pour the mixture into champagne flutes and garnish with your lips.

Aug 15, 2009

Ferragosto: Gelo di Anguria recipe

The way we Italians honor any sort of festivity, activity or event celebrating a special occasion is through the glorification of food. Cooking and gathering for a meal, however sumptuous or modest, is the final solemnization of a series of acts duly performed for religious or ceremonial reasons. The triumph of opulence over poverty, sacrifice and abstinence. An offering, an act of gratitude, of praise. Greek mythology sums it up in one single spilling cornucopia, the symbol of plenty consisting of a goat’s horn endlessly overflowing with flowers, fruit, and grains.

It's Ferragosto today: big Italian holiday. Originally, it was the day marking the middle of summer and the end of hard harvesting labor in the fields. In time, the Church adopted this date to commemorate the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

Before the Roman Catholic Church came into existence, however, this holiday was celebrated in the Roman Empire to honor the gods, in particular lunar Diana (the Roman equivalent of the Greek Artemis) and the cycle of fertility and ripening.

Typical Ferragosto food revolves around fresh, raw vegetables and fruit to ward off the heat. Cold beverages, fruit salads, cold pasta and Pomodori al Riso are almost always on the menu.

Roadside stands selling whole watermelons and/or chilled slices of the fruit are a summer feature throughout Italy. The hand painted signs on country roadside stalls may read the word "anguria," but the dialectal term cocomero is watermelon's name in Rome and its vicinities.

Ferraugustine tradition imposes mammoth consumption of the everpresent cocomero, usually kept cold bobbing in a nearby marble fountain in absence of portable coolers.

My stepfather Sergio likes to engage in pre-purchase cocomero appraisal, a complex activity that includes bargaining and the cutting of a small wedge, called tassello, for the definitive quality assurance evaluation. Cocomero and Panzanella are more classic Ferragosto food items on our summer outings. Since panzanella has olive oil among its ingredients, which inevitably ends up dribbling everywhere, including one’s hands and face, cocomero in that context works also as a refreshing cleanser. Hence the memorable Roman slogan Cocomero: Magni, bevi e te lavi 'a faccia, which translates to "watermelon: with it you eat, drink and wash your face all in one go".

Today we make dessert, fresh and lovely Gelo di Cocomero

Like many other Sicilian fruit "gelos," this chilled delight is typical of Palermo's culinary tradition of cornstarch-based puddings. Its best application is - in my humble opinion - with watermelon as it's fresh base.

1 liter (4 cups) ripe watermelon pulp, seeded
80 g (1/3 cups) sugar
5 tablespoons of cornstarch
100 g (1/2 cup) Pistachio nuts, finely ground
50 g (1/4 cup) dark chocolate, finely ground
Jasmine flowers
A pinch of cinnamon

Whir the watermelon in the blender and remove excess liquid, by passing the puree through a sieve. Mix all the ingredients - save for the jasmine, chocolate and cinnamon - placing them in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat.

As the elements simmer, the cornstarch will begin to thicken the sauce. Remove from the stove and allow it to cool once well blended and quite thick.

Pour the creamy watermelon mixture in Martini glasses or muffin molds. Dust the top with powdered pistachio, a dash of cinnamon and garnish with chocolate shavings and the jasmine flower. Serve chilled and prepare for the applause.

Aug 13, 2009

Pommarola homemade tomato sauce recipe

Pommarola – fresh tomato and vegetable preserves – is an Italian summertime activity more than a genuine seasonal recipe. After the tomato harvest, families get busy peeling and canning tomatoes into preserves-form for the winter. This recipe expands well, and most households make gallons of it when the flood of tomatoes reaches its peak in August.

pommarola homemade tomato sauce

Mason jars filled with the final product are a delicious pantry staple. With an incredibly long shelf life.

Fresh, ripe ingredients are key, and fortunately organic heirloom, Roma, or plum tomatoes can be found in virtually every farmer's market. It is best to choose red and firm fruits for this preparation, in any variety that don't release as much water as vine-ripened or slicing tomatoes, which could extend cooking time.

Early this morning we took in 4 overflowing crates of tomatoes from the orto, the vegetable garden, which yielded 5 kg (11 lbs) of finished product. Yesterday we made double that.
Below I have listed quantities and ingredients that yield about 5 jars of pommarola:

4 lbs Roma (plum) tomatoes, cored and cut into pieces
2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 rib of celery - leaves and all - cut into pieces
1 large onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 bunches of fresh basil
3 tbsp Kosher sor sea alt
150 ml (3/4 cup) extra virgin olive oil
4-6 clean 10-oz capacity mason jars and capsule screw caps*

Choose a wide, heavy-bottomed pot, with a tight fitting lid, and arm yourself with a sturdy wooden spoon: your best friend for the hours to come.

Wash all the vegetables and without drying them, place them - with the salt, basil and olive oil - in the pot (remember, it has to be big enough to hold everything). Place the pot on the fire and let the ingredients cook over a lively flame, covered. Once the tomatoes begin to fall apart and exude liquid, uncover and simmer, stirring occasionally, with patience.

pommarola homemade tomato sauce
We are preparing massive amounts of Pommarola these days, which make our cooking times average around 3-4 hours, but for the quantities listed above, you should be looking at no more than 1 1/2 hours.

When all the vegetables are soft, and the derived rich and soupy tomato sauce has taken on a deep color, sexy texture and delightful aroma, it will be time to take the pot off the stove.

The next step is the hardest work, so try to recruit helpers.

Crank the sauce through a food mill and occasionally discard the pulpy stuff. This is key, because otherwise during storage, the skins and seeds of the tomato – and all other vegetable discards – turn your pommarola bitter and oddly textured.

If the resulting sauce should appear too watery, cook it uncovered for an additional 20 minutes, to thicken. Test it: if a silky spoonful on a flat plate no longer gives off a large watery halo around the dollop, it's done.

Transfer the sauce at once into clean mason jars, scooping it with a ladle. Fill each leaving a 1/4" gap, and screw the lid on. Now place all the jars huddled together, and cover them with a warm wool or fleece blanket in a dimly lit room, away from drafts, overnight.

This rather mysterious-sounding procedure is the technique that guarantees pasteurization. Thanks to the heat, jars are hermetically sealed, and through natural vacuum, air is expelled. The result will be that the capsule in the lids of the jars will no longer "pop" when pressed down. If the capsule still pops, repeat pasteurization process with a new lid. Once the jars are vacuum sealed, they can be stored in your pantry for 10 to 13 months!

As active participant and valid helper, I get to take home part of the stash. This incredible bounty will last me a year, and I will use my pommarola with profuse abandon: to dress pasta, as a base for vegetable and meat stews, to make pizza, as a dip, or instead of ketchup on my burgers.

Also, since this sugo is already cooked, all I have to do on the day is pour some out in a serving bowl (any left over in the jar needs to be refrigerated), add my cooked and drained pasta al dente, a curl of butter and a generous hand of grated Parmigiano. Voilà, "pasta al sugo" - ready and steaming on the plate.

And every time I will open one of the little red jars in the middle of winter, I will close my eyes and smell the delightful aroma of these precious summer days.

*Safe and hygienic preserving is obtained by using new jars and special lids with soft rubber gaskets that ensure a "venting" effect during pasteurization, and that provide an effective, long-lasting vacuum seal. Furthermore, the paint must be suitable for contact with the foods on the inside. The jars and lids we use are The Quattro Stagioni line by the Italian manufacturer Bormioli. To learn more about the technical features visit the Bormioli website.

Aug 10, 2009

Summer escape - Villa Rucellai in Tuscany

We escaped. It was too hot and lonely in Rome.
I packed a light tote for Mr.E and myself, and we made for the country. As in Tuscany, where "pastoral" is as pretty as it gets.
Villa RucellaiVilla Rucellai

Right now, as I finish posting this, friends are setting the table for dinner. The barbecue is on...

Villa Rucellai
Rebecca is toasting bread for bruschetta (pronounced with a K)

The menu this evening will be: rosticciana - which is a lovely Tuscan word for 'pork spare ribs' - herb-rubbed chicken skewers, garden salad and homemade gelato.

Villa Rucellai
I can't get enough of these scallions and vine-ripened tomatoes picked warm this morning in the vegetable garden.
Villa Rucellai
So I halved and scooped-out some Roma tomatoes, and stuffed them with a little crushed tuna; the chopped pulp; and some diced celery, which I tossed with mayonnaise, before divvying up the mixture back in the tomato halves for our antipasto.
Villa Rucellai
The air smells like burning firewood.
The swallows dance vast circles above our heads, and our swimming costumes are still dripping pool water, over there on the west-facing hedge.

Mr.E is in seventh heaven. He spends most of his time playing in the garden, digging up dirt, or climbing trees and plucking the juicy pears.

Villa Rucellai
Look at that sunset...

Villa Rucellai
...and the olive trees beneath the forest...
Villa Rucellai
And what about this view of the main entrance?
Isn't it lovely?

Villa Rucellai
Ducks paddling in their little spa pond...
Villa Rucellai
...Geraniums sheltered by the shade of a cherry tree...
Villa Rucellai
...and beauty as far as the eye can see...

Speaking of tomatoes, tomorrow my friends Selena, Rebecca, Lorenzo, with Mr.E and I (and the supervision of my mother) will begin the summer's production by cooking the first 5 gallons of Pommarola tomato preserves.
The following day, it will be fig marmalade. Depending on the yield, perhaps plum jam too.

Aperitivo is ready, I'm being summoned outside.
I have to go now...

Villa Rucellai

...and I need to slip on a jumper, because it's getting chilly...
Villa Rucellai

Aug 5, 2009

You say tomato, I say pomodoro

Nothing spells summer quite like a ripe, juicy tomato. As the warm season hits full swing in the northern hemisphere, the farmer's markets are overflowing with them and my recipe imagination goes skyrocketing.
heirloom tomatoes
And so I chop and slice my way to bliss for bruschetta topped with fine tomato salad & basil; beefsteak tomatoes sliced in alternate layers of milky Bufala mozzarella; halved, raw cherry tomatoes tossed with steaming pasta and a dollop of pesto; saucy pizza; Greek salad; tomatoes au gratin; Mexican pico de gallo salsa; 700 different pasta dressings; piquant Bloody Marys; soups... the combinations are boundless.
heirloom tomatoes

Let me take you on a walk through my virtual tomato orchard. Bring a sun hat. And a large basket.

heirloom tomatoesImage copyright David Besa

Like the potato, bell pepper and eggplant, the tomato is a member of the nightshade family. Although the U.S. Supreme Court declared them a vegetable in 1893, tomatoes are actually a fruit. think about it: they are sweet and grow on a vine. They’re in season from May through October, with some variation depending on location.

The Aztecs called the tasty red fruit xitomatl, meaning 'plump thing with a navel,' which is such a sxy and appopriate name. Later it gained the designation of tomatl by other Mesoamerican peoples. By the time Columbus arrived to the New World, the tomato had made its way up from Peru into Central America and Mexico. The conquistadores carried plants back home from Mexico, but it took some time for pomodori to be accepted in Europe because it was thought that – like various other members of the nightshade family – they were poisonous. 

Some tomato advocates, however, claimed the fruit had aphrodisiac powers, so tomatoes were also horribly shunned by the Puritans. The Italian name is the fusion of the archaic term "pomo" for apple, and "d’oro," golden. A gilded apple. So as it turns out that the Apple of Discord, star of the epic Judgement of Paris that led to the Trojan War, was nothing but a ripe heirloom.
heirloom tomatoes
Thousands of tomato varieties are available today - ranging widely in size, shape and color. You may have only tasted glossy red tomatoes, but the sweet summer orbs come in all shades of crimson, white, yellow, pink, orange, green when fully mature, striped, mottled, fuzzy, brown and shiny deep purple.

heirloom tomatoes
heirloom tomatoes
heirloom tomatoesImages copyright Gary Ibsen tomato expert, monger & lover

The larger types of tomatoes include heirloom and beefsteak. Heirloom varieties are very special because their cultivators have saved the seeds and passed them down through generations. They come in a range of measurements and trendy colors too — from the size of a marble to that of a grapefruit, from round to egg-shaped to apple and heart-shaped.

Among the most commonly marketed tomatoes in Italy are the Plum tomatoes (also called "Italian Plums" or “Paste tomatoes”) red or yellow and egg-shaped; they have fewer seeds than other cultivars, making them ideal for sauces.

heirloom tomatoes
San Marzano, known abroad as Roma tomatoes, are oblong red or green tomatoes. Also vastly used in the canning industry.

The small Sicilian tomatoes from Pachino are usually olive shaped. Sized 1 inch in diameter and can be red or yellow-gold in color. The distinctive tiny tail-like tip at the bottom and its terrific taste are a Pachino trademark.

The Vesuvian tomato is slightly larger than the cherry tomato and resembles a tiny egg. These toothsome tomatoes are grown on the slopes of the Campanian volcano and are among the most delicious tomatoes I have ever tasted.

Another curious tomato cultivar is the Tomate à Farcir, which is hollow on the inside.

Most Italian produce markets sell several other flavorful and larger heirloom tomato varieties. Among the most interesting, the Cuore di Bue, (cousins of the famed oxhearts). The skin of these large fruits is coral color and very tender, the firm flesh inside has very few seeds and is extremely sweet and best eaten raw.

Striped brandywine-type Pantano tomatoes have an orangey skin with green shoulder stripes. This fruit’s bi-color flesh is a brilliant red with a green center.

Casalini tomatoes, similar in shape to purple Calabash pleated tomatoes, have a bright red tough skin and tender flesh, and are shaped and ribbed like a miniature pumpkin. Having a sweet, rich, complex – almost addictive – taste, they are the best fruits to be used for the true Italian fresh tomato sauce recipe.

heirloom tomatoes
The most succulent, flavorful tomatoes are those that are vine-ripened, usually only available in local produce markets. Unfortunately, these are very perishable, which is why supermarkets almost always carry tomatoes that have been picked green and then ripened with ethylene gas or in special warming rooms. Such tomatoes will never have the texture, aroma and taste of the vine-ripened fruit.

Like when a styrofoam-esque production industry standard shows up on a menu. That for me is the kiss of death for any restaurant. Take one of the worlds most loved foods, and you serve the public something that only barely resembles the real thing? That tells me that the person buying the produce and designing the menu does not think that I, the consumer am worth a few cents more.

heirloom tomatoes
As we pick the warm, heavy fruits off the vine, let me tell you some nutrition facts. A medium-sized tomato contains no fat and 3 grams of sugar. They’re an excellent source of antioxidant vitamins A and C, and a good source of potassium, folate, vitamin B6 and thiamin, and contain appreciable amounts of iron and phosphorus. A medium tomato has about as much fiber as a slice of whole-wheat bread, and only about 35 calories. Many nutritionists promote tomatoes because of their high lycopene content. Lycopene is an antioxidant that studies have linked to helping reduce heart disease and cancer risks.

heirloom tomatoesBack to the kitchen, it's getting too hot outside. You begin washing the dirt off the tomatoes. I'll get the chopping board and my good knife out.

Casalini heirloom tomatoesI typically buy Casalini heirlooms for sauces, and funky colored tomatoes for special dishes; Pachino or cherry tomatoes by the pint to dip in hummus or slice and toss in a salad. The smaller varieties also work well for vegetable skewers or threaded with white meats for delicious kebabs. Gazpacho is another household favorite, but make sure you use plum tomatoes to have less seeds to deal with.

heirloom tomatoes
heirloom tomatoes
heirloom tomatoesWhile roaming your farmer's market for tomatoes, be sure to choose firm, smooth and brightly colored ones without blemishes and bruises. Tomatoes store best at room temperature for several days; your refrigerator’s cold temperature kills the flavor and creates a mealy texture. Never set an unripe pomodoro in the sun either. To ripen up unready tomatoes, simply place them in a paper bag, punch a few small holes in the bag and drop in an apple. Let it sit for several days at room temperature (65° to 75°F). The ethylene gas emitted from the apple will help ripen the tomato.

heirloom tomatoes
picking heirloom tomatoes

A few tomato recipes to try:

Pomodori al Riso - Stuffed Tomatoes
Pezzogna all'Acqua Pazza
Friggione Dipping Sauce
Pappa al Pomodoro Soup
heirloom tomatoes
If you're still curious about tomatoes after reading this, here are some fun links:
  • Read an interesting article on heirloom tomatoes here.
  • Find comprehensive and practical on-line information on breeding tomatoes here.
  • Snatch all the tips, info and photos you need to grow your own tomatoes here and here.
  • Learn how to grow tomatoes upside-down here and here.

    Tomato Trivia: Every August approximately 40,000 Spaniards gather in Buñol near Valencia to throw one hundred metric tons of over-ripe tomatoes at each other in the annual Tomatina festival. I can just see the bewilderment on the faces of the bare-chested tourists caught in the crossfire. Italy has a similar ancient food fight sister to Tomatina in its yearly Battaglia degli Aranci during the Ivrea carnival, where the ammo is constituted uniquely of ripe oranges.

Tomatina in Spain