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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Ferrari & Maserati of Tomatoes

From my apartment on the island of Capri I have a panorama of the Bay of Naples with the majestic Mt Vesuvius looming in the background.  Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D. spewing volcanic ash throughout the area.  This volcanic debris now creates superlative soil for growing what may be the world’s best tomato, the highly prized San Marzano.  Protected by stringent Italian laws, this special varietal can only be grown in this unique volcanic earth near Mt Vesuvius.   Knock-offs are not allowed and carry a stiff penalty (including prison and a lofty fine) for those attempting to masquerade other tomatoes for the beloved San Marzano.

Although used raw, San Marazanos are often canned as used as the basis for Italy’s most flavorful sauces.   I have heard many prominent chefs around the globe say that unless it’s the height of the tomato season, that they would rather use a canned San Marzano than a fresh tomato not in its prime.  Last night for dinner I had a spaghetti with clams at a tiny place within walking distance of Capri’s  main square.  In the pasta was small dices of tomato.  If this were August I would swear it had just been plucked from the garden as it was flavor-chocked, sweet and succulent.  As it’s early February, I know it’s a canned San Marzano.

In San Diego where I live fresh San Marzano’s are popping up in many of the Farmers Markets during the summer.  Naturally, without the volcanic soil and micro-climate of the Amalfi Coast, California renditions are only a mere imitation of the original.  The good news is that canned San Marzano’s are widely available in high-end US grocery stores, and can easily be purchased on the Internet.  Be mindful, however, that there are Chinese knockoffs.  Be sure you buy only those from Italy called San Marzano DOP (which authenticates their origin from Mt Vesuvius soils).

You say tomato…and I say San Marzano.

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