the Authentic Italian issue

I POMODORI by Helen Freund + photo by Romney Caruso

F ew ingredients are as revered and versatile as the humble tomato — whether sliced raw and drizzled with olive oil, tossed with pasta or slow-roasted for hours.The possibilities are endless. At their peak, in the late summer months, there is nothing so delicious as a ripe tomato, plucked fresh from the vine, when their unmistakable aroma of grass and earth is impossible to forget. During the winter months, when tomatoes often find their way into braises, sauces and stews, they magically transform into something warm, sweet and comforting. Part of the nightshade family, tomatoes trace their roots back to the time of the early Aztecs, around 700 A.D. It wasn’t until the 16 th century that explorers who had visited the New World introduced the bright red

fruit to Europe, where they at first were treated with disdain and skepticism (many feared the plant was poisonous). It took some time for folks to warm up to the tomato. In Italy, folks from the northern regions were more hesitant than their southern counterparts, where the Mediterranean climate provided a much more affable growing environment. Still, the nicknames given the fruit across the European continent provide a tiny glimpse of the affection some may have felt early on: In England, they were dubbed “love apples,” and Italians named them pomo d’oro , or “golden apple.” When cooking with tomatoes, do as the Italians do and keep it simple. This isn’t the time for lengthy reductions or fancy techniques. Just a few ingredients will do the

trick, and few ingredients are as versatile — and forgiving — as the tomato. Herbs like basil, cilantro, oregano, thyme and parsley are natural complements to the tomato. But less expected pairings, like anise seed, cumin, fennel, nutmeg and even ginger also work well. The varieties and types of tomatoes are endless, from hearty, sandwich-worthy beefsteak tomatoes to petite cherry tomatoes — tiny orbs with a high acidity, which makes them a natural for topping summer salads and sides. Plum tomatoes, also sometimes called paste tomatoes, are perfect for canning and sauces. Italian varieties like Roma, with its oval and almost feminine quality, and the San Marzano tomato, a slender, pointed variety, are arguably two of the most well-known Italian tomatoes.



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