Editor’s Note — For extra on Italian meals, watch new CNN Original Series “Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy” Sunday at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
Not that he thinks he is particular — he thinks all Italians have the identical relationship with the pomodoro.
“Tomatoes are in our DNA,” he says. “We grow up with tomato in our recipes. They’ve become the symbol of our gastronomy.”
And he is proper. Whether it is a scarlet-slicked pizza or a red-sauced spaghetti al pomodoro, Italy’s most immediately recognizable dishes each embody tomato. Even the emoji for pasta is not simply pasta — it is a steaming plate of spaghetti heaped with tomato sauce on prime.
But whereas at this time we consider tomatoes as inextricably linked to Italian meals, that hasn’t all the time been the case. In truth, it was solely in the course of the 19th century that tomatoes actually hit the tables of the Bel Paese. Before that, it was broadly thought they had been toxic.
Dante did not eat pizza
Few nations now are as obsessive about tomatoes as Italy.
Eddy Buttarelli/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group/Getty Images
The ingredient that makes a pizza pizza and pasta pasta — how might tomatoes not be native to Italy?
In truth, she says, Italy’s advanced historical past — it wasn’t unified till 1861 — implies that what we consider Italian meals is, for probably the most half, a comparatively fashionable idea. In truth, till not too long ago, particular person areas had their very own cuisines.
“I’m from Tuscany and was fascinated by the explosion in popularity of kale in the US, because in Tuscany it’s historically been considered ‘poor food,’ certainly not the expensive millennial ingredient I see people eating here,” she says.
“Many times we don’t think of food in historical terms, but history and political relationships have had an impact on the way we eat — not just society and changes in diet,” she says.
The political tomato
Different areas of Italy favor completely different styles of tomato.
Alfio Giannotti/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group/Getty Images
The tomato, it seems, has all the time been political. Brought to Europe by the Spanish after they colonized the Americas — it is an Aztec plant, as we are able to inform by its unique identify, “tomatl” — by the mid-1500s, it had made its approach to Italy.
Nobody fairly is aware of how — some suppose the Sephardic Jews, expelled from Spain in 1492, might have introduced it with them. Or possibly it made its manner over with Eleanor of Toledo, who got here to Florence when she married the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo I de’ Medici, in 1539.
Either manner, by 1548, the tomato was to be present in Cosimo’s botanical gardens in Pisa. But it wasn’t but on tables.
“There was a lot of bias against the tomato,” says Del Soldato.
The tomato turned up in Italy in Cosimo I de’ Medici’s botanical backyard, nonetheless open to the general public.
“Tomato was perceived as a cold fruit, and coldness was considered a bad quality for a food because of the supremacy of Galenic medicine [following the ancient Greek doctor Galen.]
“It was related to eggplant — one other vegetable with a nasty rap. It was cultivated near the dust — one other issue that did not make it palatable.
“Today we have the sense that if something is new it is good, but for a long time in history, being a novelty was mostly regarded with suspicion.”
“It was seen as an interesting fruit but potentially dangerous, so they didn’t dream of using it as a food,” he says.
“Not until medics discoved that if you had a skin ailment and took an unripe tomato and passed it over your skin, the ailment improved — presumably the effect of vitamin C.”
The earliest recipe for tomato sauce was revealed in 1694, by Neapolitan chef Antonio Latini in his guide “Lo Scalco alla Moderna” — “The Modern Steward.”
“It mentions that if you mix onions, tomatoes and some herbs you get a very interesting sauce that can be used in all sorts of things on meat, especially boiled meat — and things that aren’t so tasty become more interesting with the acidity of the tomato,” says Zancani.
Not that it was thought of a luxurious.
“It was something for the rich as long as it was a botanical curiosity,” says Del Soldato.
“It was something to admire, to brag about because you’re one of the few people to display this rare plant from overseas, but tomatoes weren’t part of the diet of the rich.
“On the opposite, wealthy folks’s diets had been principally meat- and protein-based, and there was an affiliation between consuming fruit and greens, and being poor.
“In many ways, people would have started eating tomatoes because there was nothing else available.” Tomato was an excellent meals for poor folks as a result of they might not solely eat all of it, however might protect and retailer it, she says.
Tinned tomatoes conquer the world
The Po Valley (together with Piacenza, pictured) is now the middle of Italy’s tomato business.
So how did it take over the world? From Naples, tomato-eating steadily unfold over the Spanish-dominant components of Italy, after which past says Del Soldato — though you may nonetheless discover much less tomato in northern areas.
By the 19th century, says Zancani, folks had been teaming them with pasta — maccheroni with tomato sauce in all probability got here in the course of the 19th century, he reckons — in addition to mixing them with beans and different meals.
Del Soldato says that folks in her area, Tuscany, took rapidly to tomato and tailored it to their “cucina povera” (poor folks’s meals).
“Tuscan cuisine is based on not wasting anything, so if you have leftover meat, you cook it the following day with tomato — giving it more flavor with the tomato sauce. I think this obsession with not wasting food is very typical of Italian culture,” she says, declaring braciole rifatte — breaded meat stewed in a tomato sauce — as the proper instance.
And as agriculture grew to become a science, the Italians began creating completely different styles of tomato.
Today, the place in lots of nations “tomatoes” simply means “tomatoes,” go to Italy and you will be assailed by a alternative of myriad varieties. Some are finest in salads, and a few finest utilized in cooking. That’s the place the San Marzano selection is available in — that lengthy, easy-peeling plum tomato, hailing from the sunny Naples and Salerno space of Campania, that prime pizzerias shout from the rooftops.
Mechanization noticed Italy’s tomato scene go international.
It’s mechanization and modernization that catapulted the tomato into the worldwide consciousness. When canning items got here into style the world over, tomatoes actually took off.
Zancani says that within the 1800s, American entrepreneurs had been tinning tomatoes and exporting them again to Europe. But it was solely after World War II that they had been produced on a mass scale. The marshy land across the Po Valley, within the north, was rapidly judged appropriate for tomato-growing, he says, including that the world round Parma, Modena and Piacenza continues to be Italy’s tomato hub at this time.
The Italian obsession
Once the Neapolitans began consuming tomato, it rapidly grew to become synonymous with pizza.
Tiziana Fabi/AFP/Getty Images
Of course, different nations make main use of the tomato — it is a staple of Mediterranean diets, for starters — however Italy’s obsession is explicit.
Ask an Italian, and so they’ll instantly let you know their favourite sort of tomato. For Zancani, it is the cuore di bue (“ox’s heart”) — an infinite, meaty salad tomato identified for its lack of water.
For Del Soldato — who goes out of her manner in Philadelphia to purchase canned tomatoes and passata from Italy — it is the squished, multiple-folded pomodoro fiorentino, which Tuscans use with onions, eggs and basil in a dish referred to as fricassea. Luckily, she says, Delaware grows “brandywine” tomatoes which remind her of the fiorentino.
And for Paolo Gramaglia it’s, in fact, the San Marzano, which he claims has a uncommon umami style.
“The secret of a great spaghetti al pomodoro is to look at it for 10 to 15 seconds,” he says. “That way, it goes first to your brain, then your soul, and then your mouth. And it has a calming effect.”
A superb spaghetti al pomodoro, he says, sees “the tomato making love to the spaghetti.” Simple as it’s, he loves the dish a lot that he says, he “can’t not serve it” — even in his Michelin-starred restaurant, and has turned the dish into an amuse bouche — “a forkful of spaghetti impregnated with tomato.”
An Italy with out tomatoes? Why, he cries — “it would be like Italy losing a third of its soul.”