Saturday, February 11, 2012

Fond Memories of Tomatoes

A variety of vine ripened tomatoes from our garden on Cape Cod

Whether you refer to it as pomo d'oro, "apple of gold," as it was named by Italian physician Pietro Andrea Mattioli in the mid 16th century, or pomo d'amore, "apple of love," the French interpretation, the importance of the tomato (Solanum lycopersicon) to the art of cooking is undeniable. The tomatl, translated "the swelling fruit," as it was called by the Nahua peoples, indigenous to central Mexico around 500 AD, is believed to have been transported from the highland's of Peru to Mesoamerica by migrating Peruvians. How the tomato first reached Europe is debatable. I've read where Cortés was responsible for bringing tomatl back to Spain after conquering the Aztec city of Tenochtítlan. Other accounts credit Christopher Columbus with that mission as early as 1493. Today that little yellow globe, originally about the size of a cherry tomato, is now grown globally in every size, shape and color imaginable.

Being of Italian heritage I can't ever remember the tomato not being a staple in Mom's and Nonni's kitchens. Soups, salads, sauces, pizza and pasta dishes were ever complimented by this magnificent and abundant fruit. Although they were prevalent in our diet, I never tired of consuming tomatoes or creating dishes with them. I was fortunate to learn and hone my cooking skills at a most prestigious location in the culinary world - my Mother's side. I don't disparage anyone who studied under the tutelage of the great French chefs, whether here or abroad, but in the cooking world my Mom was a giant! Not only did she have an encyclopedic knowledge of the subject matter,  but she always put an abundance of TLC into her cooking which did not go unrecognized. Anyone who has ever had the pleasure of dining at her table will attest to that. To this day I try to recreate her recipes as authentically as possible. Some of them I've gotten pretty close to, and others, well, I'm still working on them secure in the knowledge that she still guides my hand from above.

Mom and Dad were always giving and sharing and they asked for very little in return. Love and respect were payment enough for all that they bestowed upon me, my brothers and sisters, their grandchildren, great children and their entire family. In that spirit of sharing, I offer my Mom's highly acclaimed recipe for pasta sauce. This is a meatless sauce that requires Italian plum tomatoes. If you grow your own plum tomatoes and can pick them vine ripened - that's great! Otherwise use a premium packed brand  (Sclafani San Marzano Tomatoes are highly recommended). You will need a food mill, or a strainer will do, to remove the seeds and puree the tomatoes. Use fresh herbs for this sauce. They're widely available at the local markets and will not add bitterness as dried herbs sometimes do. If you must use dried herbs then substitute teaspoons for the tablespoons.

1/4  cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2  cloves minced garlic
1  tsp  salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
7  cups (2-28 oz. cans) Italian peeled plum tomatoes (puréed and seedless)
3  Tbs  coarsely chopped fresh basil
1  Tbs  finely chopped fresh parsley 
1  medium whole peeled yellow onion 

In a 4 qt. saucepan heat the olive oil at medium-low until it is slightly aromatic and shimmery.
Saute garlic, salt and pepper until garlic is a light golden color (2 -3 minutes)
Add the tomatoes, stir in the herbs and bring to a point just below boiling.
Add whole peeled onion and reduce heat to a low simmer and stir often to prevent scorching. You don't want this sauce to boil, adjust the heat so that it barely bubbles.
When the onion is tender and peels apart easily the sauce is done - about one hour's cooking time.

Note: If you have a large group to feed double up on everything and get out your big pot.

Serve over your favorite pasta or ravioli, (Borgatti's are the BEST!) --- or combine with your lasagne, baked ziti, cannelloni or any other al forno recipe. You'll find many great recipes at Borgatti's website.  Boun Appetito!

Borgatti's ricotta cheese filled ravioli with Mama Erma's plum tomato sauce,
sprinkled with grated Parmigiano Reggiano.