Cooking With Tomatoes: Tracing Italy’s Obsession With This Scarlet Fruit

Can you imagine Italian food without tomatoes? This rich red fruit is the mainstay of Italian cooking, making its way onto everything from pizzas to pastas. But, what if we said that tomatoes aren’t native to Italy at all? What if we said that they were considered to be bad, even poisonous, by the Italians?

Humble Beginnings

Contrary to popular belief, the tomato isn’t native to Italy. It was discovered as a wild plant, growing in Ecuador and Peru and was introduced to Europe by the Spanish. It only entered Italy sometime in the 1500s, to great apprehension. Tomatoes received quite a chilly reception in Italy and were believed to be harmful to the body. Because of their vivid red hue, some Italians even called them the ‘devil’s fruit’. The fact that nobody knew how to use them and make them edible, only added to this notion.

Picking up Steam

How the apprehension turned into a nation-wide obsession? It all began in Naples, where conducive growing conditions resulted in an excellent tomato crop. People realized that the tomato could not only be easily preserved, but also feed a starving population when slathered on bread or mixed in as a sauce, with pasta.

Today, tomatoes are produced in large quantities in the Italian regions of Emilia-Romagna, Sicily, Calabria, Campania, Puglia and Sardinia. From the most popular San Marzano tomato to the Cuore di Bue that tastes wonderful in salads, Italy continues to dish out the juiciest tomato varieties. Here are some of our favourites:

San Marzano

This DOP-certified tomato is hugely popular both in Italy and across the world. Its remarkable taste lends itself to a variety of preparations.

Use it to: Make sauces and layer onto pizzas, pasta or lasagnas

Roma

This pear-shaped plum tomato is known for its rich, sweet flavour.

Use it to: Make fresh tomato salsa, tomato sauces and even as an addition to soups and salads

Pachino

IGP-certified, this small, round tomato is immensely fragrant and sweet.

Use it to: Make light seafood dishes, a pasta sauce or serve as is, sprinkled with herbs, salt and olive oil

Cuore di Bue

Literally meaning ‘ox heart’, this juicy, meaty tomato is larger and heavier than the other varieties.

Use it to: Make pasta or pizza sauces, in salads and in sandwiches

Using these versatile tomatoes, Italians have succeeded in creating an array of enticing tomato-based dishes — ones that the world just can’t get enough of. Here are some of the most iconic ones.

Pasta Al Pomodoro

Think classic pasta in the shape of your choice, doused in tomato sauce. An all-time Italian favourite, this dish brings the tomato front and center, promising the most robust, hearty flavours.

Bruschetta

This famous Italian appetizer was born in Campania, where it became a quick, fresh snack for farmers. Traditionally, bruschetta was made by rubbing half a tomato onto toasted bread, to create a faint red hue. Today, bruschetta comes topped with chopped tomatoes, garlic, fresh basil and sometimes, olives.

Pizza Margherita

Many years ago, Italians ate their pizzas ‘bianca’, or white, without any tomato sauce. In 1889, the pizza margherita was officially introduced, in honour of Queen Margherita of Italy. This classic pizza is topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil.

Caprese Salad

This legendary Italian summer salad is a simple, wholesome dish that represents the colours of the Italian flag. All you need to put this together are some fresh tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, basil, salt, pepper and olive oil.

Pesto Trapanese

This thick pesto sauce is largely consumed in Trapani, Sicily. It combines the goodness of garlic and walnuts with the deliciousness of ripe tomatoes, to create a pesto sauce that tastes unbelievable when tossed with your favourite pasta.

We’ve packed in the juiciest San Marzano tomatoes in a jar too! As the fruit is quite versatile, you can try our All-Purpose Tomato Sauce and spread it on our Roman-style whole wheat pizza base, stir it into pasta or use it to make soups, in a marinade for vegetables and meats, and do a whole lot more with it.

Italian Food & Wine Classifications

*D.O.P classification
DOP — Denominazione di origine protetta (Protected Designation of Origin) denotes the tightest restrictions regarding where and how a food product is grown and produced.

*IGP Protected
IGP — Identificazione geografica protetta (Protected Geographical Indication) recognizes that the characteristics of a food product depend upon the geographical area in which the food product is prepared.

Follow us on Instagram @sorrentina_honestlyitalian to learn more about the Italian cuisine.

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