Viva Il Pomodoro!
Why do tomatoes from Italy taste so good?
There’s something very special about Italian tomatoes. They’re both simple yet extraordinary, perfectly symbolising the philosophy of Italian cooking.
Acclaimed photographer Nadege Meriau reveals the remarkable visual beauty of Marinda, Datterini, and Black Bull Heart tomatoes, whilst we explore what it is about the different Italian regions which makes their ‘pomidori’ so special.
Working with fruit and vegetable supplier Natoora, we’ve spoken to the finest regional growers from Campania, Sicily and Liguria. Scroll down to discover why we’re so passionate about this Italian food staple.
Photo caption: Grown on Mt Vesuvius, the seeds in the locular cavity of the Black Bull’s Heart echo the volcanic roots of the tomato.
“My family has been growing 'Cuore del Vesuvio' tomatoes on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius in Campania for generations using seeds we’ve saved each year. Although the Red Bull's Heart is typical of this area, I've been growing a Black Bull's Heart variety for just over a year now. The volcanic soil and nearby sea provide an ideal environment for tomato plants. Sweet and only slightly tart, the Black Bull’s Heart has a dense, meaty texture with an almost black skin.”
Raffaele, grower of Black Bull’s Hearts for Natoora
“Campania is also known as Italy’s famous Neapolitan Riviera. It’s a fact that Neapolitans were among the first in Europe to start using Black Bull’s Heart Tomatoes not just as a decorative plant but also in their cooking. This led to the creation of the pizza as we know it today, as well as spaghetti and calzones. Visit Campania between April and June or between September and October; in the autumn, not only are temperatures mild but you’ll find that there are fewer crowds, especially in seaside towns such as Positano. Foodies must not miss the Settembrata Anacaprese festival, held in Capri every September, where local dishes are paired with local wines at food markets during the grape harvest.”. Faye Gallacher, Leicester, Italy Expert
Photo caption: Dissected Datterini cross-sections evoke Sicily's underwater island history.
“I grow my tomatoes in an area of Sicily that was covered by the sea in ancient times. You can still find seashells on the ground here. The salty earth and rich mineral deposits, combined with the region's low humidity and plentiful sunshine, make for ideal growing conditions. I’ve chosen to grow a variety of Datterini that others are reluctant to grow, but it tastes incredible.”
Francesco, grower of Datterini tomatoes for Natoora
“An island of many cultures, Sicily’s cuisine has been influenced by countries such as Italy, Greece, Spain, France and the Arab Emirates. During the foundation of the New World, Spain introduced Datterini Tomatoes and other well-known ingredients into Catania, on Sicily’s East Coast. Sicily’s regional specialities traditionally pair together the island’s local meat and seafood with provincial fruits and vegetables. Dishes like “Spaghetti ai ricci” (Spaghetti and Sea Urchin) or “Arancini” (fried rice balls with a tomato sauce and mozzarella) are a firm favourite that absolutely must be sampled if you visit one of the island’s many street food markets.”
Thomas Ricketts, Welwyn Garden City, Italy Expert
Photo caption: A Marinda cross-section conjures southern Sicily's soft winter sunshine.
“We source our Marinda from the coast of Southern Sicily, around the renowned Pachino area. Harvested between February and May, they are known as ‘Winter Tomatoes’. The salty soil and water in this area give this variety of tomato a flavour rarely matched by other varieties. This tomato is at its best when still shot with green; the perfect Marinda tomatoes has a dark green 'shoulder', a fairly thick, heavily ridged skin with a firm pulp and crunch.”
Fede, Head of Sourcing for Natoora
“Due to the mineral-rich soil from Mount Etna, Sicily is ideal for growing fruits and vegetables. Tomato-based dishes and Sicilian wine have become famous in their own right for their original flavours and a typical Sicilian family meal will always be paired with a local wine. Visit between April and June, with a visit to Trapani during mid-June for their week-long Cuscusu festival celebrating all things foodie! Not only are there wine tastings throughout the week but you can also try a cookery lesson too. I made a delightful “Pasta con il pesto alla Trapanese” (Tomato and Almond Pasta) in my efforts!”
Anske David Bax, Kuoni Canterbury, Italy Expert
Photo caption: A tomato stalactite formed in the cave-like Bull's Heart.
“The microclimate in this area of Liguria is completely unique, with a stable temperature throughout the year. This makes outdoor growing possible, and helps develop tomatoes with a compact, practically seedless flesh. Because they are more exposed to the weather than greenhouse tomatoes, the thin skin of my Ligurian Bull’s Hearts tends to have natural scarring.”
Giovanni, grower of Ligurian Bull’s Heart for Natoora
“Just like Tuscany, cuisine in Liguria is defined by its simplicity. Bread, cheese, fruits and vegetables are at its heart with a dash of locally-made olive oil and beef or pork of the highest quality from Chiana Valley. Liguria’s pear-shaped Bull’s Heart Tomatoes are important in the region’s cooking, providing a base ingredient for fresh pasta dishes like “Linguine” (Ribbon Pasta and Tomatoes) and “Orecchiette con Cozze e Verdure” (Mussels, Pasta and Tomatoes). Foodies will enjoy Feast Day in Le Spezia (mid-March) where there’s a giant market in the port and surrounding streets all celebrating the city’s patron saint, San Guiseppe. Slow Fish in Genoa during early May (every odd-numbered year) is perfect for those who want to dine on seafood to their heart’s content.”
Susan Eaton, Aberdeen, Italy Expert
Photo caption: Francesco (left), Giovanni (centre) and Raffaele (right).
We would like to thank the Natoora growers for sharing their expertise. Natoora is a fruit and vegetable wholesaler based in London who source the finest produce that is grown for flavour throughout Europe. Find out more about their products and growers here: http://natoora.co.uk/
If you’re inspired to visit Italy don’t miss our best places to eat in Italy recommendations or find out how to eat tomatoes like an Italian with our delicious Italian tomato recipe ideas.