Discovering San Marzano

Italian chef Tony Minichello sparked my interest in the San Marzano.  He raved about them, cooked with them and gave me a sample.  That taste was remarkable, like finding a treasure in a sunken ship.

Many say Italian tomatoes are considered some of the best in the world.  In Campania near Naples the soil is volcanic and fertile thanks to Mount Vesuvius. A very old tomato is produced there in limited quantities: the San Marzano.  It’s the latest tomato buzz in the states

Because of its specialty and limited production area, the European Union gave it a DOP or denomination of protected origin.  DOP means a product has peculiar characteristics because it was grown in a particular geographic region using specific methods.  Every can of authentic Italian San Marzanos will show DOP on the label.

This plum tomato contains fewer seeds and less water than round tomatoes.  It’s lower in sugar and acid too.  The firm and thick flesh is perfectly suited for drying, canning, sauce making and paste.

The first time I grew a San Marzano it bore fruit mid-summer then turned into Jack’s beanstalk.  It grew so fast and prolific two of the bamboo poles used to hold it broke and the whole plant came tumbling down.  With hubby’s help, we re-staked it, unscathed.  And it kept growing.  I harvested upwards of 150 tomatoes from the one plant through mid-October.  I came to find it’s an indeterminate, having a longer season than other tomatoes; they’ll produce until the first hard frost.

Here’s a simple yet flavorful soup to try with this tomato, which you can find fairly easy now at farmers’ markets.  Other Roma tomato varieties work well too.

Roasted Tomato Garlic Soup

Yield: 2-3 servings

4 large San Marzano (or any heirloom tomato) halved and seeded, juice reserved, tossed in olive oil with kosher salt and thyme

4 large garlic cloves, whole, skin on

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 heaping tablespoons yellow onion or shallots, diced

1-inch piece of celery, diced

1 tablespoon tomato paste

pinch of red chili flakes

1 cup chicken stock

2 cups water

reserved tomato juice

kosher salt, to taste

2-4 large croutons (made by toasting 1/4-inch thick slices of baguette brush with olive oil

A high quality extra virgin live oil and torn fresh basil

If using fresh tomatoes:

On a parchment lined sheet, roast the tomatoes and garlic in a 250°F oven until soft and fragrant.  (This takes about 2 to 3 hours. If you want to speed it up a little, a 350°F oven for about 1 to 1.5 hours works too but longer roasting with lower heat develops more flavor).  When done, remove and set aside.

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add the shallots, celery, tomato paste and chili flakes.  Cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add the roasted tomatoes, garlic (skin removed), stock, water and reserved tomato juice.  Simmer on medium low heat for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove and put through a food mill.  Return to the saucepan, warm and season with salt to taste.  If you don’t have a food mill, use a blender.

Ladle into bowls. For added enjoyment, drizzle with your favorite olive oil and grate a little Parmiaigno Regianno on top.  A sprinkling of sea salt brings it all together.  It’s amazing how simplicity can be so good!

Recipe adapted from chef Tony Minichello.

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