When cooking in Italy, there is one ingredient that is likely to be present in at least one dish of the meal – tomato.
Bursting with flavour, they make such a difference to the quality of Italian recipes.
Bought fresh and fragrant from the local markets when in season, there really nothing is like the tomatoes in Italy. These are great eaten fresh, such as in bruschetta recipes.
For the winter months, many people will prepare home-made preserves stored in jars. Of course, there are also canned and bottled tomatoes on the market which are quite flavoursome too.
A bit of history on the humble tomato:
August is the month of the tomato par excellence, when the sun and low rainfall make it ripe, fragrant and sweet. Although it is rightly considered one of the most typical ingredients of Italian cuisine, the tomato actually has a long history and its origin are in central and south America.
Imported to Europe from Central and South America by the Spanish in the sixteenth century, the tomato came to Italy when they conquered Naples in 1503.
The tomato is considered a fruit and not a vegetable, hence the name golden apple (the yellow before fully ripe) coined in 1544 by the botanist Pietro Andrea Mattioli.
Initially, the plants had ornamental function in the gardens of baroque Europe because it was believed that the fruits where poisonous.
Only at the beginning of the eighteenth century did the tomato make its appearance on Italian tables, especially in Naples and in the South, but for the first recipe for pasta sauce we have to wait until the publication in 1839 of a title by Neapolitan cook Guido Cavalcanti.
The use of tomato spread rapidly throughout Italy since 1875, when Francesco Cirio produced the first canned tomatoes.