A sauce can only be as good as its core ingredients - and the type and quality of the tomatoes you use can be the difference between a good sauce and a heavenly, rich sauce just like nonna’s. Here at Consiglio’s we live and breath tomatoes, and this week we cover the best to use for your sauce-making and canning!
Tomatoes and Italy:
Tomatoes, both as a food and as a symbol, are an integral part of Italian cooking, culture and heritage, and play a huge role in Italian cuisines, customs and traditions. And though this is largely taken as a given, obvious truth, it hasn’t always been the case - in fact, tomatoes are not indigenous to Italy (or even Europe), and have only been grown there for several hundred years.
The tomato first found its way to Italy in the early-to-mid 1500s, most likely brought from Peru by way of the Spanish conquistadors, and was originally avoided for consumption as many believed it was poisonous due to its similarities to the deadly nightshade belladonna. The tomato was steeped and surrounded by skepticism for almost two centuries before gaining acceptance as safe, edible, and delicious. While it’s speculated that this change in acceptance began as a rumour about the tomato’s effects as an aphrodisiac, it was most likely inspired by the Spanish and their use of tomatoes in dishes alongside eggplant.
Despite its slow start, the tomato is now widely celebrated in Italian food and culture.
Fun fact: Italy produces millions of tons of tomatoes every year, in an industry worth billions annually.
Best Tomatoes for Sauce
There are dozens of breeds of tomato grown across Europe and North America, with a huge variance in size, shape, colour and texture - and not all of them are well suited to making a great tomato sauce.
Tomatoes shine both when served fresh from the garden, or cooked and reduced into a sauce - and with either option, you want to pair the type of tomato to the role you want it to fill. Most flavour in tomatoes comes either from the meaty flesh just under the skin, or the juicey, jelly innards that surround the seeds inside of the tomato. When serving tomatoes fresh, you want that juicy, jelly interior - and for sauces, what you really want is the meat.
Tomatoes better suited for sauce are known as “paste tomatoes”: they have a thick, firm texture, fewer seeds, and make the thickest, richest sauces. Most paste tomatoes have a long, elongated tubular shape, and dense flesh that can sometimes be grainy or mealy when fresh (not the first choice for a good caprese salad), but when cooked reduce into an intensely flavourful, silky smooth sauce with just a hint of sweetness,
Within the “paste” family of tomatoes, two stand above the rest for making an excellent sauce: the Roma, and the San Marzano.
Best Tomatoes for Sauce: Roma Tomatoes
Roma tomatoes have a slightly elongated egg-like shape when ripe, and a thick fleshy layer, making them perfect for reducing into sauce. Romas are also characterized by having only two lobes (where the seeds grow inside of the tomato), and as a result have a lower seed concentration. Roma tomatoes produce a thick, rich sauce with a good balance of tangy and sweet flavour notes - you can cook them whole with a bit of olive oil and aromatics for an incredible sauce, and up the ante even further by skinning and seeding them before cooking.
Roma tomatoes are the most commercially available plum tomato in North America, and has been bred for its sauce-making strengths. More formally known as “Roma VF”, the roma tomato was developed in Maryland in the 1950’s for its hardiness and disease resistance - the “VF” indicates most Roma tomato plants are verticillium and fusarium wilt resistant.
Best Tomatoes for Sauce: San Marzano Tomatoes
San Marzano tomatoes are longer and thinner than the Roma, and have a stronger, sweeter flavour and are most notably grown in San Marzano sul Sarno, Italy (near Naples) - some of the first San Marzano tomatoes were originally grown in nutrient-rich volcanic soil in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius.
Much like champagne, canned San Marzano tomatoes have a protected designation of origin (D.O.P. or Denominazione di Origine Protetta) - a legal classification standard with rules and regulations in place to ensure authenticity. True San Marzano tomatoes (with D.O.P designation) can only be grown in strictly defined area in the Valle del Sarno, and must adhere to specific farming and canning methods.
[Fun fact: as per the AVPN (Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana) - a non-profit organization founded in Naples, Italy in 1984 to protect and ensure the authenticity of true Napoletana pizza - San Marzano tomato sauce is a key ingredient for great, authentic Italian pizza.]
It’s important to remember that this designation only applies to canned San Marzanos as there is no restriction or designation on growing the tomatoes themselves - you could even grow them in your very own backyard if you wanted to (climate depending, of course).
Best Tomatoes for Sauce: How to Make the Best Tomato Sauce
Whether you choose Roma or San Marzano tomatoes for your sauce, they will have to be processed to get the best outcome. You can get a good sauce just by cooking the tomatoes whole, but for the best possible result you’ll want to skin and seed them - the seeds have a bitter taste, and both the seeds and skins detract from the final texture of the sauce.
To make the best sauce, you have a couple options to process the tomatoes:
By Hand: blanch a small batch of tomatoes in boiling water just until the skin begins to break. Let cool at room temperature until the tomatoes are safe to handle by hand - gently remove the skins from the outside of the tomato, split in half with a sharp knife, and remove the seeds while retaining as much of juice as possible.
Manual Tomato Mill: blanch tomatoes as above, and process through the tomato mill - while you’ll have to turn the handle crank to process the tomatoes, a manual tomato mill quickens the work and allows you to process more tomatoes with less effort as the auger and screen of the mill separate the skins and seeds for you.
Fabio Leonardi Electric Tomato Milling Machines: whether you’re looking to streamline a larger-scale tomato sauce process, or just looking for sheer speed and convenience, Fabio Leonardi tomato milling machines get the job done quickly and efficiently.
Whether you’re processing tomatoes on a small scale for home use or working with larger volumes, Fabio Leonardi tomato milling machines are designed and built in Italy, backed with more than 40 years experience. Fabio Leonardi out-performs and out-lasts competing brands, and (most importantly) processes your tomatoes.
To learn more about Fabio Leonardi tomato milling machines, check out our buying guide here.
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