San Marzano tomatoes are the holy grail when it comes to sauce tomatoes. They often cost twice the price of other canned tomatoes, which is the reason why there are many counterfeit, bogus tomatoes in cans labeled San Marzano, or "San Marzano style". Experts say that up to 95% of the tomatoes labeled "San Marzano" are tomatoes grown in other regions of Italy or other countries. The Italian Mafia and other unscrupulous organizations will place lesser quality tomatoes into cans and label them as San Marzano, when in reality they are a mixture of less sweet, less meaty tomatoes.
In was in 2011 that the president of Consorzio San Marzano (Consortium for the Protection of the San Marzano Tomato Dell'agro Sarnese Nocerino) said that only five percent of tomatoes marked as such are certified, D.O.P. San Marzano tomatoes. San Marzano tomatoes are elongated plum tomatoes that by decree, must be grown in Agro Sarnese-Nocerino, an area surrounding Mount Vesuvious near Naples. When they are canned, they come with a D.O.P.-Denominazione d' Origine Protetta (literally “Protected Designation of Origin”) emblem on the label, marking their authenticity. This is the same type of certification that ensures the authenticity of other Italian products, such as Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma or Balsamic di Molena.
To ensure you are getting San Marzano tomatoes, make sure that the can has one of the following on it: "Certified San Marzano", the DOP emblem, or the words "San Marzano dell'Agro Sarnese-Nocerino". The ingredients should list "whole (or peeled) San Marzano tomatoes". Some producers also include a statement something like, "San Marzano tomatoes (DOP-protected designation of Origin) are only cultivated in 41 approved municipalities, from San Marzano seeds, within the Sarno River valley surrounding Naples (or 'near the slopes of Mount Vesuvious'), in the Campania region." If the label says, "Grown in the USA", steer clear.
Certified Authentic San Marzano Tomatoes
The Phony Stuff
A 1940s era canned tomato that might be San Marzano
Compared to the Roma tomato, San Marzano tomatoes are thinner, a bit longer and pointed at their ends. The thicker, meatier flesh has fewer seeds and is fantastic for making sauce. The taste is also stronger, sweeter and less acidic. (I've had pizza from one local chic, wood oven pizzeria who claimed the tomatoes in their sauce were San Marzano, but the amazingly high acidic level burned my lips. I called BS.)
As many know, the tomato itself was imported to Europe after being discovered in the New World. Its first culinary appearance was in a 1692 cookbook as a base for a sauce. The San Marzano itself doesn't show up until much later, in a tomato manual published in 1940, the San Marzano is listed as a "recent cross" between the Re Umberto and Fiaschetto varieties.
The San Marzano vines are indeterminate type, and have a somewhat longer season than other paste tomato varieties, making them well suitable for warmer climates. Indeterminate tomato plants will keep producing fruit as long as the warm, sunny weather lasts, whereas determinate varieties produce only a set number of fruit on shorter plants, and then die.
Many heirloom tomatoes are indeterminate type (like the varieties I grow, producing 8' plants). San Marzano is an "open-pollinated", heirloom variety that breeds true from generation to generation, making seed saving practical for the home gardener or farmer. You can't save seeds from hybrid tomatoes because they cross-pollinate, which results in pot-luck tomatoes appearing on the vine. If you can get some authentic, D.O.P. San Marzano tomatoes while in Campania, save some seeds to plant in your home garden, although they won't have the D.O.P. designation, they will be fairly close the what is grown in Campania. (Of course, you can't exactly match the weather or soil qualities).
You can also grow San Marzano seeds purchased from heirloom seed companies, but these wouldn't be from tomatoes harvested in the Sarno Valley area. You will find that even the highly respected Seedsavers Exchange doesn't list any "San Marzano" seeds out of respect for the D.O.P. designation of the originals. So, the next time you're in the Naples neighborhood, buy some San Marzano fruits and save the seeds.
There's nothing like home-grown tomatoes, as my father always said...
If you buy canned, whole D.O.P. San Marzano tomatoes, there are a number of ways to handle them. Many like to use their hands to break them up and crush them before adding to a sauce. A kitchen scissors works well also, cutting them when they are still in the can--they will break down further during cooking. You can also place them in your sauce pan and crush them using a potato masher. Of course, if you want a texture closer to a puree, use an immersion blender.
Clockwise from right: Olivette Juane (yellow egg-shape, mild flavor, great for salads and focaccia) Debarao (2" red plum, good for sauces) Constaluto (this one is just under 1 pound, sweet beefsteak, great paired with smoked mozzarella and basil) Eva Purple Ball (slight purple tinge, flawless, disease/pest resistant, the sweetest, most flavorful tomato I grow!) Roma Speckled (robust, horn-pepper shaped sauce tomato, very meaty and sweet)
My heirloom tomato harvest started late this year for various reasons: because of heavy spring rains, we planted out our seedlings about 2 weeks late; a heat wave prevented blossoms from setting fruit; on and off heavy rains caused a growth spurt. We planted 12 different varieties... these five were the first to ripen.
In the Marche region of Italy, and certainly appearing in other areas of Italy also, you will find large, green, stuffed Ascolan olives. These olives typically appear on menus as an antipasto, snacking with friends and some beer, or to have with an Italian aperitivo, and a dipping bowl of marinara. They are easy for the home cook to make for casual gatherings, picnics or holiday feasts...
You can use large, green pitted olives found in jars in supermarkets. The larger the olive, the better. If you buy the pitted type, you can fill them with anything that meets your tastes: provolone, roasted garlic cloves, walnuts, blue cheese, pimentos, or as they do in the Marche, filled with cooked ground beef with nutmeg added. Otherwise, just use the ready-filled olives that are available.
First, coat them in flour, then in beaten egg and finally in "Italian style" or breadcrumbs--or even Panko. Then simply fry them in olive oil until golden brown. You can eat them while hot as is, or serve with a dipping marinara sauce. They can even be made ahead of time and re-heat well in a 350 F oven for 5-8 minutes or quickly in a microwave.
As an option to marinara as a dipping sauce, try some Garlic-Lemon Aioli...
Whisk together the following: 1/3 cup mayonnaise
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
salt and pepper to taste
Water The basic thing you need for a great espresso is great water. If your water is suspect--tasting too slimy, has an odor, or is off-putting in any way--in the least, use bottled mineral water or get yourself a Brita filter. As a basic test, if you love the refreshing taste of your tap water on a hot summer's day, then your water should be good to go.
The Beans There is absolutely no difference between a bean labeled as "espresso" or not. Selecting which coffee bean to use for espresso is a personal choice--which means that a world of different tastes are there for the tasting. Espressois a method of brewing coffee. There are really only two species of coffee beans grown with many varietals (sub-species), and every type is capable of being brewed in different styles--peculator, French drip, espresso, etc. Remember that beans are roasted before you buy them. Roasters nowadays tend to produce a darker roast to produce more smoky, caramelized sugary flavors--as seen in "Italian roasts"--but a very dark roasted bean can mask the more subtle differences in bean types. Roasters are experimenting with lighter roasts which can enhance the flavor of the coffee's complexity. Lesson to learn--experiment with both dark and lighter roasts and have fun discovering flavor profiles that you enjoy. Coffee preference is like selecting a wine... One person'sPrimativo can be as satisfying as another's Brunello.
The Grind Espresso needs a finer grind than plain-Jane coffee. Typically, most packaged grounds are large grains--about the size of granular sugar. An espresso grind is more like a sticky powder that clumps together when pinched between your fingers. Espresso makers (Moka or machine type) force the water through the grounds under pressure. If the grind is too coarse, the water will pass through too easily with no chance to transfer the flavors.
Grinder Beans should be ground using a burr type of grinder (as opposed to a blade type) that can grind finely with many steps of adjustment. Read reviews carefully as some grinder models don't grind fine enough for espresso. (The affordable Secura burr grinder shown is what we use).
Espresso Machines The best espresso machines should have solid components, create consistent temperatures, are easy to clean, with an easy to understand interface--which is a real task on some of the more complex models. The larger machines come with a built-in grinder to grind exactly the correct amount of beans automatically, a one or two-spouted portafilter with removable basket inserts for either a single or double shot, a self-storing tamper, a milk steamer/foamer, and an espresso cup heater on top. In our opinion, these are for coffee aficionados that like to turn coffee-making into a theatrical event and if you are prone to buying complex kitchen appliances and then find you use them only once or twice due to their complexities, stay away from these machines. They take dedication and perseverance to master and can be difficult to keep clean. They are also power hogs: from 900-1500 watts, which means you should not be using them on the same circuit as your toaster or microwave. There are simpler--and quicker--ways to make espresso, cappuccino and other coffee beverages.
Moka Pot Bialettimade the first stovetop espresso maker back in 1933, and are still using the exact same patented moka pot design. In fact, there are many other companies who have copied their iconic design. There have been over 200 million Moka pots sold since the 1950s, mostly in Italy--60 million Italians can't be wrong. A Moka pot can be found in virtually every Italian households but are gaining popularity all over the world in the last decade or so. The Moka also comes in many different sizes... a tiny one for a single morning espresso shot, or a large one to satisfy a large gathering.
It is composed of roughly three components: the base with a pressure valve which holds the water; the basket which holds the coffee; and the "collecting chamber" which the coffee brews into. In between the top and bottom halves are a metal filter and the "O" ring which ensures a pressure seal and to filter the coffee grinds from the coffee produced. The Moka pot boils the water which is forced up through the coffee "puck" and then into the top chamber, creating a foamy crema (head) along with the coffee. The whole process from heating the water to drinking the coffee is about 5-10 minutes, depending on the capacity of your Moka pot.
Making Capuccino It's an easy task to make cappuccino by boiling or microwaving milk while you are waiting for your espresso to brew in the Moka. Create the foam from your hot milk with either a battery operated milk foamer (as many Italians use) or a glass pump type foamer. Add the foamy milk to your coffee, grab a couple of biscotti or a sweet pastry and you'll be having a real colazione (breakfast) the way millions of Italians do each and every day in La Bel Paese...
Obey the the most important rule and use the largest pot you own for cooking pasta. If you use a small pot and too little water, you will get a starchy mess and your pasta might stick to each other.
Always add a generous amount of sea or Kosher salt to your pasta water. It helps water boil faster and adds flavor to the pasta.
When cooking any pasta--fresh or dry--make certain the water is in a rapid boil before adding pasta.
For spaghetti, fan the pasta out and lean them against the side of the pot--spacing the pieces away from each other. Then, with a spoon or tongs, press the pasta down gently as the water starts to soften it. Give a good stir after all is submerged.
After your pasta is placed in boiling water, stir strongly for 20-30 seconds, getting a vortex going. This will prevent sticking.
If you like to break spaghetti in half, grab your batch of halved spaghetti around the middle, then let the spaghetti fall into the center of your pot as you turn your hand, allowing them to fall separately. This will fan out the pasta like spokes of a wheel, preventing it from sticking to each other in those first crucial seconds. As before, stir into a vortex.
NEVER add oil to the pasta water... no matter what your Nonna told you. Pasta should absorb its sauce to enhance the flavor of the dish. Oil will prevent that from happening.
Bring your water back up to a boil quickly by covering the pot with the lid slightly ajar. You can place a wooden spoon under one side of the lid to prevent boil-over.
Alternate: To keep the pasta from boiling over while cooking, place a wooden spoon across the top of your pot. When the bubbles touch the spoon's handle, the boiling settles down. Uncovered pots do take longer to reach a boil.
Do NOT rinse pasta after draining--ever. This would wash off the starchy surface which helps a sauce stick and become absorbed by the pasta.
When you're planning a baked pasta recipe in a casserole, try this trick: Place the pasta in a bowl of well-salted water, swirl it around the bowl a few times with your hands, then let it rest while you cook the sauce or prep other ingredients. The pasta will absorb the perfect amount of water by the time you are ready to put your casserole together. Drain any water left after about 30 minutes of soaking. This hack can also trim at least 10 minutes from your normal bake time.
For Valentine's Day, my wife treated us to a Beef Wellington dinner, prepared and delivered by a local chef. Even though she got rave reviews, we weren't really Wow'd. Having had Wellington in the past, I knew that there were a few things lacking... The cut of beef wasn't tender enough, the mushroom duxelle was a bit funky tasting, and it was missing a wrap of Parma ham inside the (greasy) pastry.
Thinking I could do better, I started thinking... and thinking... Why not transform the Wellington into an Italian version?
The idea was to design a recipe similar to Beef Wellington... but instead of using a tender loin steak inside, it would be a large, flattened Italian style polpette (meatball), wrapped in prosciutto and provolone cheese with an black olive/pesto Tapinade just inside the puff pastry. There are similar recipes in Italy called Polpettonein Crosta, but these are loaf-size meatloafs, often stuffed with hard boiled eggs or other ingredients. I wanted mine to remain a Polpette--a true meatball...
I set out to make my Polpette alla Wellington!
Each polpette weighed about 10 ounces
Ingredients for the Polpette 2 pounds ground chuck 1 medium Vidalia, small dice 1 egg 2 tablespoons red wine 1/3 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano 1-1/4 cup breadcrumbs 1 teaspoon dried sage 1 tablespoon sea salt 1 teaspoon dry thyme 1 tablespoon dried basil 15 cracks black pepper (from a pepper-mill) 1 cup canola oil + 2 tablespoons olive oil for frying
for the Tapinade 1 - 16 ounce can of black olives, well drained 2 tablespoons tomato paste 2 tablespoons pesto (from jar or Make it Fresh) 3 cloves fresh garlic, chopped 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
for the Pastry Wrap 4-6 slices delicatessen sharp provolone 1/4 pound prosciutto, speck or Boar Head Brand Piccolo Prosciutto 2 packages frozen puff pastry (butter or shortening type, your choice) 1 beaten egg (for egg wash)
Removing the fried Polpette from the pan
Preheat oven to 350 F.
In a large mixing bowl, place the ground chuck and sprinkle with the red wine. Mix well, until the wine is distributed.
Make a well in the middle of the meat and into it place the egg, salt, thyme, save, basil and pepper.
Now add the Parmigiano Reggiano and with clean hands, mix the meat mixture well to incorporate all ingredients.
Add the breadcrumbs, little by little... adding a little, mixing, then checking to see that the mixture is starting to cling together when you form a small ball. Hold back breadcrumbs if needed. You don't want the mix too dry and bready. (This needs to done "by eye" and "by feel" because ground chuck can vary in moisture content.)
Take about 10-12 ounces of polpette mixture and form a square about 1" thick, using a fork to smooth the sides to make sure there are no cracks anywhere. You should be able to make three - four of these. If you have extra mixture, perhaps make some small meatballs for another meal (I actually had enough to do this).
Place the formed polpette on a plate lined with wax paper and then into a refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.
At this point, follow the directions on the puff pastry package to thaw the sheets. This should take about 60 minutes.
Meanwhile, line a half sheet pan with parchment or a Silpat. You may even bake your Wellingtons on a rack fitted into the sheet pan (a good way to prevent soggy bottoms).
Frying the Polpette
Place a large frying pan on a medium heat on the cooktop and add both oils.
When the oils are hot, fry the Polpette until brown on each side. Do not overheat the pan and don't crown them. If you are using a smaller fry pan, fry each one separately. The can be slightly underdone in the middle since they will bake in the oven once wrapped in pastry.
When done frying, place on brown paper or paper towels to drain, then onto a wax paper lined plate into the refrigerator to set up and cool for handling.
Coating the polpette with Tapinade
Making the Tapinade
Next, to make the Tapinade, drain the olives and place into a food processor along with the pesto, tomato paste, garlic, red pepper flakes and Reggiano. Pulse several times to get a spreadable texture... but not too smooth. You might have to scrape down the sides of the mixer between pulses.
Wrapped and egg-washed, ready for the oven
Assembling the Wellingtons
Remove the polpette from the refrigerator to start assembly.
First, with a small spatula or jam spreading knife, coat all sides of the polpette with the Tapinade/olive mixture and set aside on a sheet of waxed paper.
Next, unfold and lay out your puff pastry sheets and cut into 6' x 10" rectangles. Adjust this size depending on the size of your polpette. You need to be able to fold all sides, overlapping at least 1". Set aside any extra to use for decorations (stars, lattice, etc. You can use small cookie cutters to make shapes.)
Taking one slice of prosciutto at a time, wrap them around each polpette until the entire surface is covered.
Lay out 2-3 slices of provolone along the center of the pastry sheets, then place a polpette in the middle of each. Fold the sides first, pulling to stretch the dough a bit. Using a fingertip dipped in either water or milk, wet the edges of the pastry flaps still left laying flat. Then lift and wrap over the polpette, sticking the damp edge onto the layer underneath. Do this for each side, cutting off any extra with a shears if you think it will make the layers too thick in the middle.
Carefully turn over your wrapped Wellingtons and place on the lined sheet pan (or on top of its rack.) The bottoms became the top, which you can now decorate if you wish with thin strips or cutout shapes. Brush a little water on larger shapes to help them stick.
Dip a pastry brush into the beaten egg and coat the Wellingtons all over. This will give them a warm yellow shine after baking.
Bake the Wellingtons on the center rack of your preheated oven for 60 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown and puffy.
Half of this size Wellington was perfect for each person
You can serve your Polpette alla Wellington over a bed of marinara, as we did for one meal, but to be honest, we thought the tomato sauce masked some of the flavors. Also, even though I made the size of our polpette match the size of most beef tenders used to make a traditional Wellington, we felt the serving was too large. If we make this again, we would serve as we did for our second "leftover" meal--each serving was one-half a Wellington.
In fact, the second meal we served with a side of Italian flat beans and no tomato sauce. We actually enjoyed this meal much better... the Tapinade's flavors came to the forefront and the spices in the polpette were obvious. The half-sized servings were a perfect portion. I actually thought that 2 days later, after setting up in the fridge, wrapped in foil, the flavors melded and intensified a bit. We re-heated the leftover halves in loosely wrapped foil for one hour.
If we make this recipe again, we will make smaller Polpette so each person can have a completely pastry-wrapped Wellington.
Enjoy this recipe and let us know how yours turned out!
While exploring the villages of the Amalfi Coast, Voyagers are certain to notice that the lemons there are larger than they are used to. They are sure to come across the Sfusato lemon (about two to three times the size of a supermarket lemon) and will be further shocked when they are confronted with the giant-sized, Cedro Citron variety of lemons. They are beastly looking things, with a pebbly surface, strange shapes with a large nipple at one end, and are often as big as your head!
Cedri are primarily found in Italy, from the Italian Riviera down to the Amalfi Coast, though they are occasionally spotted in France, Isreal and even exported to Britain. There are three different citron types: acidic, non-acidic and pulpless. Of the different cultivars, the acidic Diamante is more common in Italy.
Cedro citrons are usually up to three to four times the length of common lemons and can measure between 10 and 15 inches in diameter. They can weight up to 3-4 pounds each.
The pebbly surface ripens from green to a bright yellow--both colors can be harvested, the peak season being fall and winter. Most--about 70%--of the lemon is white pith from 2-5 inches thick with a soft texture and almost sweet lemony fragrance. In its center is a small amount of segmented pulp with a few pale seeds. This lemon is fairly dry and not used for its juice and the taste is milder than a common lemon.
The pith can be eaten raw or cooked: in salads, atop bruschetta, in jams and preserves, in risotto or pickled. The rind of this citron is very aromatic and a bit sweet, and is used to produce "citron", or candied lemon (used in Italian celebration breads and cakes, like panettone). Some claim it can be a remedy for hangovers, coughs and indigestion. Since the Renaissance, the oils from the skin have also been used in perfumery and cosmetics due to their delicate and fragrant scent.
If cooking while in Italy (or if you can get some cedri at home), try these recipes:
Risotto alla Sorrento with Fennel and Sage
1 Cedro lemon 1-1/2 cups rice for risotto (Carnaroli, Vialone Nano or Arborio) 1-1/4 cups freshly grated parmesan 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus another tablespoon to finish 4 tablespoons Extra virgin olive oil 1 head of finoccio (bulbing fennel) - finely diced 3 stalks celery - finely diced 1 cup white white Vermouth 1 quart chicken stock 4 large julienned sage leaves (or 1/2 teaspoon dried-crushed) Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Heat the chicken stock in a small pot on a medium heat. You will be adding nearly simmering stock to your risotto during the cooking process.
Cut the cedro in half along its waist and then, using a sharp paring knife, cut the skin (the zest is thick on cedri) from top to bottom, cutting down around the sides until all is removed in flat sheets. Then julienne them into thin, long strips. Set aside.
Next, cut thin slices of the pith and cut into thin strips. Set aside.
Squeeze the remaining pulp to release the juice into a small bowl. Remove any seeds and set aside.
Place a heavy saute pan on a medium heat, adding the butter, sage and olive oil. When the butter is melted, add the diced fennel and celery, a pinch of salt and gently saute until the celery is softened.
Add the risotto rice, stirring until the the rice becomes translucent--about 4-5 minutes.
Next, add the Vermouth and cook until the rice absorbs it---2-3 minutes.
When the Vermouth has been absorbed, immediately pour a ladle of stock over the rice and continue stirring. As the stock is absorbed, keep adding one ladle of stock at a time. Stir as needed to prevent sticking, but not continuously.
About 10 minutes into cooking the rice, add the zest and pith of the cedro lemon to infuse their flavors.
Your risotto will be near completion when two things happen: When the rice is al dente (but not at all crispy); and when a "wave" is created behind your spoon when you stir in a circular motion. In my experience, risotto takes as long as an hour, although some claim to make it within 30 minutes. In essence, you want a bit of tooth still still in your rice, but you you also want to develop a creamy consistency from the starch melding into the broth.
When ready (al dente and creamy), remove the risotto from the heat and add the lemon juice, remaining butter and a little more stock (or water) so that the consistency is juicy and wet
.Stir in the rest of the butter and the Parmigiano Reggiano with a whipping motion. Serve immediately.
Candied Chocolate Cedro Strips Recipe
(A great holiday snack) 1 - 2 pound cedro 1 cup sugar 1 pint water 3-5 ounces bitter sweet chocolate
Cut the cedro in half, cut away and discard the fruit's center, leaving 1/2 thick of the outer skin and a bit of the pith.
Cut into 1/2 inch strips about 2-3" long and place intoa saucepan. Cover with cold water, then bring to a boil over a moderate heat and simmer for approximately 10 minutes.
Drain the cedro strips and repeat this process twice – blanching the strips three times in total.
Cover the cedro in the saucepan with the sugar and the water, place over a low heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Cook slowly for about 30 minutes until they become translucent.
Turn off the heat and allow to cool in the syrup. Next, drain and then discard the syrup and lay out the strips on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Allow your cooled cedro strips to dry overnight. Do not cover.
The following day, place the chocolate into a double boiler with 1/2 water in the lower pan. Heat slowly over a medium heat, allowing the chocolate to melt very slowly. This is called tempering the chocolate, to guarantee its glossiness.
When melted, remove from the heat and dip half the candied cedro into the chocolate,laying the strips on parchment paper or a Silpat sheet to dry.
You can store these in an airtight container and serve at the end of a meal with fruit, nuts, biscotti and espresso.
Cucina--the Kitchen: Here is where you will find classic Italian recipes, our own family recipes, and stories about the history, techniques, tools and ingredients used in Italian cuisine. We will also include articles that will help you shop and cook in Italy. We are currently re-building our pages, so bear with us. If you can't find a recipe here, use the search (Ricerca) box and you will find what you need. Ciao.