Sunday, August 12, 2007

Tomato Typing

Obviously, not the computer or the office kind.

I have been writing about tomatoes--info and recipes--and am embarassed to say that it didn't occur to me until this current trip to Vermont and my burgeoning harvest to understand that the different ways of different styles of preparation--particularly raw in salads--depended a great deal on the kind of tomatoes regularly available in a given area.

I have often told that the French peel their tomatoes while the Italians don't for salad. That I cut into chunks digging my knife into the tomato and rotating it to get a conical piece with skin on the largest face. the French use acid, usually white wine or tarragon vinegar, on their salads while the Italians do not. I use lemon juice or balsamic vinegar. We all use good olive oil, salt and pepper.

My epiphanyabout the tomatoes came because a friend brought me some gorgeous tomatoes grown from French seed with the customary bumpy tops at the stem end. When I cut into one for a salad, I realized that the skin was thickish and tough hence the French need to peel. This is easy to do if the tomatoes are ripe as I was shown by a farm wife in Provence when she caught me, to her dismay, ready to plunge a beautiful tomato into boiling water. She simply ran the back--dull--edge of a knife over the skin which loosened it enought to peel.

Italian tomatoes--not plums which are used for sauce--are often of the ox heart or other thin skinned variety and do not need to be peeled. these tomatoes are more acidic than the French ones hence the lack of added acid.

I use American varieties that are generally thin skinned but have a very large amount of delicious juice. Cutting them the way that I do helps to hold them together. They are generally somewhere between the French and Italian in acidity. I add a small amount of acid and prefer the fruitiness of lemon juice or the acid-sweet balance of balsamic that resembles that of tomatoes.

Plum tomatoes are very dense and better for sauce but don't need to be peeled as the skin is removed by pureeing after cooking. I often use Americen-style round tomatoes, but their juiciness means longer cooking. Mexicans tend to use tomatillos--not a kind of tomato--in raw sauce (salsas) as they are firmer and have good acid.

The various small round tomatoes as well as the pear-shaped ones are simply too small to peel and are best popped in the mouth raw. Watch out they spurt; lean over to protect clothing. They can also be made into sauce which will be slightly more acid than plum tomato sauce and again require quite long cooking due to those spurting juices.

There, I've confessed...Maybe, the rest of the summer will bring more delayed revelation.

Tomatoes are obviously ideal for soup both hot and cold as well as sauces. I fyou go to the web page,, and click on recipes you will find in a day or so my recipe for gazpacho which is still one of my most requested ones. The recipe isn't here because I've already run on too long.


Paul Levy said...

Once in Puglia, staying with Patience Gray, I was astonished that she chose slightly underripe tomatoes, showing a little green, for her salads. I queried why she didn't use ripe ones, and she told me that in Southern Italy cooks always choose slightly green tomatoes for salads, preferring both their crunchy texture, and their higher (than fully ripe tomatoes) acidity. I then tasted her tomato salad, and it was a revelation - much, much more refreshing and interesting than the soft, ripe tomatoes I was used to. Since then, I've discoverd some Italian varieties that, while still green and crisp on the outside, are red when you cut into them. Alas, though I recently bought some imported ones (at huge expense) at La Fromagerie in London, I can't remember the name of the variety. I'd love to know it, as we'd plant them here in Oxford. Where, incidentally, we appear to be losing the entire tomato crop this summer, owing to the terrible rainfall.

Barbara said...

Thank you. He's a very good friend and a fine gardener and cook. See web page and go to friends to find him or find him on myface.

Of course, he is correct about tomato varieties. See today's post for more.

Barbara said...

Thank you. He's a very good friend and a fine gardener and cook. See web page and go to friends to find him or find him on myface.

Of course, he is correct about tomato varieties. See today's post for more.

chris said...

Funny, Paul, that you should bring that up. I helped open an American restaurant in Bogota some years ago. We used tomtoes in lots of things--_BLTs, salads, and so on. I tried to get the concept of ripe tomatoes v. green tomatoes through to the cooks, but it just wouldn't stick. The local preferences was for (what we would call) underripe tomatoes. A BLT made with a greenish tomato was, like Paul's Italian salad, a revelation. Not to mention they were easier to slice and held up better on the line than juicy/ripe tomatoes. Once home, though, I shunned anything less than red red red. Your comment reminded me I should play around some. thanks. And thank you, Barbara, for the blog.