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Paolo Arrigo 11/08/2017
The Italian for tomatoes is ‘pomodori’, literally translated as ‘golden apples’. Italian tomatoes are considered to be some of the best in the world, especially plum varieties for cooking, and the Italians really have a love affair with the golden apple.

Although tomatoes originated in Mexico and Peru and weren’t imported to Europe until after the Americas were discovered, the Italians, and to a lesser degree the Spanish, really do the tomato well. In the sixteenth century the tomato was a small, bitter, yellow thing (hence the ‘golden’ in its name), worlds apart from the juicy sweet red globe we now know – depending on where you buy your tomatoes that is!

It is through breeding over the centuries that the tomato has changed so much. They are so versatile: they can become the base for rich sauces, they can be made into ‘passata’ or just eaten raw in a salad or simply with fresh basil ‘Genovese’, good olive oil and salt. Many houses in Italy have a food dryer (used mainly for drying porcini mushrooms) that can also be used to make sun-blushed (semi-dried) or sun-dried tomatoes.

Despite the fact that toms consist mainly of water, they are rich in vitamins, antioxidants and minerals, especially potassium and, with the exception of arthritis sufferers, whose symptoms can be aggravated by tomatoes, they are very beneficial.

Red tomatoes contain about four times more beta-carotene than when green. While the flesh is very digestible, the skins can be quite tough, so skin them by dipping in boiling water and peeling before eating if you have any stomach or bowel disorders.

Spaghetti con Pomodori Ciliegini

Spaghetti with Cherry Tomatoes

This typical Neapolitan dish uses cherry tomatoes of about 20–30 g. Any home-grown variety
will be fine but I always use a hybrid variety called Lilliput F1.

500 g cherry tomatoes (Lilliput F1)
3 large cloves of garlic (Bianca Veneto), crushed
a pinch of fresh or dried oregano (Perenne Comune)
olive oil for frying
1 chilli pepper (Cayenna), deseeded and finely chopped
180 g thin spaghetti
30 g basil (‘Genovese’), torn
3–4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 3/170°C. Cut the tomatoes in half and place on a baking tray.
Sprinkle with the garlic, oregano and salt and pepper and bake for approximately 70 minutes,
until semi-dry but still squashy. Heat a little oil in a large saucepan and lightly fry the chilli.
Cook the spaghetti in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain and add to the saucepan. Stir in
the tomatoes, basil, extra-virgin oil and ground pepper. To serve, sprinkle with freshly grated
Parmesan cheese.

Stuffed Red Pear Franchi Tomatoes

If you have planned when to eat this dish, pick the tomatoes a few days in advance and place with an apple in a dark drawer at room temperature, to really ripen off well. They’ll go deep red and this process will really enhance their flavour. Serves 4

4 large Red Pear Franchi tomatoes
200 g can tuna in olive oil
Italian mayonnaise
2 teaspoons capers
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley (Gigante di Napoli), chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Wash the tomatoes , cut off the top third of each and leave to one side. Scoop out some of the flesh from inside the tomatoes to make a cavity, and put this aside also.

To make the filling, simply place the tuna, mayo to taste, capers, parsley and tomato flesh in a bowl and mix. Season to taste. Spoon this mixture into the tomatoes and place the tops back on at an angle so your guests can see the filling. Serve as an antipasto with prosciutto cotto (cooked ham) from your Italian deli.

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