Tuesday, May 24, 2022

For a Taste of Italy and Spain, Travel to Your Kitchen

Getting ready to travel to Italy next week, I remembered my last trip three years ago, a few weeks before the world changed and my overseas travel was limited to webinars and Instagram posts. In the fall of 2019, I visited Piedmont and Milan. 

Walking one day in the courtyard of the Duomo, that wonderful cathedral in the heart of Milan, and the next day descending hand chiseled stairs that led down to an Infernot where farmers stored produce and later wine. 

Before the discovery of the New World, Italian farmers in the Piedmont were digging deep into the sandstone underneath their homes in their own exploration of discovery, building rooms where men gathered to eat, talk and drink wine. All they lacked was air. Without a ventilation system, once the air was used up, the men rushed up those hand chiseled stairs before they passed out.

On that trip, I ate local cheeses, charcuterie, bagna cauda (an anchovy-garlic dip), spaghetti with clams, and so many dishes that made me very happy. When travel was not possible, I satisfied my "hunger" for all things Italian by cooking foods that reminded me of Italy. Last night I made pasta with Italian sausage, butter clams, vegetables and a touch of sweet butter. 

For my wife, who doesn't eat meat, I used a Chinese clay pot to make braised tofu with vegetables, the Spanish spice pimeton and San Marzano tomatoes D.O.P. That brought together China, Spain and Italy in a one pot dish.

For myself, I use bone-in chicken thighs and legs instead of tofu. Where the recipe says tofu, substitute 2 chicken thighs and 2 chicken legs.

Hot Pot Braised Tofu with San Marzano Tomatoes, Vegetables, Olives and Noodles

The cans of San Marzano Tomatoes I was gifted (see at the end, below) had enough tomatoes and sauce for several dishes. What I didn't originally use, separating sauce from tomatoes, I froze in 6 oz and 8 oz containers. Because our sons are fully grown, I cook for two. Whenever I have too much of an ingredient, I place small containers in the freezer, available when I want to create a dinner or lunch.

The San Marzano Tomatoes and sauce froze and reheated with no loss of flavor. 

Clay hot pots are available in Asian markets. Inexpensive, they require a bit of special care. Before using, each time, submerge the clay pot into clean water for 15 minutes. Purchase a wire trivet that you'll place on the stove-top burner. The clay pot goes on top of the wire trivet. Only use a low to medium flame to avoid stressing the clay. Allow the pot to cool before washing to avoid cracking.

If you can find only small clay pots, use two to prepare this dish.

Serves 4

Time to prepare 15 minutes

Time to cook 45 minutes

Total time: 60 minutes

Ingredients

1 cup yellow onions, washed, peeled, roughly chopped

1 cup carrots, washed, ends removed, peeled, roughly chopped

1 cup daikon, washed, ends removed, peeled, roughly chopped

1/2 cup corn kernels, cut off the cob (when available)

1 cup broccolini or broccoli, stems roughly chopped, leaves whole and florets sliced into bite sized pieces

2 cups tofu, preferably firm and organic, washed, cut into bite sized pieces

1 cup San Marzano tomatoes D.O.P., roughly chopped

1/2 cup San Marzano tomato sauce, D.O.P.

2 cups homemade vegetable stock, if none available, use water

1 cup green or black olives, preferably olives with pits

1 pound noodles, dried or fresh

1/2 tablespoon pimeton

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

Heat olive oil in hot pot over medium heat. 

Saute onions until lightly browned.

Add tofu, lightly brown and stir well.

Add pimeton and stir well. Don't burn the spice.

Add carrots, daikon and corn. Stir after each ingredient is added.

Add broccolini or broccoli stems. Stir well and cook to soften.

Add broccoli or broccoli leaves. Sir well.

Add chopped tomatoes and tomato sauce, if frozen, no need to defrost.

Add vegetable stock, if frozen, no need to defrost. If stock unavailable, use water.

Add olives, cover and simmer 30 minutes.

While the tofu is braising, bring a pot of salted water to boil and cook noodles according to the package. 10 minutes if dried, 2-3 minutes if fresh. Drain and set aside.

Remove cover and add cooked noodles.

Stir well to mix together tofu, vegetables and noodles.

Serve hot in bowls.

Please send me recipes and photographs when you make your delicious dishes using Pomodoro San Marzano Dell'Agro Sarmese-Nocerino D.O.P. and I will submit your recipe to enter a contest to win a gift basket of these wonderful D.O.P. San Marzano tomatoes.


The tomatoes I used were provided courtesy of the Consorzio di Tutela del Pomodoro San Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese-Nocerino DOP and ANICAV.

Monday, May 23, 2022

San Marzano Tomatoes Make a Best-Ever Vegan Soup

"You say tomato, I say tomato" say Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong in their classic song about lovers who can't even agree on how to pronounce everyday words like "tomato" and "potato." But today pronunciation isn't the only issue when it comes to "tomato."

Recently, I was brought up-close-and-personal with a controversy that is raging in the culinary world. 

When is a San Marzano tomato a real San Marzano tomato? 

Widely regarded as the best-of-the-best, low-acid San Marzano tomatoes are so prized they have been given a D.O.P. designation along with Italy's other prized food products like Basilico Genovese, Acute Balsamic di Reggio Emilia and Grand Padang cheese, to name a few. 

Officially the tomatoes are called Pomodoro San Marzano Dell'Agro Sarmese-Nocerino D.O.P.   "D.O.P" means "Denominazionedi Origins Protetta" or "Protected Designation of Origin." In the EU, if a can of tomatoes says "San Marzano," the D.O.P. seal must also be visible on the label to confirm that the tomatoes and sauce inside are guaranteed to have been grown in San Marzano and harvested and packaged according to the designation (more about that later).

That seems simple enough. If the label says "San Marzano," then it must be "San Marzano D.O.P." But not so fast. 

In the United States, "D.O.P." has no meaning. U.S. domestic producers can say "San Marzano" if the seeds are from that tomato strain. So it's buyer beware. If you want a San Marzano experience in the U.S., look for "D.O.P." 

Why are San Marzano tomatoes so highly regarded?

Grown within sight of Mount Vesuvius in the Agro Sarnese-Nocerino region near Naples, the tomatoes develop their delicate flavor, sweetness and low-acidity in the rich volcanic soil, under the ever-present southern Italian sun. To receive the D.O.P designation, the tomatoes must also be handpicked, steamed, peeled and combined with sauce made from San Marzano tomatoes. 

At the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers Market, one enterprising farmer had identified his fresh tomatoes as "Sanmarzano." He might have found San Marzano seeds, but his Southern California tomatoes do not have the benefit of the Agro Sarnese-Nocerino terroir. 


The tomatoes are always packaged whole. If you see a label that says San Marzano "cherry tomatoes" or "diced tomatoes," that product might be of good quality but if you want a D.O.P. experience, look for that D.O.P. 

To purchase San Marzano D.O.P. products, search online. I found authentic products on Amazon, Supermarket Italy, Etaly and other online retailers and even many supermarkets like Ralph's and Von's as well as Italian shops and specialty food stores. Try Cost Plus World Market as well.

Please send me recipes and photographs when you make your delicious dishes using Pomodoro San Marzano Dell'Agro Sarmese-Nocerino D.O.P. and I will submit your recipe to enter a contest to win a gift basket of these wonderful D.O.P. San Marzano tomatoes.


The tomatoes I used were provided courtesy of the Consorzio di Tutela del Pomodoro San Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese-Nocerino DOP and ANICAV.

San Marzano Tomatoes-Garbanzo Bean and Vegetable Soup

I knew about San Marzano tomatoes but had never cooked with them because I have used my own roasted tomatoes and tomato sauce. When I was offered several cans of San Marzano tomatoes, I was very happy. I quickly made a favorite recipe, tomato-garbanzo bean and vegetables soup. The result was excellent. The tomatoes thickened the soup and added a layer of flavor that made me a fan.

Please try my recipe and track down authentic San Marzano tomatoes D.O.P. Enjoy!


Cut all vegetables into pieces the size of a garbanzo bean.

Use homemade stock. I keep my vegetable stock in the freezer so its available whenever I want to make soup.

Serves: 4

Time to Prepare: 30 minutes

Time to Cook: 60 minutes

Ingredients

1 medium carrot, washed, peeled, ends trimmed

1 small yellow onion, washed, peeled, ends trimmed 

2 cups kale, washed, stems removed

1/2 cup corn kernels (when in season)

1/2 cup Italian parsley, washed, stems removed

1/2 cup celery hearts and small leaves (celery hearts have more flavor)

1 cup broccoli florets, washed

2 cups green cabbage, preferably Savoy, ribs removed and chopped separately from leaves

6 shiitake mushrooms, washed, pat dried

1 cup canned garbanzo beans with liquid 

2 cups San Marzano tomatoes and sauce 

4 cups stock, preferably homemade

2 oz cheese rind (optional)

2 tablespoons olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

Season olive oil with sea salt and pepper and heat over a medium flame.

Add all vegetables except the garbanzo beans and liquid and San Marzano tomatoes and liquid.

Stir well and soften. Do not brown. 10-15 minutes.

Add garbanzo beans with liquid and stir.

Add San Marzano tomatoes and sauce and stir.

Add stock and stir.

Add cheese rind (optional).

Simmer uncovered 30 minutes.

Taste and adjust seasoning and continue simmering if needed.

Served hot with crusty bread and a tossed green salad

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