"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.
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.
Time to Prepare: 30 minutes
Time to Cook: 60 minutes
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
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