Sunday, 5 September 2010
Review: Pomodoro! A history of the tomato in Italy
Rachel, the Crispy Cook, has given me the opportunity to join her in reading and reviewing David Gentilcore's new book Pomodoro! A history of the tomato in Italy (Columbia University Press, 2010).
I confess I was a little anxious to begin with. When the food monograph is good, it is superb (Mark Kurlansky's Cod: A biography of the fish that changed the world, is pretty much the definition of it being done well) but when it isn't done well it can be a bit turgid and the claims made hard to substantiate (I am looking sideways at a book on my shelf that will remain nameless). Fortunately Professor Gentilcore's book is in the first camp.
Tomatoes seem so essential to Italian cuisine, that it came as quite a shock to discover that spaghetti with tomato sauce only became a regular feature of Italian cooking in the 19th Century. Although that wasn't quite as much of a shock as the discovery that al dente pasta came about partly to make eating it with your hands as street food viable. Not a pleasant thought.
I found the way Gentilcore wove recipes in with politics, industrial revolution and the history of the Italian diaspora absolutely fascinating. Despite the length of time it took for tomatoes to become an accepted foodstuff (more than 200 years) the last 150 years have seen it become a staple, a badge of national identity for Italians and almost cliché. It also seems as though what tomatoes symbolise for people who identify themselves as Italian is more important than the reality of their place in history. A very interesting book and well worth a read.
We've been very lucky in that this year for the first time we have managed to get a crop of ripe tomatoes. My cherry tomatoes have fruited abundantly and the large tomatoes are also ripening nicely (although we are suffering from what apparently is called blossom end rot).
Our 6 cherry tomato plants, in hanging growbags, have produced enough tomatoes for a large bottle of roasted cherry tomato and basil sauce, which I have bottled for the winter, a large jar of pomodorini pelati (peeled, packed in a sterilised jar, the gaps filled with acidulated, salted tomato juice, sealed and heat processed), a couple of salads, a couple of meals of pasta with fresh pesto, garnished with roasted tomatoes and a really delicious tomato and goats cheese tart, served with a basil and lemon sauce, and some crab fritters. A very satisfying result!