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!

12 comments:

sharonfruit said...

Wow! What an amazing crop of tomatoes! Ours are still rather green as I was pretty late planting this year.

I'm not convinced by the thought of pasta as street food either.

The Cat's Mother said...

tomatoes seem like an essential food group on their own. Hard to believe they are so recent.

Lovely recipes - what is acidulated tomato juice?

Great labels on your jars. They are a disappearing accesory.

Foodycat said...

Sharon - you can see why pizza has survived as finger food and spaghetti hasn't!

Mother - I pureed a few more tomatoes and added a slug of balsamic. Assists with the preservation as well as the flavour!

There is a company over here (Lakeland) that sells the labels for not very much money, so do let me know if you want some!

Rachel said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed Pomodoro! I liked all that history and the surprises I found in its pages. You are certainly adept at preserving your tomatoes for winter. You remind me of Rosa from our first Cook the Book's pick "La Cucina" with all your tomato preservation skills!

Foodjunkie said...

I need to plant some tomatoes soon. Your crop looks impressive! I was also shocked to read about the pasta. WE do take so many things for granted these days!

Foodycat said...

Rachel - wow, that is a hell of a compliment! Thank you!

Jo - lucky you having a long growing season! Ours are almost done.

Debinhawaii said...

Your tomatoes look gorgeous and I love the sauces you made out of them--very fun! I am just finishing the book up and getting ready to get my tomato on! ;-)

Simona said...

I am glad your tomato plants did well. I wish I could pick tomatoes the way I pick kale in my little garden. I am reading Pomodoro! and I am also finding it an engaging read.

Foodycat said...

Deb - your insalata caprese looked just lovely too!

Simona - you are probably more familiar with the underlying history than I was, which must help the flow of the book.

WendyGK said...

That comment about the nameless book is so true. Happy to hear the author of this book was successful. When a writer can weave the history into a great story with recipes it is so satisfying and when they fail it is miserable. Your photos make me wish the season wasn't almost over here in Ohio.

Andreas said...

That's a great crop from your garden.

And I think I've found the first item for my Christmas Amazon list. ;)

Foodycat said...

Wendy - I know, it is sad to see the season go!

Andreas - Thanks! It's continuing, too.

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