Il pomodoro… tomatoes!
Tomatoes go hand in hand with the typical image of Italian food. You find them everywhere: on pizza, bruschetta and pasta, in lasagne, salads and sandwiches. Italy is the EU’s biggest producer of tomatoes too, both fresh and processed, and they are so important to the Italian economy that they are known as oro rosso – red gold.
Buying (and eating) tomatoes in Italy is different from in the UK. In the UK you buy lovely red looking tomatoes, and yes they taste pretty good, but something is missing… the smell. When you walk into a shop selling tomatoes in Italy you can smell the fragrance instantly, and it makes the mouth water. The only time I had smelt anything like that in the UK was in the summer, picking the cherry tomatoes my mum grows in the garden, so the scent always makes me think of idyllic summer days in the school holidays… it makes me think of the sun.
I love tomatoes, and often eat them in pasta dishes such as pasta allo scarpariello , caprese salad with mozzarella and basil, on pizza, on bruschetta with olive oil and oregano… even just by themselves, especially the little sweet ones like in the picture above – I eat them just like sweeties! To be fair, even the Italians look at me strangely when I do that…
Li mangi da soli? Così, senza niente? Davvero? Certo che voi inglesi siete strani. – – You eat them alone? With nothing else? Really? You Brits sure are odd.
So you can imagine my surprise to discover that Italians once considered tomatoes, when they were first imported from South America, poisonous. That’s right, poisonous… then somewhere in Southern Europe (probably in Naples) some poor desperados decided to try making a sauce from them. And didn’t die. From then on, the popularity of the tomato began to spread until it became the staple food it is today. And thank God for that poor fool who first decided to try eating them, because I couldn’t imagine Italian cooking (or Italian supermarkets) without them.