“Datterini” tomatoes are in season in Italy!
One of my fondest memories, of my paternal grandfather, was roaming Southwestern Wisconsin in search of “perfect” tomatoes for the first BLT of the summer. For those of you unfortunate enough to not know what a BLT is, it’s a sandwich made with bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise.
Grandpa Miles, bought the bacon from a butcher in the town of Plain, the lettuce came from a grocery store, or someone’s garden –– it didn’t matter where. The bread was white and the more processed the better. But, the tomatoes had to be excellent, and locally grown. Back then, in the rural, sparsely populated Midwestern countryside, tomatoes, as most veggies like sweet corn, peppers and cucumbers were good only when they were in season and grown nearby. Come to think of it, that’s probably true today.
We had other pastimes when I visited Grandpa Miles in Lone Rock. One was fishing off of sandbars in the Wisconsin River for perch and other pan fish. The other was watching “Wheel of Fortune” –– that’s when my grandmother Genny joined us for the fun. But, finding perfect tomatoes for BLT’s is the one activity that means summer for me. Summer and tomatoes and driving from farm stand to farm stand go hand in hand in my memory.
Even knowing that tomatoes originated in the Americas and are relatively new to the European diet, having spread in common use in the 1800s, the variety of tomatoes in Italy is striking. Especially if you grew up, like me, with only two kinds: the baseball or softball sized, roundish tomatoes, or the smaller, cherry tomatoes. I’m still becoming aware of the varieties available here on the Boot.
When it’s hot, as it was in Pescara today, one of the great summer lunchtime fallbacks is insalata caprese – the salad named for the island of Capri, in the Gulf of Naples. An insanely simple salad, caprese consists of sliced tomatoes, alternating with sliced fresh mozzarella, a leaf of sweet basil scattered here and there, and a few lines of good extra vergine olive oil drizzled over. If you really have to, a pinch of salt, to taste, may be added. Which brings me to the tomatoes.
Silvia bought a couple of pounds of pomodori datterini, literally “date-like tomatoes,” the other day. Pomodori datterini are about the same size and shape as dates and as
intensely sweet. But, their color, flavor, and aroma are all Ferrari red. They were a great substitute for the larger varieties usually used in caprese. We added a green salad (the “soncino” variety) with a dressing of the same olive oil and balsamic vinegar from Modena. Along with a few slices of local bread, the lunch turned out to be a meal that Sofia, and I agreed, was light, filling and very, very wonderful. Grandpa Miles would have approved.
Pomodori datterini begin appearing in early summer. Buy them up.
– Joshua Lawrence
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