The Real Neapolitan Tomato Sauce
Striano, Italy may not be a destination for many but for me it was a trip of a lifetime to see how San Marzano plum DOP tomatoes are processed for sale.
Striano is in the province of Naples. I visited the Strianese Conserve s.r.l to get a better understanding of why these tomatoes are so outstanding and deserving of the DOP (denominazione origine protetta) or denomination of protected origin. Only the tomatoes grown in the Sarnese Nocerino area were considered the best because they were grown within the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius in extraordinary fertile soil that was perfect for tomato growing. And the farmers who grew them were lucky enough to have nearby water for irrigation. A win win all around. It wasn’t until the manufacturing and processing of these tomatoes became an industry in the mid 60’s that awareness of the San Marzano tomato became more well known.
The European Union recognized the importance of these tomatoes that come from the provinces of Naples, Salerno and Avellino and bestowed the coveted DOP standard.
Today touring the huge modern gleaming plant that processes the tomatoes in Striano is amazing to watch. A sea of tomatoes running along conveyor belts is inspected along the way by an army of red –uniformed clad women who pick and remove any tomatoes that are not up to standards and they do this all day every day in tomato season.
It is no surprise that the tomato put Italian food on the American map and created a love affair for all things tomato based including pizza and spaghetti. And we have compromised what those foods are really like at their Italian source. Tomato sauce is a case in point. There are a dizzying number of ways to make tomato sauce (sugo di pomodoro).Some use onions and garlic, some add tomato paste, some add carrots and celery and some add meat, in which case it is no longer a tomato sauce but a ragu sauce.
I grew up with a nonna (grandmother) from nearby Striano and her tomato sauce, which I still make today is made exactly the same way the original was made with nothing more that plum tomatoes peeled and crushed between your hands, whole cloves of garlic warmed in a couple tablespoons of lard or olive oil and the tomatoes added with a handful of basil leaves and cooked for about ten minutes. Salt was added for taste and that was tomato sauce in its purest tasting form.
When tomatoes are in season, I pluck them from my garden making jars of them that I store in the freezer for winter use. And when I need to buy canned tomatoes, I buy the Strianese which are available on line.
Neapolitan Tomato Sauce
Makes 1 quart
12 to 14 meaty, ripe large plum tomatoes in season 2 tablespoons olive oil
6 to 7 cloves peeled garlic, left whole
6 or 7 fresh basil leaves torn into pieces
Salt to taste
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the tomatoes. Boil just a couple of minutes until the skin begins to blister. Drain, cool, peel and core and place the tomatoes in a bowl and set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the garlic cloves and press on them with a wooden spoon. Let the garlic cook over medium heat until they soften, begin to turn golden and give off their aroma.
When ready to add the tomatoes take them by the handful from the bowl and crush them between your fingers right into the garlic mixture. Cook uncovered over medium heat for 10 minutes. Add the basil leaves and cook 3 to 4 more minutes. Add salt to taste. Done.
At this point you have a choice; leave the tomato sauce chunky and use as is or puree it into a smooth sauce. I like to puree it. To do this, transfer the sauce to fine sieve placed over a large bowl. Use a spoon to stir the sauce through leaving the seeds behind.
Tomato sauce can be frozen or kept in the refrigerator for 5 to 6 days.