The tomato must be the Will Rogers of the food world, the Casanova of produce and perhaps the Valentino of the table. Some foods have a few specific companions that bond together. A number have the ability to convert a flavorful partnership into a natural pairing. A favored few transform companionship into world-class collaboration. Fortunately, polygamy among foods is legal and the tomato is a worthy mate for so many foods that it would be criminal to deny any one of its laudable spouses. The expanding list of these exceptional affinities that we take for granted would include: tomato and bacon, tomato and cheese, tomato and salad greens, tomato and basil, tomato and garlic, tomato and noodles, and tomato and rice.
We could take a lesson from the amiable tomato. So much of the strife in the world is based on ancient feuds and antediluvian biases. If justice were a given, those hostilities would have acquired cultural dementia by now. Maybe some gifted young scientist can integrate the munificence of the tomato into its pulp as it continues to expand its culinary influence into cuisines near and far.
Believe it or not, Italy’s famous pairing of the tomato and pasta is a relatively recent innovation. The Spanish brought the tomato from its native Peru and Mexico to Europe in the early 16thC, where it was viewed with suspicion, denounced as toxic and grown primarily as an ornamental. During the Spanish rule of the Kingdom of Naples, the tomato was introduced to Italy. Still, despite patrons such as the Medici, the tomato languished unloved. When it began its eastward emigration, this sphere of pulp was yellow and known by many names, love apples, golden apples, Moorish apples, and gilded apples. It wasn’t until the fruit was nurtured in the Italian sun, that the tomato began to come into its own. Perhaps its now most common red color is some form of vegetal sunburn. Italy can be thanked for most of the cooking varieties now familiar, but it was not until the early 19th C that the Italians made the brilliant match of the tomato and pasta, which changed culinary history forever.
The tomato is a record setter. The tallest tomato plant, 65 feet, was grown in Lancashire, England in 2000. The most tomatoes ever harvested from a single plant was recorded as 1151.84 pounds between May 2005 and April 2006 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. The largest tomato was grown in Ely, Minnesota in 2014. It weighed 8.41 pounds and had a circumference of 30 inches. Today, China is the largest producer of tomatoes in the world, followed by the U.S. which is second.
In an 1860 edition of the Godey’s Lady’s Book, the housewife’s bible of its day, we were advised to cook tomatoes for no less than three hours. We now know better how to maintain the flavor of this fruit if we decide to cook it at all. We have presented many recipes for tomatoes in the past including Old Number 4, (an uncooked pasta sauce from Vincenzo Buonassisi), Pipérade Alla Ardian (a Basque frittata), Cookless Tomato Buttermilk Soup and Tomato Risotto which can be found on the market’s website. Today we are offering one of those almost non-recipe recipes, a Tomato Mushroom Stack, which can be on the table in an eye blink.