Saturday, October 4, 2008


You go along thinking you know all you need to know about tomatoes in Italy - Pachino, the small round sweet ones from Sicily, San Marzano from the soil around Mt. Vesuvius, Cuore di Bue shaped like a cow heart and common in Emilia-Romagna, and others as varied in size, shape and color as is possible within the pomodoro family. And then one day you're wandering around a market (in this case, the Testaccio market, my favorite one in Rome) and there in one of the stalls you see what looks like a bunch of tomatoes that should have been dumped a week ago.
I should have known - these love apples were shriveled up and wrinkled on purpose. Carmelo, the most renowned tomato expert in Rome, has a PhD in Tomato. (His stand in this vast market holds tomatoes, boxes and flats of them, and nothing else.)

So why, I asked him, do you do this to perfectly beautiful shiny skinned tomatoes? When you ask questions like this of Italians, they always make you feel a bit idiotic, like you should have been able to figure it out.

It seems that taking tomatoes at the peak of ripeness, setting them outside in certain climatic conditions, but away from the sun (we're not aiming for the sun-dried variety here), reduces the proportion of water and increases the level of sugar thereby creating the absolute best sauce tomato.

So there you have it. Sometimes being all wrinkled up is a good thing.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


Truffles, those highly prized fungi, are available all year long in Umbria.  Ranging in color from inky black to creamy white, depending on the month, they are so abundant in this region that the canines who root them out are constantly on the go.  (Dogs are the truffle hunters of choice since they find but don't eat, whereas pigs will live up to their reputation and gobble up the bounty.)

This was lunch one day at the elegant restaurant in the Hotel Brufani Palace in Perugia - pasta fatta in casa con tartufi neri, homemade egg pasta with black truffles.  A gift from the dogs, if not the gods.