There is perhaps no food I more closely associate with summer than a big ‘ol juice delicious tomato! Sure, they’re staples of summer BBQs, and delicious in a myriad of summer salads, but even in the dead of winter, a bright well-made tomato sauce is like a mouthful of summer sunshine. Tomatoes are serious desert island food – one of those great, versatile fruits (or veggies, depending on who you ask!) that make life better.
In recent years, the availability of various produce at grocery stores – even when the produce in question is completely out of season – has changed the way we eat. It wasn’t that long ago that access to out-of-season produce was so limited, or prohibitively expensive, that we’d gorge on things like tomatoes and strawberries and corn when they were in season. Today, we’re less inclined to ramp up the use of ingredients when they’re in season, because, well, we can get them pretty much anytime we’d like.
What gets lost in this unfortunate shift in our attitude towards amazing seasonal produce is just how much better things like tomatoes are when they’re picked at the peak of ripeness and eaten within days (or better yet hours!) of when they were picked.
There’s a tendency to forget just how incredibly sweet, succulent and juicy tomatoes can be – and what an amazing addition they are to our table, since we’ve been increasingly accustomed to the woody, bland, under ripe and uninspired out-of-season versions we buy on our way home from work on a Tuesday evening in January.
Brief History of Tomatoes
Finding its horticultural origins in the South American Andes Mountain Range, the tomato first gained popularity as an edible first in Mexico – and quickly spread around the world following the Spanish colonization of Central America. There are indications that the tomato plant had been domesticated by Meso-American peoples as early as 500 B.C. and it seems that the fruit was prized for its beneficial impacts on human health.
While many of us probably most closely associate tomatoes with Italian cuisine, it wasn’t until around 1550 A.D. that we begin to see records of tomato cultivation in part of Europe. In fact, tomatoes actually faced a bit of an uphill battle taking root in Italy, initially seen more as an ornamental plant – featured amongst flower beds – rather than an edible crop.
Early records from Italian nobles who received tomato plants as gifts from explorers returning from the new world suggest that the low-hanging fruit was seen to be less prestigious than fruit harvested from trees, thus relegating these plants to a status of ornamental intrigue, rather than for their potential as culinary indulgences.
Tomatoes are a highly adaptable plant which mutates readily, and as such began yielding fruit of varying sizes, shapes and colours, and slowly gained popularity with peasants as a food product. Names of the various “varieties” or mutations of the original tomato plant showcased increasingly specialized potential in the kitchen; some varieties better used for sauces, others well-suited to drying under the sun, and still others ideal for sauces.
As the genetic and culinary evolution of the tomato unfolded slowly over decades, the names of the various varieties reflected the places where they were most commonly grown. Today, many of the best known varieties of tomato still carry these geographic monikers.
Given their origin in Central and South America, is may come as a surprise that most of the tomatoes cultivated today in North America are cultivars that made their way across the Atlantic – twice. Following the proliferation of these Nightshade descendants across Italy, tomatoes gained tremendous popularity in Britain and across the U.K. Most of the tomato stock grown in North America came to us from Italy, via England.
Today, tomatoes are the most commonly planted backyard crop in North America – and are also the most widely preserved agricultural product as well. We carry on the great Italian traditions of jarring sauces and drying tomatoes, means originally intended to extend shelf-life, but today processes largely celebrated and embraced for the delicious impact these processes impart on the humble fruit of the Solanum lycopersicum.
Best Wine Pairing for Tomatoes
Pairing wine with tomatoes can be a bit tricky. Simply picking our favourite go-to wines and pouring a glass next to any old tomato dish can yield less than pleasant results. The most common mistake people make when serving wine with tomato is matching up big, rich and full-bodied reds alongside bright fresh tomato. The result? The bright acidity in virtually every type of tomato makes wine seem thin, astringent and lacking fruit and fullness.
So let’s take a look at four simple rules that will ensure you get the best wine pairing for tomatoes every time and create delicious matches:
1. Tomatoes love wines with acidity: Think light whites, rosés and lighter to mid-weight reds – especially from cooler climates or higher elevation wine regions
2. Sparkling wines are safe bets: Wines with bubbles tend to have higher natural acidity and the fresh bright effervescence is a makes for a natural marriage with tomatoes
3. Richer reds can work with cooked tomatoes: richer reds like Nebbiolo or Grenache work better with cooked tomatoes, as they tend to lose of acidity the longer they cook
4. When in Rome: Italian wines, both white and red, have a real affinity for tomatoes and you’ll find Sangiovese, Barbera or Dolcetto will rarely fail to work if you’ve got your heart set on serving red wine
Beyond these 4 key rules, there are a few wine and tomato combos that are just too tasty not to mention. If you’re serving bright and refreshing cold tomato soup, we’d recommend pulling the cork on a bottle of dry rose, or a full-flavoured aromatic white like Albarino or Chenin Blanc. If you’re dish features green tomatoes, we’d immediately reach for a bottle of Vinho Verde from Portugal, Picpoul de Pinet from southern France or perhaps a Gruner Veltliner from Austria.
As we move towards richer dishes, roasted or grilled tomatoes open the door to some fuller reds, like Grenache from Languedoc or Rousillon, Monastrell from southeastern Spain or Barbera from Italy’s Piedmont region. Finally, if you’re serving up a fresh tomato sauce with pasta or chicken, we’d suggest going with a classic pairing alongside a Chianti Classico, or if you’re looking for something more adventurous why not try Italian varietals like Sangiovese or Montepulciano grown in New World regions like California or Australia.
[ Recipes ]
OK – so now that we’ve looked at the ideas to make sure we get best wine pairing for tomatoes, let’s get down to business and take a look at 11 of our absolute favourite, top-drawer recipes showcasing tomatoes. These are 11 things you’re going to want to make right now, before tomato season departs for another year.
1. Classic Insalata Caprese: RECIPE
2. Cold Tomato Soup w/ Sweet Corn & Cilantro Yogurt: RECIPE
3. Shrimp & Fried Green Tomato Po Boy Salad: RECIPE
4. Marcella Hazan’s Classic Tomato Sauce: RECIPE
5. Pico de Gallo / Salsa Fresca: RECIPE
6. Tomato, Basil & Parmesan Bread Pudding: RECIPE
7. Alice Waters’ Ratatouille: RECIPE
8. Ham & Fried Green Tomato Benedict: RECIPE
9. Goat Cheese & Tomato Galette: RECIPE
10. Tomato Panzanella Salad w/ Ricotta: RECIPE
11. Homemade Heirloom Tomato Ketchup: RECIPE