In Italy it is time to celebrate the tomato harvest, and what tomatoes they are: gnarled and misshapen they may be, but a joy to eat! Why can’t we get tomatoes like these in the UK; instead of the tasteless, insipid, watery, but perfectly formed and uniformly round red balls of...nothingness. The poor taste is not helped by the fact that tomatoes in the UK are refrigerated, which has a very adverse impact upon the volatiles that provide the flavour. If you do buy tomatoes in the UK keep them out of the fridge for a few days before eating and some of that flavour will return.
But this is also the time when Italian families can be found buried in their cantinas, bottling tomatoes for the rest of the year. And this year I have a special interest in this process as I am helping Phil, my friend and founder of the Better Food Company in Bristol import some real artisan passata from a local farm run by Ercolino. So I have offered to help in the bottling process for a day to find out more.
I arrive to a sea of tomatoes picked by Ercolino and Filamina two days previously and left to ripen to full maturity. Interestingly they use three varieties for bottling and tell me this is the best mixture for flavour, including the San Marzano.
The cantina of the farm is turned into an artisan factory with family members all helping to prepare the passata. The output of the day is unadulterated pure tomato sauce made with organic mature tomatoes with no additives of any kind. This will be part of the shipment that will come back to Bristol for sale at the three Better Food Companies organic shops, along with Ercolino’s oil that will be harvested in October. Ercolino’s family will come across to help in tastings and to cook a meal at one of the shops – a very particular dish, polenta on the table. If this is of interest get in touch with me and I can tell you more.