From the Culinary Trail – Ciaoing Down in Italy Part 3

A Tale about Tomatoes From Tuscany

Santa Luce Kake2Kale
During my university days, a friend affectionately nicknamed all guys as spuds and girls as tomatoes.  The lingo kinda went viral and was used in everyday conversations on and off campus by a large network of students.  As an example, a bachelor pad was referred to as the spud pad and good looking girls were called hot tomatoes. I trust you get the idea.  To this day, I sometimes refer to my university girlfriends as tomatoes!  Getting back to this Italy trip, our group of tomatoes traveled to Tuscany following our awesome stay in Cinque Terre.  For a week, our base was a rustic Tuscan villa, surrounded by vineyards and olive trees.  We idled away the days with pool time, games, reading, visiting medieval villages, finding interesting markets and cooking up incredible meals.  There were too many culinary finds and experiences to sum up in this post. Instead, this third part of my adventures with superfoods in Italy is focusing on delicious Italian tomatoes, that is – the vegetable, but botanically classified as a fruit.

If there is one edible item that unifies Italy, I think it’s the tomato or pomodoro! Italy is the most important country in Europe for the production of tomatoes.  The tomato plant originally was brought to Italy, specifically Tuscany, by the Spaniards around 1548 from South America.  At that time, tomatoes were ornamental and they didn’t become a food staple until 200 years later.  Today, there are  hundreds of varietals in Italy; but I heard the most popular is the San Marzano pomodoro.

There is something about Italian tomatoes. They are all incredibly tasty – plump and juicy – compared with the mainstream varietals that we get in North America.  When possible, I spend a bit more money and buy heirloom tomatoes because of their delicious flavours. In Italy, all their tomatoes are like hyper-heirloom tomatoes. So, it was a joy to eat an abundance of yummy tomatoes during our time in Tuscany with Caprese salad, anchovies on bruschetta, pasta sauce and pizza…to name a few.  Just when I thought we had exhausted ways to prepare tomatoes, I stumbled across something that I had not seen before.  While sitting at the pool and flipping through a local food magazine, I saw an article about a hand mill for making fresh tomato puree. There was no doubt in my mind, I had to get one while in Italy!

Tuscany 3 Kake2Kale

Sante Luce was the closest village and it had a tiny hardware store which could order the mill for 26 euros, but it wouldn’t arrive in time.  Then I searched for the mill at the next local outdoor market, and presto, I found the mill at a stall (actually, it was a converted truck) selling household goods. The stainless steel version cost me 11 euros!  Although I was anxious to try it out at the villa, I ran out of time before flying home to Vancouver.  It took me several weeks before I could face a regular tomato in our food shops.  Even my favourite heirloom versions are not close to the quality that I enjoyed in Italy.  Nevertheless, I used the mill to make a fresh puree for a tomato soup and it turned out to be quite delicious.  Imagine how much better it could be if I had real Italian tomatoes!

I liked the texture of the soup without the tomato skin (filtered by the mill); but note that the skin has flavonols which are healthy for you.   As a superfood, tomatoes are high in nutrients, vitamins (E and C ), beta-carotene, potassium, and fibre. They also contains zea-xanthin, which is good for eye health. Tomatoes are known to protect against various forms of cancer.  They are chock-full of lycopene, an antioxidant that provides the red colour and fights free-radicals, supports prostate health, and protects skin from sun damage. Interestingly, lycopene is best absorbed in our bodies when tomatoes are cooked or processed eg. puree or sauce.  Hence, having tomato soup is a great option!  However, vitamin C is retained when tomatoes are eaten raw; therefore, it is better to strike a balance of consuming cooked and raw tomatoes.

Below is my simple fresh tomato soup recipe, based on my trial usage of the hand mill.   Adding pesto as a topping is a fun option!

Tomato Soup – serves 2

Tomato Soup 3 Kake2Kale

 Ingredients and Directions

Tomato Soup 1 Kake2Kale

– 6 medium tomatoes
– 1 food or vegetable mill (with 3 discs)
– 1 small bunch of basil
– 1 small onion (diced)
– 1 garlic clove
– Salt and pepper to taste

Assemble the mill with the coarse disc. Place the mill securely on top of a bowl with the mill’s feet resting on the rim. Quarter tomatoes and place in mill. Turn the blade and grind tomatoes until the peels are left in the mill. Place chopped basil in the tomato puree bowl. In a separate pan, saute the diced onions and pressed garlic. Combine the tomato puree with infused basil, cooked onions and garlic into a pot and simmer till hot. Stir in a dollop of butter.

 

Tomato Soup 2 Kake2Kale

After two weeks of hiking, relaxing, exploring, photographing, feasting, drinking, loading up on superfoods and catching up with dear friends, our Italy trip came to an end.  It was hard to leave Italy and much harder to say good-bye to my friends whom I admire and think are some of the most caring, smart, and gifted people I know.  On the sunny side, there will be future trips to look forward to…sooner than later I hope.

Travel Far, Explore More! – {Kale}

Tuscany 2 Kake2Kale

 

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