Italy has the freshest tomatoes in summer. Whatever corner store or market you buy tomatoes from during summer, they are all incredible. I think this is because they are picked much later than the average tomato you find in Australia. The distances between grower and buyer are much less and so they are fresher, plumper, redder and taste a whole lot better.
There are also so many beautiful varieties: Ox heart (cuore di bue) in particular are amazingly fleshy and rich; San Marzano are delightfully juicy and perfect for making a fresh pasta sauce; and cherry tomatoes (ciliegini) are bursting with life when you pop one in your mouth. It’s no wonder lots of tinned tomatoes are imported from Italy – particularly from the South, where the climate is hot and they grow incredibly well and have a longer season than in the North.
In summer I eat tomatoes every day. My father had dozens of tomato plants in his garden. All the grandchildren no doubt remember having a meal with their nonno and hearing him say “You know the tomatoes you are eating? Well remember that they were growing one hour ago”. We would have them in salad with his home grown small leaf green radicchio or in a pasta puttanesca with his home-grown basil.
I posted a recipe for pasta puttanesca about a year ago in a post about basil (click here to see it or scroll down for the recipe in this post…). It is a perfect summer pasta and dead easy to make. So how do you make a perfect puttanesca? The first secret is the type and quality of the tomatoes. Recipes which have tinned tomatoes or tomato passata are never good enough – you need luscious sweet fresh tomatoes to get the most of this dish. I like using larger varieties such as Ox-heart or Beefsteak – their flesh is almost meaty and adds a texture which you don’t find with smaller tomatoes. My mother uses Grosse Lisse when she can for puttanesca.
The second secret is to make this dish in summer when tomatoes are in season – tomatoes that you buy in winter will not be as tasty as they are grown indoors or else they are not local (therefore compromising the freshness and with lots of food miles). The third secret is to not over cook the sauce. It takes very little time to cook, in fact less time than it does to cook the dried pasta. It should take no more than 8 minutes of cooking time. Fast food at its tastiest and healthiest!
In Melbourne I try to use home grown tomatoes. However if you don’t have any, or don’t have a generous neighbor who grows them, then visit a local farmer’s market. Alternatively you could go to the Tomato City stall at the Victoria Market, which is run by the Pontelandolfo family and has been there for over 65 years. There are many varieties of tomato, both from Victoria or from other parts of Australia as well lots of other vegetables that are used in Italian cooking. The owner John will tell you about where he sourced the many varieties of tomatoes he sells and he might even give you some cooking advice!
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 anchovy fillets, roughly chopped
12 kalamata olives, pitted and halved
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried chilli flakes (less or more to taste)
500g ripe tasty tomatoes, roughly chopped into large pieces
30 basil leaves (approximately)
175g dried pasta
grated parmigiano to serve
Boil the water for the pasta and salt well (so it tastes like the sea). Prepare all your chopped ingredients and put to one side. The puttanesca sauce takes about six or seven minutes to complete so time it to coincide with your pasta being cooked al dente. Start cooking the pasta and when there are eight minutes left, heat the oil in a large fry pan on medium heat. Add the garlic, anchovies and chilli and cook until fragrant. This should take one to two minutes. Add the tomatoes and simmer for a few minutes. Add the olives and heat through. The tomatoes pieces should just be starting to fall apart but still have some shape. Add the drained and cooked pasta to the frypan with the sauce. Remove from the heat. Toss. Add washed basil leaves. Toss. Serve with plenty of grated italian parmigiano and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil if needed.