A dish is more than the sum of its parts – and when its parts contain amazing flavors, the end result is sheer delight. With high quality ingredients, even the most straightforward recipe gains an aura of invincibility, and steers towards perfection – or at least that’s what I think 🙂 Recently I had the chance to reflect on dishes, past experiences, and the meaning of culinary excellence, upon starting my collaboration with the I ❤ San Marzano DOP campaign. What is a San Marzano tomato, and what makes it so special? Read more to find the answers – and get ready for an exciting recipe contest 😉
San Marzano tomatoes (full name: San Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese-Nocerino DOP tomatoes) arrived in Europe in 1770, as a gift from the Viceroy of Peru to the Bourbon King of Naples, Ferdinand.
Widely regarded as “the crown jewel of European canned tomatoes,” San Marzano tomatoes are not a brand but a type of tomato grown and picked exclusively for the can in the 41 towns situated within the volcanic-rich production area of Agro Sarnese-Nocerino near Naples, in the South of Italy. The area also includes the small town of San Marzano, which was picked as a name for these tomatoes.
The combination of Mediterranean climate and volcanic soil, rich in potassium and phosphorus, has proven to be excellent for this iconic elongated tomato. With its soft pulp, low acidity, and very few seeds, San Marzano is a joy and a wonder!
Growing San Marzano is a labor of love, and the work of many hands and hearts. The tomatoes are sown in April and May, and are harvested between July and September. They are picked completely by hand – previous attempts to mechanize the process have proved disastrous for these delicately fleshed tomatoes.
Once picked, San Marzano are immediately canned at the height of ripeness and flavor in factories located in close proximity to the harvesting fields. No salt, sugar or calcium chloride is added.
Soon after, the tomatoes start their journey into the foodiesphere, carrying the vibrant, exuberant and luscious flavor of the Mediterranean all around the world, for everyone to enjoy.
Luckily, some of these cans ended up at my house 🙂 The I ❤ San Marzano DOP team sent several cans of tomatoes for me to try along with additional information and promotional materials about this EU-backed and financed campaign.
I learned that canned San Marzano tomatoes are a rich source of vitamins A and C, potassium, minerals, and fiber. They are also high in the anti-oxidant Lycopene, which research has shown to be useful in the prevention of various diseases. Last but not least, they are vegan, fat free, Kosher and Halal.
One of the statistics I came across while doing the research for this post has left me speechless: Did you know that 95% of the San Marzano tomatoes sold in the US are not San Marzano? Mislabeling can have a significant impact on the consumer – first, in terms of flavor, and second, in terms of distrust built as a result of experiencing an inferior product. One simple way for consumers to protect themselves from fraudulent San Marzano products is to look for the DOP symbol on the cans. Real San Marzano tomatoes were granted the Protected Designation of Origin (DOP) label by the European Union back in 1996. A product registered as DOP/PDO means that it has very strong links to the region and country in which it is made. According to the I ❤ San Marzano DOP campaign, “This gives rise to a unique product which cannot be reproduced in any other territory than in the specific production area.”
The DOP seal and a Consorzio San Marzano certification number are a strong indication that the product is genuine.
Also, steer clear of “San Marzano-style” or “diced San Marzano” tomato products. Real San Marzano are canned whole and peeled.
Once the research part was completed, it was time for me to put the tomatoes to the test. I wanted to use them in a pasta dish to celebrate National Pasta Month. Since the cold weather outside was calling for a hearty comfort dish, I decided to make a pasta casserole using several authentic Italian ingredients, imported from Italy.
I started off by making the tomato sauce. I sauteed onion, celery, parsnip, garlic, and carrot (I used a white carrot from a bunch of rainbow carrots I had in the fridge).
I added the contents of one big can of San Marzano tomatoes, and then watched as the sauce simmered and barely thickened to a perfect vibrant red. This is the kind of sauce that gets better as each minute goes by – so it’s best to leave it all alone to “work its magic” for about one hour, and to only stop by from time to time to add a little bit of water 🙂
The beauty and the smell permeated my kitchen, and made me fall in love with the flavors that were about to be born.
Once the sauce finished cooking, I added some of it to a large mixing bowl and stirred in the cooked pasta, cubed mozzarella cheese, green onion, and sundried tomatoes. I used Divella wholewheat orecchiette (which I love for their cute shape and sauce absorbing capabilities), but you can use any pasta you have available.
I couldn’t leave the olives behind, so I added 10 pieces (sliced) to the mix as well.
I placed the mix in a large casserole pan…
… and finished off with generous slices of Taleggio DOP and Italian breadcrumbs.
I served the pasta casserole hot, with fresh basil galore.
With its calculated richness and versatile tomato goodness, this casserole gravitated towards culinary perfection. The purity of the ingredients, the flavorful symbiosis among them, the luscious, dreamy texture – all of these made my heart sing with joy, as if I were a child. Enveloping everything, the sauce made with San Marzano tomatoes provided a mythical foundation of flavor and meaning, which resonated with me, and touched me to the core.
I think this is a beautiful capture of the spirit of Italy in general, and of San Marzano tomatoes in particular!
I used the sauce I had left to make another dish with one of this year’s most cherished culinary discoveries: Sitka Salmon Shares Wild Alaskan sablefish. Since the fish didn’t need a lot of cooking I just placed it in a pan, poured the sauce on top, and cooked in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. I served the dish with fresh thyme from the garden.
Without the sauce, the fish was absolutely amazing (that’s to be expected from Sitka Salmon Shares, of course). With the sauce permeating each and every fiber of its being, the depth of flavor in the fish was legendary. I wish I could find words to properly explain how delicious this combination of flaky sablefish and luscious sauce was – but words sometimes cannot fully do justice, so I’m going to leave this picture here while doing straight into the kitchen to make this dish again 🙂
You can find out more about the I ❤ San Marzano DOP campaign by checking out their website and following them on social media – look for the @ILoveSanMarzanoDOP handle, and the #ILoveSanMarzanoDOP #anicav and #consorziopomodorosanmarzanodop hashtags. You can also head to my Instagram account starting on Friday October 30, 2020 to enter the “Win with San Marzano DOP” recipe contest! Here’s your chance to win an amazing gift basket filled with the finest gastronomic goodies from Europe! The winner will get the chance to select a charity or person who they feel could use a pick me up, and the I ❤ San Marzano DOP team will send a gift basket to them too!
I had an amazing time learning about San Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese-Nocerino DOP tomatoes and cooking delicious dishes for myself and my family. The depth of flavor, the superb color, the endearing texture – all of these elements made me feel humbled by the experience, and eager to continue to cook and to learn more. This experience has solidified my belief in the incredible power of quality ingredients. You don’t have to have many ingredients on your list – just a few quality ones will make your dish stand out in the best possible way. No magic wand, no secret formula – it’s all out there, ripe for the peaking, in the volcanic fields of San Marzano.
Pasta casserole with San Marzano canned tomatoes
Servings: 6 people
- 1 28oz San Marzano DOP tomatoes
- 1 cup diced carrot
- 1 cup diced parsnip
- 1 cup diced celery
- 1 cup diced onion
- 2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cups water
- 3 cups cooked pasta shapes of your choice
- 1 lb fresh mozzarella, cubed
- 2 green onion, cut
- 10 sundried tomatoes, finely sliced
- 10 black olives, sliced
- 1/2 lb Taleggio, sliced
- 1 tbsp Italian breadcrumbs
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Handful basil (optional)
- Preheat oven to 375F.
- In a pan saute onion, celery, parsnip, garlic, and carrot with oil for a few minutes or until translucent. Add the San Marzano tomatoes. Let sauce simmer slowly on the stove for 1 hour, checking from time to time and adding water (up to 2 cups) in small quantities.
- Take the sauce off heat. Add 3 cups sauce to a large mixing bowl (you can store the leftover sauce in the fridge for up to 1 week). Stir in cooked pasta, mozzarella cheese, green onion, sundried tomatoes and olives. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour the mix into a large casserole pan. Distribute sliced Taleggio on top and sprinkle Italian breadcrumbs. Place the dish in the oven and cook for 30 minutes or until golden-brown. Serve hot, with fresh basil if you like.
*Disclaimer: While I received complimentary products to facilitate this review, all opinions expressed here are my own.
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