You might think he's doing something else. But in reality, he's learning how to sit/stay, and not doing a very good job of it (he eventually learned how to do so beautifully ... sort of ).

mercoledì 1 settembre 2010


It’s that time of year here in Tuscany when people are making tomato sauce (called, inexplicably, pomarola), and whipping out their guns. Hunting season officially started today (September 1st) and runs through the end of January. This morning, the sounds from the screeching owl just outside our window segued into the crisp sounds of guns firing.[1]

(Italians are crazy about hunting, and like to shoot at just about anything, it seems.[2])

Tomatoes, that staple of Italian cuisine, probably arrived in Italy, according to Waverly Root, at least by 1544, “when a description of it was published under the name of pomo d’oro (it is pomodoro today, golden apple).” But he then goes on to say that it took Italians about 200 hundred years to get around to eating them. Alan Davidson elaborates, and says that they were mentioned in a treatise, by an herbalist called Mattioli in that year.[3] The English were certainly eating tomato sauce shortly thereafter, as the inestimable Eliza Acton provides a recipe for said.[4] Many moons later, Elizabeth David provides five variations on the theme.[5]

Last year, we picked the tomatoes, 200 plus pounds of ripe San Marzano, mid-morning one hot summer day in August. The Fruit Ladies, as we call them, have a fruit and vegetable farm near us; if we picked the tomatoes ourselves, we saved even more money.

We were aiming to pick only about 70 pounds, but filled the containers they’d given us in just 45 minutes. Four of us on the job – the Scallion, Sam, Bobo, me. Sam’s almost-four-year old son started out helping, but quickly got the stumpings, and took himself to the car.

Why go to this trouble when you can buy it so cheaply in the stores? Is there a better joy in a drab winter kitchen than opening a jar in mid-January and inhaling the aromas of a hot summer day?

We set up shop outdoors, in the shade. First we washed the tomatoes. We took half of them (about 100 pounds), and cut them in half. Then we put them in a large cauldron on a gas ring, and brought it to a boil. We took turns stirring, and the three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth quickly sprang to mind (though they were mixing up more esoteric ingredients like eye of newt, tongue of frog, and lizard’s leg). The tomatoes melted rather quickly; the Scallion added red wine vinegar.

They then went through a specially-designed-to-make-tomato sauce contraption: the liquid/pulp went one direction, the skins and seeds another. Then we passed the skins/seed mixture through a second time (this year, indeed, a third).

We did the second hundred pounds but added chopped celery, carrots, and red onion to the mix. Thus, we’d done the two schools of thought – one, simply tomatoes, the other with more vegetables.

Various Italian web sites are divided about this. Maria Pellotti adds only 1 chopped onion to every 10 plus pounds of tomatoes; others, a ratio of 2.2 lbs. mature tomatoes, 2 carrots, 1 celery rib, 4 basil ribs, extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and a pinch of sugar.[6]

Then we jarred them. The whole exhausting process took about 12 hours.

Sam and Bobo had heated discussions about the method of jarring, and Sam won out in the end. The jars, which had been rinsed in a hot cycle in the dishwasher, were filled to the brim, lid put on, and then the whole works set upside down to cool down slowly.

The Monsters (Waldo, Lulu, and Zoe, Waldo’s sister) actively participated in the process, which mostly meant that they were often in the way and licking up spillage. (You can see documentation at right.)

We celebrated the conclusion of the day by making Bloody Marys, followed with a simple plate of spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce.

This year, there were far less tomatoes (as well as fewer dogs): Sam and Bobo were only able to pick about 83 pounds. July was too hot, and then it rained a lot, and rot began to set in. So making pomarola became urgent, and they settled down to do it, joined by the Scallion, last week. They opted this year for a simple tomato-salt-red wine vinegar concoction.

Our tomatoes, all infinite varieties of them, suffered greatly. They’ve largely been consumed by obnoxious pests once again making me wonder Why Not Spray? (as I do, inevitably, every year). We did manage to pick a few the other day, and had a nice tomato salad, recipe below.

Fresh Tomato Bloody Mary
4 c. fresh tomato juice
1 c. vodka
1 t. kosher salt
1 t. whole black peppercorns
2 T. preserved lemon liquid (or 2 T. fresh lemon juice)
Ample pinch celery salt
Celery stalks
Tabasco to taste (in our case, lots)

Put the tomato juice and vodka in a large pitcher. Mortar and pestle the kosher salt and black peppercorns; add mixture to pitcher, along with preserved lemon juice, celery salt and hot pepper sauce. Anoint with celery stalks and cracked ice cubes; drink.

Makes 4 hefty drinks.

Insalata di pomodori
Tomato salad
1 lb. just-picked tomatoes, preferably Canastrino, but any will do; chop them in small-ish pieces
2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
2 T. tamari or shoyu
1 small red onion, peeled, and thinly sliced in half diameters
3 T. sesame seeds, toasted and mortar’d and pestle’d
3 T. coriander seeds, ibid
Freshly ground sea salt and black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, toss, let sit for at least 15 minutes for flavors to develop. This tastes really good with grilled steak.

[1] In Italy, these owls are called civette and they bear some resemblance to the screech owl found in the Americas (at least, they do to my untrained eye). Wikipedia observes that civette have a broad vocal repertoire, that males emit a malincholic hoo-hoo sound, and that their screeching is used in self-defense (to mark territory, presumably). “Le civette hanno un ampio repertorio vocale. Il maschio emette un malinconico “hu – u- u” ripetuto ad intervalli variabili, dopo 3-4 secondi .. [loro] emettono versi striduli e fastidiosi come autodifesa.”
[2] This being Italy, there are, as usual, special rules: for example, on September 1st, 4th, and 5th, the pigeon and the blackbird can be fired upon only between 5:30 and noon; meanwhile, the turtle dove, jay. magpie, and gray crow can only be shot at between 5:30 ‘til 7:30 at night. Clearly, most of this shooting’s for fun, as I have never tripped across any recipes for any those birds: pigeon sometimes appears on the menu in higher-end establishments
[3] Oxford Companion to Food, New York, 1999. He also adds, “The earliest known printed [tomato] recipe, which occurs in a Neapolitan book, Lo scalco alla moderna, by Antonio Latini (1692/4) is for “Tomato sauce, Spanish Style” and calls for adding finely chopped parsley, onion, and garlic – with salt, pepper, oil, and vinegar – to the finely chopped flesh of previously seared and peeled tomatoes.”
[4] She, however, stews them with either gravy, cream, or milk, and then thickens it with flour. More a roux-y tomato sauce than something to top a plate of spaghetti. (The Best of Eliza Acton, London, 1986.)
[5] See her Italian Food, New York, 1954.
[6] Maria Pelletti at, many-more ingredients at
All photos by Sam and all taken last year.

2 commenti:

  1. From Queen of Kansas: We've had a lousy tomato harvest from our back yard this year. Same problem, cool and wet early on then hot! Your piece reminded me of a long, long time ago when I commented to an Italian (don't remember who) that tomatoes came to Italy from the Americas to which he shot back: "Yes, but we're the ones who knew what to do with them."

  2. Beef Tea Update: we made the Laurie Colwin (terrific); we made the Joy of Cooking (even better). And this from Auntie F, who divides her time between London and Wales: "Your latest blog put me in mind of the hot delicious salty beef tea we were served in our wooden deck chairs with bright red blankets on board the HMS Queens Mary and Elizabeth crossing the pond each summer to stay with my mad New England elderly relatives; one of many ruses my mother had for filling my summer hols from boarding school, preferably as far away from her as possible!!!. Since Dotty, my nanny, started throwing up before we had even left Southampton, I had the run of these magnificent ships to myself and loved every second of it. So – thanks for the memory –as the song goes..."