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Tomato Galore PDF Print E-mail
Oct 16, 2011 at 06:11 PM


Italian tomatoes are among the best in the world (although Turkish tomatoes – I just got back from Turkey – seem to me to be running a close second) and as we all know play a very important role in Italian cuisine.

The ancient Romans,  of course,  hadn’t the vaguest idea what a tomato was since, like the potato, it is native to South and  Central America and only arrived on these foreign shores in the late 1500’s thanks to those then evil colonizers, the Spanish.

So one can just imagine if a resident of ancient Rome, unloading his amphorae of wine or oil at the river port in what is known today as Testaccio, were to happen on Carmelo D’Agostino’s  amazingly  colourful tomato stand in that neighborhood’s well-known food market. Wonder how they say “Wow” in Latin?  Me, I would stick to “wow” or, in Roman dialect to “Ammazza ahò” or “Anvedi ahò”, all of which accurately describe the amazement one feels at viewing this undulating sea of red.

Most visitors to Rome go to see the Campo de’ Fiori food market (not what it once was) or perhaps that at San Cosimato in Trastevere (definitely not what it once was) , both of which are in areas that many tourists stay in or visit.

Somewhat off the beaten track, is Testaccio and its food market (but you can also get great buys in shoes and boots) and the spectacularly colorful tomato
stand is a star attraction.  Mr D’Agostino, who first started working here as a mere lad in 1955,  supplies many of Rome’s best-known restaurants with their tomatoes and is an expert on these fruits (yep, as most of us now know, from a botanical point of view, the tomato is a fruit) and by shifting zones of provenance has learned ho to ensure an ample selection all year round.

And I mean ample. Round, oblong, teardrop shaped, ribbed, smooth so on and so forth. Every size and shape you can imagine and colors ranging from deep red, to reddish green, and greeny-yellow. I have lived in Italy for many years now but quite frankly hadn’t any idea that there were so many types, nor did I know many of their names: torpedini, datterini, piennoli, casalino romano, piccadilly, arietta.

Now I know and the next thing to be done is to get this guy to like me. For it is said that if he finds you “simpatico”, he will also ask you what kind of meal you are planning so he can make sure you buy the kind of tomatoes that are best for that dish. Apparently, the “Carson” is best for the caprese salad made with tomato and mozzarella, something called Cuore di Bue (ox heart)  tomato should be used for making pomodori al riso,  rice-stuffed tomatoes, and the Casalino Romano, which comes from the Cerveteri area north of Rome, is the best for that well-known Roman pasta dish, penne all’arrabbiata.

So if you visit Rome and the Testaccio market, don’t forget to look for the city’s best-known “pomodoraro”! However, those coming this way in the near future, would be well-advised to go to the Testaccio market before it moves a few blocks away to new, modern and covered premises that are bound to have less character.


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