I enjoy a good meal although I’m not sure I’d call myself a foodie. Maybe I am, who knows. What I do know is, I don’t often wax poetic about what I’ve eaten in restaurants, or cooked, in this blog. Having said that I do remember going into raptures about a peach back in 2012.
Recently, though, I had an otherworldly experience involving a tomato, a San Marzano tomato, (looks sort of like a Roma, but it’s longer, thinner and one end is pointy) to be precise.
Have you ever heard of San Marzano tomatoes? I had not. Until about two months ago when a friend and I had lunch at a trendy neighbourhood spot (Buca in Yorkville for the Torontonians who read my blog.)
We had planned to go elsewhere, but it was cool that day and they only had room for us on the terrace. After shivering for 20 minutes, while waiting for the server to take our order, we decided it wasn’t worth pneumonia and left to try someplace else. By then we were both famished, it was well past lunch time and we honestly didn’t care where we went.
Buca was close by. And that was good enough for us.
Do you know what it’s like when you’re overtired and can’t fall asleep? That’s sort of how I get when I’m way past merely hungry. No matter how long I stared at the menu, nothing really whet my appetite. I didn’t want to make decisions, I just wanted food. So I gave up and ordered pizza. A simple (or so I thought) Margherita pizza. Mozzarella, tomato sauce and basil.
Where do I begin?
To start with, the cheese was burrata which, in my humble opinion, leaves mozzarella in the dust. It is silkier, softer, creamier and much richer. And when it melts, which it does easily, well, WOW!
And then there was ‘the sauce‘. OMG! Life changing. But before I get into that, I’ve got to tell you about the crust. Literally tissue-paper thin. No exaggeration, honest. Oval in shape, probably a foot long, it was served on a bread board, with a pair of scissors. The best scissors I’ve ever cut anything with, by the way. I seriously considered stealing them and most days I’m sorry I didn’t.
Yes, yes, I know. You want to hear about the sauce. I am drooling just thinking about it. I am not a big lover of tomato sauce. Yes, I know, it’s heresy. What can I say? The very thing most people love about it (the thicker the better) is the very thing I don’t like about it. So I’m a contrarian, forgive me. Plus I find it acidic and, for the most part, I think it overpowers all the other ingredients.
So how pleasantly surprised was I when my pizza arrived and the sauce was thin to the point of being transparent (but not watery) and, instead of that thick, sort of lumpy mass of bright red we usually associate with tomato sauce, it was a muted, soft, rusty red — through which I could see the cracker-like dough and finely-chopped herbs. No whole basil leaf on this pizza.
But the taste! OMG. Delicate yet full-flavoured, if that makes any sense at all. And so subtle. I have never tasted anything like it before, ever; and I haven’t led the most sheltered of lives. Seriously, it is indescribable. Beyond delicious. I just stopped short of moaning out loud. Think orgasmic. I had to tell the server when she came by the table to see how we were enjoying our meal.
“Ahhhhhhhh” … she said knowingly, looking up at the heavens and then at me. “San Marzano tomatoes.” And then, with a tiny shrug, a smile, a nod and one more glance up above (giving thanks no doubt), she glided away, leaving me to try to figure out what the hell she was talking about.
Clueless I was. And to be honest, I sort of forgot about it. Until one day, when I was food shopping with a friend in an Italian grocery store north west of the city. And there they were in the produce section. Of course I bought some; and had fresh pasta with garlic, olive oil, shrimps, capers, kalamata olives, white wine, Tabasco and San Marzano tomatoes for dinner that night.
Lip-smackingly delicioso is all I can say. I didn’t peel them. I didn’t seed them. I cut them in quarters and dumped them into the pan with everything else. It took mere minutes for them to cook down into a gorgeous, light sauce (really more of a jus) that was exactly the same consistency, colour and taste of the sauce on my pizza from Buca.
Guess you wouldn’t be surprised to hear that’s just about the only thing I’ve been eating ever since.
A San Marzano sauce with a variety of different ingredients, and sometimes just the sauce itself, poured generously over whichever type of fresh pasta ‘speaks’ to me at any given moment in time. Or a thin slice of rustic olive bread, toasted golden and very crisp, drizzled with olive oil, topped with mozzarella (or burrata if I’m being self-indulgent), an anchovy or two, several slices of tomato (only San Marzano will do), salt, pepper and a little finely minced Italian parsley or basil or even oregano — put under the broiler until the cheese bubbles.
Sadly, apparently the season for San Marzano tomatoes is short, at least here in North America, a very good reason to move to Southern Italy.
Typically I don’t buy fruits or vegetables in cans. I just don’t like them. There are a few exceptions, but generally it’s fresh or nothing for me. But let me assure you I have every intention of keeping my pantry fully stocked with San Marzano tomatoes in tins. I am told they have them at Costco.
Last week I realized I needed some hanging files. I’ve been doing a major clean-up, as followers of my blog know. So off I trotted to Staples.
Lo and behold, Staples is right across the street from the most expensive green grocer on the planet — in Rosedale, one of Toronto’s toniest neighbourhoods. I decided to pop in if, for no other reason, to just wander around and admire everything. Devour it all with my eyes because gorgeous and tasty as it all is, their prices can plunge you into bankruptcy.
You know what’s coming, don’t you? They had some. Fresh. For $5.99 a kilo. Outrageous I know. But I had to. Just five. The season is short. This is probably the end, until next summer.
Oh come on, tell me you wouldn’t have been tempted.