Saturday, July 31, 2021

SEARCHING FOR THE BEST TOMATO

 

Nine local varieties of tomato, in search of the best.

A friend complained that she couldn’t find good tomatoes—right now, at the height of tomato season! I took up the challenge—to find the best tomato. I bought a lot of tomatoes at my local, village market and set up a cata, a tasting. 


Top row, from left: Daniela, Castellano, Ensalada, Rama. Second row, Canario, Roma, Raf, Kumato and Corazon de Buey. The cherry tomatoes are just for pretty; I didn't include them in the tasting. 


I had nine different varieties (plus cherry tomatoes). Using local (Málaga, Andalusia) nomenclature they were Daniela, Ensalada, Kumato, Canario, Castellano, Corazon de Buey, Raf, Rama and Roma. 

I soon discovered that the local names are not all actual varietals. “Rama” just refers to tomatoes “on the vine.” “Ensalada” just means “salad tomato;” it may or may not be the same as Valenciano, which may or may not be a Rutgers tomato.  Nor do the names correspond to American names. Buying locally, I did not have access to varieties from other regions of Spain.


The Castellano variety was the largest specimen (between 14 and 16 ounces). In spite of the name, it is grown locally, is quite similar to the famed tomato, Huevo de Toro (bull's ball), which I was unable to find in my market. The Castellano is sweet/tart, fruity, soft and juicy, thin-skinned. It is easily damaged in handling, so is not widely distributed.

This Corazon de Buey--"ox heart"-- is a puny specimen. It comes from my garden, where the plants were twice dug up by rooting wild boar and stressed by tomato rot. Like the Castellano, this variety doesn't travel well. It has leathery skin, but peels easily. It's juicy and very sweet.
 
The Daniela variety, widely commercialized. Large, round, red, it is gorgeous. It will keep a couple weeks without deteriorating. 

Where I live, this variety is called Ensalada. It's large and frequently comes to market while still quite green. Local cooks like the green fruit, cut into gajos, wedges, dressed with olive oil and lots of salt. I pick out the ripest (reddest) of these tomatoes and let them mature a couple days more. They are juicy, sweet/acid balanced. This was the second largest tomato, weighing from 8 to 12 ounces.

The Kumato is a protected cultivar, developed in Spain, unusual for its darkened red color. It is tough skinned (best peeled) and has a winey, tart flavor, very firm texture. 

Deeply ridged, the bright red Raf tomato is very pretty. It has an intense flavor and is quite firm. Developed in Almería, the name stands for resistance to Fusarium, a disease that affects tomato plants.  

Rama tomatoes come to market dangling from the vine. They are medium-sized, very red and long lasting. The rama, or branch, is useful for hanging the tomatoes, the best way to keep them.

Two varieties here, on the left is the Canario, a small round tomato extensively grown in the Canary Islands. On the right is the Roma, or tomate pera, "pear" tomato, known in English as the plum tomato. It's grown year-round under plastic and, besides being a fine cooking tomato, is a reasonably good salad tomato in the winter when other tomatoes fare poorly.  

The tasting plate--nine varieties, no salt, no oil, plain toast to nibble between tastes.



Was this beauty the best tomato we tasted? It's probably the variety that so disappointed my tomato-loving friend. With its smooth red skin, no lumps or blemishes, it looks like the perfect tomato. 

Maybe somewhere it's as good as it gets. The Daniela is bred to stand up to industrialized picking, packing and shipping. Besides looking good, it has a long shelf life. 

No, along with Rama and Canario, the Daniela was the least good tomato we tasted. They are insipid in flavor, mealy in texture. Not what you want to make a great gazpacho.

And the winner is--- This wasn't a fair fight. The best tasting tomato was not one purchased at the municipal market. It was the stunted Corazon de Buey from my own garden. Of the market tomatoes, I liked best the Castellano (bigger than Beefsteak!), the Ensalada and, surprising to me, the Kumato. All three had the most intense flavors, best sweet/acid balance. The Ensalada, in fact, is my go-to tomato for salads, gazpacho, sandwiches. 

Tomato Salad with Cheese
Ensalada de Tomate con Queso




This salad is best if the tomatoes are sliced and dressed with vinaigrette shortly before serving. The longer they stand with salt, the more juices they give off. Of course, the juicy version of tomato salad is pretty delicious too; served with bread for dunking.
 
Tomatoes with especially tough skins are best peeled. Your choice. Slice the tomatoes not too thick, not too thin—3/8 inch is about right. 

I like queso fresco de cabra, a fresh, soft, white goat cheese, for this salad. It’s very mild in flavor and not very salty. Feta or fresh mozzarella could be used instead. 

3-4 tomatoes
4 ounces fresh white goat cheese
Vinaigrette for Tomato Salad (recipe follows)
Croutons (optional)
Maldon salt flakes

Use very sharp knife to slice tomatoes.


If desired, peel the tomatoes. Cut away the stems and slice the tomatoes crosswise. Cut large slices in half. Spread the sliced tomatoes on a platter or divide between 4 individual plates.

Slice the cheese and cut it into 1 ½ -inch pieces. Tuck the slices between the sliced tomatoes. Spoon the vinaigrette over the tomatoes. Sprinkle with croutons, if desired. Sprinkle generously with salt flakes.

Vinaigrette for Tomato Salad
Vinagreta para Tomates

For this vinaigrette, I used Picual, a single varietal extra virgin olive oil, instead of my usual blended oil. It’s pungent, with a bite that complements the sweetness of fresh tomatoes. I added vinegar in moderation. Tomatoes are good with no vinegar at all, but a small quantity of vinegar helps to emphasize their sweetness. There’s not much salt in the dressing, but be sure to sprinkle the tomatoes liberally with flaky salt to serve. Garlic is optional; you may prefer to leave it out.

The vinaigrette can be made in advance. Keep it, covered, at room temperature up to 8 hours. Add the parsley immediately before using the vinaigrette.

1 small clove garlic, minced or crushed
¼ teaspoon salt
2-3 teaspoons Sherry vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley

In a small bowl combine the garlic, salt and vinegar. Whisk in the oil. Stir in the parsley immediately before using the vinaigrette.

Toasts with Tomato
Pan con Tomate

Spread grated fresh tomato pulp on toasted bread. Add olive oil and sliced ham.

For pan amb tomàquet in Cataluña, you rub toasted bread with tomato, but in Andalusia, for pan tumaca, you spread the toast with lots of grated tomato pulp. Drizzle generously with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with salt and you’ve got a perfect breakfast or snack. Add thinly sliced serrano or ibérico ham (omit the salt) and it’s sensational.

Sliced bread or rolls, split open
Tomatoes
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt, if needed
Sliced serrano or ibérico ham

Use thickly sliced country bread, baguette, split bollos (crusty rolls) or molletes (soft buns). Toast the bread slices or split rolls in a toaster, on a ridged grill pan or under the broiler. 
Grate tomato, discard skin.

Grate the tomatoes coarsely, discarding the skins. (Approximately 1 medium tomato for a 7-inch bread roll.)  Spread the tomato pulp on the toasted bread. Drizzle generously with oil. Sprinkle with salt. Lay sliced ham on top. Serve rolls open-faced or as sandwiches. 








Lots more ideas for how to use tomatoes here.

The festival of the Tomate Huevo de Toro (Guadalhorce, Málaga) runs all through the month of August. See a list of restaurants featuring special menus with this outstanding tomato here.



8 comments:

  1. A fascinating post to read if one lives in the Antipodes . . . one to which I shall return at the end of the day ! Naturally I can relate to many of the 'looks' but none of the names bar Roma ! Unfortunately I mostly buy supermarket tomatoes since there are no close farmers' markets in the area. Tried to figure out which our most common ones resembled - got the Daniela and then smiled when I saw what you had written :) ! Well, our new crop is not due until December . . . and I actually oft buy the various cherry tomatoes so easy to thrown into a salad or barbecue on vine . . . Love panzanella and shakshuka and cannot wait for the season . . .

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    1. Eha: It was nearly impossible to figure out varieties. A good seed catalogue might help. I, too, like cherry tomatoes--they seem to be the best-flavored ones early in the season. By the time you're enjoying top-of-the-season tomatoes, we'll be back to hothouse ones.

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  2. Excellent research! I like to buy the scabby misshapen tomatoes from the farmers outside the Boqueria. I think, like lemons, the irregular ones taste best. Kumatoes taste very good, though I only ever see them in Carrefour. I do get a very good flavoured ordinary looking tomato from my farmer and he says the secret to taste is in the dirt, not peat!

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  3. Mad Dog: Fun research! I've almost used up all the tomatoes I bought. Your farmer is right, of course, the terroir is pretty important. But I once interviewed an organic farmer in Málaga (one of the first) who was growing tomatoes for the European market. I picked one in the field and bit into it. Marginally better than the supermarket tomatoes. Same lousy variety, bred for long-life and to withstand shipping.

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    1. I was quite surprised, while waiting for my farmer's tomatoes to ripen. I tried some from another vegetable stall in the market, selling some very exotic looking organic tomatoes and all of them tasted watery - very disappointing!

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    2. Mad Dog: The taste test, the only way to be sure, since varietal names are all over the place.

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  4. Thank You,wonderful education on tomatoes.Have big tomatoes growing on terrace, looks like Raf, will taste & tell.🍅 Love from Nueva Andalucia

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    1. Snowqueen: Likely your Raf are the best. I found that my stunted home-grown tomatoes were better than all the varieties I tasted.

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