Sunday, August 17, 2014
A History of The Tomato in Seven Courses
It's that time of year in NJ. The tomato time of year. If you're from NJ, you know that there is no more specific agricultural crop to this great state; nor one we are more suited to growing spectacularly well when the weather permits. Now is the time, my friends. Now is the time. We're going to celebrate and we invite you to celebrate with us at Stage Left.
The tomato is indigenous to the New World. Italy had no tomatoes until after Columbus' voyage. It is an agricultural product steeped in lore and we will explore it's history together. Friday and for the next couple of weeks, our tasting menu is entitled The History of The Tomato in Seven Courses.
A Shot of Ramapo Tomato Soup
Black Garlic Popcorn, Aged Balsamic Vinegar
Crab Meat and Ginger
Varietal Tasting of Heirloom Tomatoes
House - Made Mozzarella
Roasted Pumpkin Seed Oil
Apple Balsamic Vinegar
Holy Basil Linguini
Pickled Cherry Tomatoes
Jersey Corn, Pecorino Romano
Iberico Pork Loin Sous Vide with
Classical Tomato Sauce a la Careme
Flat Iron Steak
Jalapeno Corn Bread
(Wagyu Supplemental $20)
Candied Tomato Brûlée
Lemon-Basil Ice Cream
History of the Tomato
It is most likely the tomato was first domesticated is the Vera Cruz region of Mexico, where the greatest varietal diversity of the cultivated form can be found today. The tomato, like the chili pepper, probably originated wild in South America but was not domesticated there by pre-Hispanic populations. It seems the tomato was viewed to have a tempering effect on the very hot peppers.
NJ has been known for extraordinary tomato production since The Campbell's Soup factory in Camden gobbled up as many tomatoes as we could grow in The Garden State. But one of the most loved eating tomatoes was the Ramapo, developed by Rutgers in 1968. The Ramapo is what was growing in everyone's garden through the 70s and early 80's. It disappeared for a long time and was only resurrected in 2008. To many Baby Boomers, this is the classic Jersey Tomato.
The first tomatoes to reach The Old World were assigned the name "pomo d'oro" by Sienese botanist Pietro Andrea Mattioli. "Pomo d'oro" translates literally as golden apple. We assume they were yellow tomatoes. While some thought them to be poisonous, some thought them to be an aphrodisiac. This might explain how a supposedly noxious plant was propagated nonetheless. Tomatoes and Corn were both new discoveries to European tastes. Europeans still don't get the whole sweet corn thing.
The most famous modern canning tomato is the San Marzano, a plum tomato, grown on the volcanic soils around Naples. This variety is ideal for canning, as it has a lot of meat and expresses relatively little water. We can about 10,000 lbs of plum tomatoes annually. We source them from farms in New Jersey.
The variety of tomatoes available today is breathtaking. This is a direct result of people supporting our local farmers at greenmarkets and demanding better, more interesting, and more local products. We offer here a journey to demonstrate that a tomato is not a tomato is not a tomato. A classic accompaniment is true aged Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, and a lesser-known, but just as complex condiment from the Austria: Hand-made, Roasted Pumpkin Seed Oil from Styria. Of course we make our own mozzarella.
The place of the tomato in Italian cuisine cannot be overstated, but its fundamental to French cuisine as well. Antonin Careme and Auguste Escoffier categorized hundreds of sauces that define classical French cuisine. The five "mother" sauces are Bechamel, Veloute, Espagnole, Hollandaise and…you guessed it…Tomato.
The first mention of tomatoes with pasta didn't occur until 1839 when Ippolito Cavalcanti, Duke of Buonvicino offered a recipe for Vermicelli con le Pommodoro." The Sauce was the precursor t the modern Neapolitan tomato sauce.
There aren't many surviving Aztec recipes, so we're working from various descriptions. The first western person to write of a sauce including tomatoes was Bernardino de Sahagún, a Franciscan missionary to the Aztecs, who made note of a prepared sauce offered for sale in Tenochtitlán (today's Mexico City) some time before 1590. He reported that the sauce contained tomatoes, hot peppers and pumpkin seeds. The Aztecs also taught us how to use corn.
We end our dinner story firmly in the present and with an eye to the future. American chefs are informed by the past but are not bound by it. The tomato's balance of texture, sweetness and acidity and its existence in the middle-grounds between savory and sweet, between fruit and vegetable, provide chefs with an exciting area to explore, delight and surprise us in ways rarely considered. Witness the Candied Tomato Brûlée with Lemon Basil Ice cream.
Call 732-828-4444 or reserve online. $79.00
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And don't forget--there are more great events scheduled at our other restaurant, Catherine Lombardi.