There is, perhaps, no other cuisine as dependent on a singular ingredient as Italian cuisine, points out Fred Wehba. Italian kitchens are full of delectable delights…pastas of all shapes and sizes, mushrooms, onions, basil – each district has its own unique spin on tradition. The list could go on and on. However, one constant regardless of region is the Pomo D’oro, or tomato.
A seedy history
Fred Wehba explains that the tomato is actually considered by many a fruit, as it contains seeds. While this is botanically correct, these sweet and slightly acidic edibles have been used as a vegetable base for centuries in Italian cuisine. Tomatoes were eaten by the ancient Aztec and were a popular addition to Spanish foods as early as the 16th century. Ironically, in 1544 the tomato was mistakenly classified as a poison by Pietro Matthioli – an Italian herbalist.
In Italian foods
Italians, according to Fred Wehba, use the tomato in a variety of ways. From fresh to poached to crushed or infused with herbs and spices, the tomato is held in high regards across the Mediterranean nation. One of the most common tomato dishes in the boot of Europe is a simple sauce made from boiled, crushed tomatoes mixed with garlic, basil, peppers, salt, and oil. Fred Wehba reports that this base is then modified to taste or used as-is over al dente noodles for a hearty and satisfying meal. Tomatoes may also be served sliced atop thick cuts of fresh mozzarella and garnished with dried laurel leaves. Smaller varieties are often cooked whole to add flavor and texture to countless dishes.
A legendary delight
It’s been reported, says Fred Wehba, that the tomato was brought to the United States by Christopher Columbus. Held in esteem by royalty for centuries, it was actually once believed to cause cancer and other diseases. The tomato, according to some legends, is an aphrodisiac and has long been used by the lovelorn to attract the affections of their intended.