When You Say Tomato, Say San Marzano

Bill Citara
You say to-may-to, he says to-mah-to. I say San Marzano. 

San Marzano tomatoes are, not to put too fine a point on it, simply the best sauce tomatoes in the world. Better than any other canned tomato. Better than 99.9 percent of the fresh tomatoes out there. Accept no imitations because -- trust me on this -- they're not nearly as good. 

San Marzano tomatoes are special by their very nature and by where they're grown. They resemble the very familiar Roma tomato but are longer and slimmer, with more flesh, fewer seeds, and lower acidity. True San Marzano tomatoes (and we'll get to what they are in a moment) are grown and hand-harvested only in the area surrounding the town of San Marzano, in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius, where the volcanic soil and long, hot summers are said to give them their unparalleled sweet-ripe flavor.

San Marzano seeds have been planted and are grown all over the world, but these "San Marzano style" tomatoes are no match for the real thing. Even San Marzano tomatoes grown in other parts of Italy don't really cut it, though they are a helluva lot better than whatever canned tomato guck you'll find at your local supermarket. The only way to be sure you're getting the genuine article is to look for the D.O.P. (Denominazione d' Origine Protetta) seal on the label. 

Not surprisingly, San Marzano tomatoes are rather more expensive than your regular crappy canned tomatoes, ranging from $3 to $5 for a 28-ounce can. They're available at multiple online sites, including Amazon, though finding them at local markets ranges from difficult to impossible. In fact, the only local spot I know of that carries them is -- believe it or not -- Capt. Frank's Seafood in Boynton Beach. 

If you don't believe that San Marzano tomatoes are to the tomatoes you usually buy what a Ferrari is to a broken-down old skateboard, spring for a can of them and a can of the other stuff and use the very simple recipe below to make sauce with each. Taste the result, then throw the other stuff out for the dog and enjoy the best goddamned tomato sauce on the planet. 

San Marzano Tomato Sauce
1 28-oz. can San Marzano tomatoes
2 T. olive oil ½ small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 t. dry oregano
1 bay leaf
Salt & pepper to taste

Saute the onion in olive oil until it's translucent; add garlic and sauté one or two minutes more. Add tomatoes, squishing them with your hand, and all their juices. Then add oregano, bay leaf, salt, and pepper and simmer for 20 minutes to blend the flavors.

Serve with any damned thing you feel like. It will make anything taste better.

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