As for potatoes and also in the case of tomatoes, it took many years before people understood how to grow and use them for cooking. At first tomatoes were only used as a fruit (since the tomato is in fact a fruit). Years later cooks and kitchen staff realized that this fruit goes better with savory food than with sweet food. Once this was understood, the making of ‘sughi’ (and sauce) happened pretty quickly.
Among all the novelties which arrived from the Americas, the tomato was the absolute protagonist of the evolution of Italian cuisine from the late Renaissance to the present time. As a matter of fact, the adoption of tomatoes into pre-existing recipes of ‘sughi’ and sauces revolutionized the way pasta was ‘dressed’. So much so that it created a watershed not just of taste but also of the concept of food and the definition of recipes. From that moment onwards sauces and ‘sughi’ came to be classified as either ‘white’ or ‘red’.
Moreover, the introduction of tomatoes contributed greatly to the increase of the already abundant list of pasta sauces. In fact, this list almost doubled when the ‘red’ version became available.
The revolution spread also to soups, broths, ‘guazzetti’, risotto and stews so much that people had two versions of them in their house –red and white- just like the two types of sauces for pasta. In some recipes tomato was inserted in minimal quantities, just enough to give color, but, in any case, revolutionizing the pre-existing method.
The evolution of the tomato was not limited to its cultivation, which is seasonal, but also to the understanding of how to conserve and preserve it. Dry tomatoes, tomato puree, tomato creamed concenter, ‘passata’, peeled and chopped tomatoes, first in jars, then in bottles, then in cans and then in Tetra Pak, they all arrived into our kitchens – worldwide.
Italian restaurants abroad do not take the selection of types of tomatoes into account. They overlook the quality and the properties of fresh tomatoes versus tinned tomatoes. They also overlook what type of tomato is more appropriate for a given recipe. Instead what they will look for is the cheaptest tomato from the local wholesaler. They will then label their ‘sughi’ and sauces as ‘authentic italian’, which of course they are not.