San Marzano tomatoes are a type of plum tomato, distinguished by their elongated shape. They are prized in Italy and across the world for their thick flesh and sweet flavour. The tomatoes also have a lower water content and fewer seeds than some others, which makes them a great choice for canning and using whole in rich tomato pasta and pizza sauces.
Are San Marzano tomatoes the best?
These tomatoes have a huge reputation and boast a Protected Designation of Origin status (DOP, or sometimes written as PDO - Denominazione d'Origine Protetta) which specifies the precise cultivar, processing method and region in which the tomatoes can be grown. Many say that these specifications do indeed make San Marzano the best tomatoes you can buy.
In order to qualify as a San Marzano DOP, the tomato must be grown within a designated area around Naples. The DOP also refers to tinned, preserved tomatoes – not the fresh ones. The particularly fertile volcanic soil at the foot of Mt. Vesuvius is said to give the tomato plants even more flavour and nutrients.
Meanwhile, other tomatoes grown in similar conditions can boast the same rich tomatoey flavour but might not qualify for the San Marzano title. For instance, Paolo Petrilli makes fantastic organic sauces using tomatoes grown just 75km to the north-east of the DOP region.
Also known as pomodori pelati (literally "peeled tomatoes"), you’ll find a tin of these long fleshy tomatoes in almost every kitchen across Italy. Although tinned tomatoes can sometimes be overlooked in the kitchen, if you choose a superior brand you’ll notice an immediate uplift in the flavour and depth of your everyday cooking. It’s certainly worth finding a brand you really love!
Paolo Petrilli organic tomatoes are the same cultivar as San Marzano tomatoes – solanum lycopersicum. The tomatoes are grown in La Motticella in a very ancient settlement near Lucera in the region of Puglia, famous for its climate and produce. The long San Marzano-style tomatoes are preserved using traditional, organic methods. They are hand-picked, peeled and packed into jars with a fresh basil leaf all on Paolo Petrilli's land. Paolo Petrilli's organic tomatoes are the tomato of choice for Italian chefs and some of the best Italian restaurants across the UK, such as River Café.
San Marzano tomatoes are grown in Agro Sarnese Nocerino, between Naples and Salerno. They have the San Marzano protected DOP, which means they boast the signature fleshy texture and vibrant red colour. These tomatoes are tinned in a velvety passata, for even more richness. Mutti process their tomatoes as quickly as possible, in order to retain the freshness and flavour of freshly picked fruit.
What do I do with San Marzano tomatoes?
- These tomatoes make fantastic pasta and pizza sauces. The dense flesh gives these sauces a fantastic thick texture, with no excess water.
- Plus, think beyond classic pizza and pasta sauces, and use your tomatoes to make rich curry sauces,
- These flavour-packed tomatoes are also fantastic in Spanish seafood stews, flavoured with paprika.
- Or make the most of the intense tomato flavour and serve them in a refreshing and simple chilled gazpacho soup.
3 Ways to Use Tinned Tomatoes
Roughly chop your tinned tomatoes to make a sweet tomato sauce and serve it on tortillas with eggs, avocado and chilli. Huevos Rancheros was a common brunch for Mexican farm workers, which then became a traditional North American and Mexican breakfast recipe. This bright and colourful dish brings rich contrast in every bite. Cut through the unctuous egg yolk and let it flow across the crisp fried tortilla. You can buy corn tortillas, but it only takes 10 minutes to make your own from scratch – and they’re certainly worth the effort. Give it a try here ‘How to make corn tortillas’.
Make a smoky, sweet and punchy marinade with your tinned tomatoes for beautiful fall-apart pulled pork. This recipe marinades pork shoulder (the pork ‘butt’) overnight in the tomato-based sauce, then cooks everything for 5-6 hours on a very low heat. The sauce will become incredibly rich and sticky – delicious with cornbread or served in a burger bun with crispy salad.
Tinned tomatoes are often used as the base of rich stews and curries. This Rogan Josh is a rich, fiery curry made with tender lamb. Naga bhut jolokia, also known as the ghost chilli, is one of the most fearsomely hot chillies in the world. It’s so potent that in India the chilli powder is used as tear gas. However, used in moderation the naga bhut jolokia brings a delicious fruity heat to curries.