2013 Int'l. Food Show of N.Y …Best Tomatoes…Bottled Sauces…BetsaPasta Filetto di Pomdoro con Prosciutto…BetsaPasta Peperoni Arrostiti…& Lorenzo's Raw Marinara Sauce

Where does one begin when it comes to choosing the best tomatoes? We know, for the most part, fresh tomatoes taste depends on climate, soil, and weather.
Whether they are fresh or in cans…It’s not like all tomatoes are equal. Even canned tomatoes can differ from batch to batch.
Although producers strive for consistency, I have experienced inconsistencies not only in flavor, but texture as well.
My point: Taste and texture always vary and therefore the definition of  “best tomatoes” can be elusive.
Let’s also not forget about the great equalizer. Not everyone’s taste buds are the same.
With David D, one of my chefs, I recently attended the 2013 International Food Show at the Jacob Javits Center in NYC and met Rocco Macri, who presides over his family’s business A & G Food Distributors.
To the point, their canned Nonna Artemisia Italian peeled plum and cherry tomatoes are wonderful!
If you look closely in the picture below, you will see Rocco’s famiglia cooking and preparing foods to taste.
This family owned and operated business offers artisanal style pastas, extra virgin olive oils, vinegars, coffees and sparkling water…all products of Italy and many of  which I have yet to taste and expect to very soon.
If the rest of the products are anything like Rocco’s personality, I’ve found myself another great source.

                                                        Strada da per correre Rocco!

                                                                    Rocco & Bert

      A & G Products
         Ahhhhhhhhhh!

French Pistachio Macarons  
Macarons (spelled this way to differentiate from macaroons) are a sweet meringue based confectionery made with eggs, icing sugar, granulated sugar and almond powder.
They are filled with ganache or buttercream or a jam filling between two cookies and they are knock your socks off delicious. Expensive and worth the splurge. My grandson Benji’s favorite!
Mine too!

Here is where it gets dicey.
Are the revered D.O.P. San Marzano canned Italian tomatoes better than other canned Italian produced plum tomatoes?

                                                                   Pasquale & Bert

According to Pasquale D’ Ambrosio of Cento Fine Foods, there is no question. Yes!
He’s a firm believer, as many purists are, that these tomatoes, grown in the San Marzano region near Naples are the best in the world. Those cans stamped with the D.O.P. seal signifies that they contain only tomatoes grown in the province of Salerno, Italy. 
Another consideration is “the best” worth  the price. The San Marzano is more costly and it’s then up to you to determine if they are worth the difference in cost.It reminds me of the way one approaches where and when to use extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) for cooking.
Some chefs absolutely must  use EVOO in their cooking process and others feel results can be achieved just as effectively without having to use the more costly EVOO or olive oil blends.
It’s similar with the San Marzano tomatoes.
Some chefs swear by the San Marzano and will use nothing else…where others feel the results are just fine with another tomato of similar quality from Italy..
In my humble opinion, it goes right back to taste.
Now…to expound a bit on taste. San Marzano tomatoes are fabulous…no doubt…and they produce a superior final product. I have splurged on them myself for a marinara sauce with minimal ingredients.
When, however, the chef has applied his technique, it would be quite difficult…in my humble good tasting opinion… for most diners to tell the difference between the revered San Marzano and another great quality Italian plum tomato.
The exception is Raw Marinara Sauce.
I think San Marzano tomatoes are special enough to savor their uncooked flavor. Many raw tomato sauces of this type, however, include red peppers and/or sun-dried tomatoes and other herbs such as oregano and/or parsley.
I, for one, am partial to what one would find in a typical marinara sauce…nothing more…nothing less. That’s the reason I call it raw “marinara”…with 4 basic ingredients plus salt and pepper to taste.
Therefore I bring to you… from Woodbury Pizza in Woodbury, L.I. N.Y…. a wonderful recipe from Chef/owner Lorenzo that he uses for special applications to pizza and some pastas.

Raw Marinara (uncooked)

1 28 oz can Cento San Marzano tomatoes (squeeze and throw out water and seeds and juices from the tomatoes).   
1 clove garlic (sliced very thin)
2 TBSP EVOO
2 Basil leaves (chiffonade)
1/2 lb pasta
1/2 tsp kosher salt
Fresh black pepper to taste

Technique:
– Hand squeeze tomatoes, removing all juices/seeds and place in bowl
-Mix with garlic, EVOO, basil, kosher salt & pepper
-Marinate overnight
-Cook your favorite pasta al dente
-Drain pasta (saving 2-3 TBSP of starched pasta water). Add all ingredients back into pot with pasta along with reserved starched water
– Mix thoroughly while pasta is still warm. Salt and pepper to taste again
-Serve immediately…and remember…Pasta Must Never Be Kept Waiting
Once again…
I’m not a fan or grated cheese for marinara…however you have that option.
BOTTLED SAUCE…another story!

I’m always on the lookout for a bottled sauce that is different.
If I found one worthy enough, I just might consider using it in a pinch along with a bit of technique.
At the recent 2013 International Food Show of NY in the Javits Center I just happened to have found two of them.
In many bottled sauces today, oregano is over-used. Rarely do you find a sauce that balances the use of oregano with other spices, herbs and flavors.
Bea’s of Brooklyn was an exception.
Chef Gregory Adams interesting use of honey blended nicely with all the other  ingredients (even though oregano is included), and exuded a fresh flavor with no over spiced tones.
Get this…they also produce a fabulous B.B.Q. sauce!

Another exception to the rule was The Original Jersey Italian Gravy. When one hears “gravy”, it conjures up images of Sunday dinner at grandma’s house with all sorts of delectable meats tossed into tomatoes and cooked all day long. It impressed both David and me with just 5 ingredients. Tomatoes, onions.olive oil, cane sugar (there’s that sugar some disdain, however they make it work) salt…and no meat.
Carlos and Connie Vega, the owners, were fun to chat with and I will for sure be following up with them.

Coming Up….
My recipe for Filetto di Pomodoro with Prosciutto using Nonna Artemisia Italian plum tomatoes from
A & G.
This recipe was my mother Joan’s favorite sauce and the ingredients are all the same with the exception of the white wine I think adds to it (I’ve seen recipes with red wine. The choice is yours). Many recipes don’t include any wine…but the prosciutto made me do it. You know the story. It’s all a matter of taste.

-Serves 4 as a main course

Ingredients:
Two 28 oz. cans of plum tomatoes (broken up by hand)
1/2 cup chopped flat leaf “Italian” parsley
One large onion (chopped coarse)
1/4 cup *EVOO
8 oz. thin sliced prosciutto…first sliced thinly against the grain and then coarse diced
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup white wine (not “cooking” wine)
1/2 tsp red crushed pepper or cayenne or to taste
1 tsp. kosher salt (remember prosciutto is salty, so be careful with the salt)
-1/2 tsp for sauce in the beginning
-1/2 tsp for pasta and sauce mixed in the last step
Fresh black mill pepper (about 8 turns)…or to taste
 1 lb. pasta
-A few leaves of fresh basil chiffonade added in the last blending step

Technique:

-Saute onions in *EVOO on medium high heat until soft
-Add diced prosciutto and cook until almost crispy…about 6-7 minutes
-Add chopped parsley and bay leaf…stir to coat… add white wine and cook off…about 3 minutes
-Add both cans of tomatoes, 1/2 t.salt, both red and mill pepper
-Cook until boiling…reduce to medium low and cook for about 40 minutes or until tomato water is cooked out of the sauce. Stir frequently to keep sauce from sticking to bottom of pot
-Whatever pasta you have chosen, cook in plenty of salted water until al dente and drain…reserving about 1/2 cup of pasta water
-Ladle 2 cups of sauce and reserved pasta water into pot on high heat. Immediately add pasta, the other 1/2 t.of salt, fresh basil and then pepper to flavor. STIR QUICKLY for about 30 seconds to integrate and to maintain your al dente texture
-Serve on platter…and ladle desired amount
of sauce on top. Serve Immediately!

Remember: PASTA MUST NEVER BE KEPT WAITING

Betsa Roasted Peppers

Ingredients:

4 Lbs. red, orange and/or yellow peppers
1.5 Tbsp EVOO
1/4 cup capers in salt (rinsed of salt)
1 cup olives (calamata and/or geen Silclian)…optional
Several grinds of white pepper or blended peppercorns

Technique:

-Slice peppers in half lengthwise…clean out seeds and pare away the white membranes inside as they can turn bitter
-Toss peppers  and  most of the EVOO in a bowl and place face hollowed out part up
-Toss capers and olives in the same bowl with the rest of the EVOO  and spread this mixture into the open peppers. Otherwise, simply toss the capers with the peppers if not using olives
-Grind fresh pepper over the peppers
-Place in a pre-heated 350degree oven for about 30-35 minutes. It’s a good idea to open the oven half way through and shift around the peppers
-Remove from oven and serve with EVOO and your favorite Italian or French loaf of bread
-Kosher salt and pepper to taste. since capers and olives are salty, be careful with additional salt

*You can cut them up into smaller pieces and serve on pasta if you are so inclined.
*Regarding the olives,  I like to blend both kinds… and if you can find the Sicilian olives stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes, there is an extra added bonus of flavor to be found.

A note re technique:
Every chef has his or her technique.
As always, it’s proportions and technique that make all recipes with the same ingredients different.
One of mine is to cook sauce until there is little or no water from the tomatoes at the bottom of the pot.
I simply cannot understand why one would serve pasta with sauce and have left over water from the tomatoes floating at the bottom of the dish. Not only does it dilute the flavor, it continues to absorb into the pasta to make it soft and/or mushy. The exception is clam sauce. There is soooo much natural juice from the clams it cannot be helped. Just make sure you have plenty of bread to sop it up. Yum!

Some chefs cringe at the use of sugar, however some use it sparingly and some prefer not to. You have the option of using a pinch of sugar, depending on the sweetness in taste you desire. Remember…it’s all about taste and not everyone’s is the same. In short, when it comes to taste…There are NO RULES!

In sauces and gravies there is a place for the carrot and/or the onion to sweeten naturally…and you will see that in other recipes I have entered over the last few years. The onions in this recipe should supply enough natural sweetness, thus the use of sugar here…eh!
FYI…The most widely used method to naturally sweeten any sauce,  gravy or soup is a Mirepoix..In Italy it is known as Soffritto, a chopped  blend of carrots, celery and onion and not to be confused with Spanish Sofrito.



                                                                       Mangia Baby!
                                                                             Bert

*EVOO= Extra Virgin Olive Oil

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