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Aug 2, 2006 10:48 PM

san marzano tomatoes... advice sought

so I've got a few of these ripening in my yard. I tried one last night, just raw.. and well, my response was "ehh..its o.k,". not the robust tomato flavor I was hoping for. although I should mention, I've only eaten canned tomatoes of this variety before. and these are the first tomatoes from the bush, so maybe they'll get better??? I know they aren't meant for salad and the like.. but how do I bring out that rich, tomato-ey flavor?

maybe I need to roast them like so many of you hounds have recently recommended. or perhaps there is another way to enjoy these particular types of tomatoes? please advise.

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  1. Kind of early for San Marzanos, I usually don't get ripe ones until end of August.

    I've noticed from years of growing various kinds of tomatoes in the Bay Area (Richmond) that some years are just better than others in different ways. Sometimes good yield, less than spectacular flavor, sometimes great flavor, poor size, etc. And each type seems to yield differently as well.

    The eating tomatoes I'm getting now (stupice, early girl, sungold) look fantastic but with a good not great flavor, not as good as other years anyway. This all seems to be dependant upon weather as well, that is, the previous winter, the spring and the summer. Rainy winters produce differently than dry ones, for instance, even though the yield is in the summer.

    I rely less each year on the plum tomatoes finding the eating ones turn out the best for cooking as well. My favorite meal in the summer now is simply picking ripe eating tomatoes, chopping them, tossing them in a bowl with EVOO, chopped basil and parsley and dressing pasta with them uncooked.

    We now usually use the plums for dried tomatoes and freezing them for use in sauces for the winter.

    3 Replies
    1. re: kevine

      I think the trick to San Marzano tomatoes is they have to grow in the volcanic soil near Mount Vesuvius? That's why they're supposed to be so good.

      1. re: coll

        Yes, San Marzarno is a region of southern Italy that is rich in this volcanic soil mix. It is this particular soil, and not the type of plum tomato, that is responsible for their incredible flavor. The traditional growing and harvesting methods, used in that part of Italy also contribute to the overall end product.

        1. re: Louis

          Don't forget the Sun and Water.

    2. San Marzano's flavor is really brought out by cooking, not in the raw.

      Also, if you've been living in the Northeast, the weather is not conducive to good fruiting flavor: the lack of sun will mean lower sugars relative to acids, and the excess of water will mean they will tend towards watery blandness.

      Every year is different unless you use industrial-type controls.

      1. ah, I'm in the bay area too... (san jose) I think the recent heat ripened a bunch of my tomatoes early. the other early varieties are tasting o.k., still a bit on the tart/acidic side. sungolds came on early, were mealy at first, but are getting better and better as time passes.

        I think I might need to be patient with the san marzanos... and will try roasting/drying. would that I could grow them in their native soil, but alas I'll have to stick to land more suitable to plum trees. :)

        1. San Marzanos are known as 'paste' tomatoes because they yield little extra moisture. If you've ever tried to make tomato sauce or paste, you know how watery it can be trying to cook down regular eating tomatoes to paste consistency!

          San Marzano, Roma, Sausgae, and others are a boon to home gardeners who make their own paste and sauce. They usually ripen late in the summer, not early like fresh eating tomatoes.

          1 Reply
          1. re: toodie jane

            Exactly. I plant SMs to make sauce to freeze (now also roasted tomatos) and because they are so reliable and heavy bearing. But for straight up eating out of a bowl w/ kosher salt(can't wait to get home for dinner)...I choose one of the other varieties.

          2. Nice try...I'm sure your intentions are wonderful, no way are your San Marzano "type" tomatoes going to resemble genuine San Marzano tomatoes grown in Campania. It's the soil and sun. I'm sure yours will be delightful, but unless your soil has benefitted from centuries of volcanic dust and activity, they won't be D.O.P. genuine. San Marzano tomatoes are like no other tomato in the world. When buying them, make sure the can has the "mark" on the side. Lots of tomato cans boast that they are San Marzano, but without the mark on the side of the can, and if they're not marked D.O.P. as well, they're not going to be as good. I'm aware that so many things in this world come with their own hyperbole and often are disappointing when you finally see, hear, feel and in this case taste them, but if you've ever made sauce with genuine D.O.P. San Marzano tomatoes, you'd know that the difference is incredibly profound. By the way, when I say "the mark," I mean the following: on the side of the can, in a vertical, stacked pattern, you will see 3 circular "crests". The top one is yellow and black (or navy blue, to be more precise). It's the "D.O.P." (Denominazione D'origine Prodotta). Below this, the second mark (the middle) is a sky blue "A" in a circle, with the words below it: "Certificazione Agroalimentare" and the third mark (below this one) is 3 plum tomatoes with green leaves above (also in a circle), surrounded by the words: "Pomodoro S.Marzano Dell'agro Sarnese-Nocerino (usually). Use these tomatoes in just one pot of sauce and I promise you'll never use another domestic tomato. There are several brands, and they may run you as high as 3 bucks a 796 ml can, but try a can of Solania tomatoes or one of the other (expensive) brands and you'll see. By the way, in this case, you DO get what you pay for. Seems to run pretty true that the can you pay $3 for and has the marks on the side will yield the best stuff you've ever seen. Go for it and post a reply. I'm anxious to see what you all think. Just a little tip: if you usually add sugar to your marinara sauce, go light when using San Marzano tomatoes. Nature already infuses them with that sugar.

            4 Replies
            1. re: RickTheClamBellyFan

              yes, I am all about genuine San Marzano tomatoes.
              But sometimes I use Muir Glen. They're pretty darn good.

              1. re: RickTheClamBellyFan

                I appreciate your passion about San Marzanos, but beware. There is absolutely no way to ensure you're getting the real thing, regardless of the "mark" you see on the can or other claims of authenticity. Product fraud is so vast and all pervasive in Italy (see well known balsamic vinegar, parmesan cheese, olive oil, etc etc etc scams) that even the most trusted labels found in the most trusted stores are often fakes. SO, why do the San Marzanos taste so good if they're fake? Because basically all plum and, yes, "San Marzano-like" tomatoes grown in southern Italy will have low moisture, high flesh and lovely taste (when cooked). And only locals can really taste the difference. Solution? Grow your own. But then, can you trust the seed to be authentic? Viva l'Italia.

                1. re: ProudItalian

                  And, even if you grow your own, the results will not only vary according to your soil and light, but according to the vagaries of each summer's weather pattern, unless you are lucky enough to live in in stably-hot Mediterranean climate location.

                  1. re: ProudItalian

                    I'll echo the concern about fraud, misrepresentation and just bad product. The canned ones I've bought at a very reputable store were nothing special and overpriced to boot.

                    Hate to say this, but canned Trader Joes plum tomatoes have been consistently the best store product IMO.

                    Perhaps the OP could mix in a lot of pulverized lava rock into her (likely clay) soil and try again. :-)