Tomatoes and Vinegar -- yes or no?
I was recently on vacation with a Roman friend of mine. We made a joint dinner in which I made a small side of Marcella Hazan's Tomatoes with Garlic scented vinegar. Basically you marinate a couple of cloves of garlic and salt in red wine vinegar and drizzle it over fresh tomatoes, top with olive oil and basil. It's a dish my family loves. My friend turned her nose at them and said that Italians would never mix vinegar and tomatoes. I told her it was a Hazan recipe and my recollection was that her father had made it. She insisted it would never happen in an Italian kitchen and that she never thought Hazan knew what she was talking about anyway. Now my bruised first generation Italian American ego could stand the criticism on its own, but to disrespect Marcella, well them's fighting words. In her defense, I later asked my Italian relatives if they mix the two and they also said no. But come on! It's delicious and Marcella told me to do it! Seriously, no one in Italy mixes vinegar and fresh tomato? This can't be true, can it..?
I haven't been to Italy, but I routinely get insalata caprese in Italian restaurants in North Beach. This dish originated in Italy, and here it is always served with balsamic vinegar. Perhaps the objection was to the type of vinegar.
Having been to Italy at least 15 times, to several regions (but not all), I have found the vinegar/tomato thing to occur more than once. Once was a delicious Chicken Cacciatore in a tiny trattoria - it was unforgettable. Another time was in Venice when I had insalata caprese (a very contemporary take on it) with delicious thick balsamic on the tomato.
To my (somewhat) limited exposure to Italian culture, it seems that each region thinks their way of doing things is the only correct way. It'll percolate down to towns and villages within regions and even to families within villages. Even then, some family members might argue on the correct way of doing things.
I had a friend who taught me how to make Italian sausage. He said his brother was nuts 'cause he put orange peel in his recipe. To him, it was simply wrong: "thats NOT the way to make sausage"
I don't mean this in an offensive way, actualy I'm amused when I see this.
I would guess your Roman friend simply did not grow up eating tomatoes and vinegar, nor did the people he/she knew eat as such, so they simply dismiss it.
Having eaten a lot of dinners with Italian families, I disagree with your friend. I recall having been served a tomato and cucumber salad, embellished with capers and garlic, which was dressed with olive oil, vinegar and basil. I don't know what kind of vinegar was used, but it was vinegar nonetheless.
I thinks it's important to remember that "Italian" food is really a misnomer. Italy's foods are regional and, perhaps in one or more regions, tomatoes and vinegar could be unacceptable. I just don't know where that would be.
I've eaten many meals in Italy and tomato with balsamic is pretty common. Saying that, I have not been to every region in Italy so it could very much be a regional thing.