“You say tomato, I say tomahto...”
And in Italian, one says Pomodoro.
Any way you say it; tomatoes are an integral ingredient in so many recipes. Especially Italian ones.
Packaged tomato sauces and products might seem anathema to most every homegrown foodie. Especially to those who eat from seasonal, market-driven ingredients.
Tomatoes in the greater New York metropolitan area are only available at their peak from say, late July through late September; climate change notwithstanding.
But truth be told, to a chef -- every one featured in this Examiner’s book: The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook and the New York City chefs for the Gotham Cookbook -- said they use the best canned or, in the parlance of generations past: the “put up” tomato harvest in the winter months or off season.
Today, Pomodoro Mutti, the Italian family owned and operated producers of tomato products since 1899 announced their entree into the New York market at Eataly: Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich’s food mecca.
It was a four-course delight, featuring tomato-inspired and infused menu creations presented by Mutti’s Chef Carlo.
Wine offerings were presented by Eataly’s sommelier, Dan. Two excellent selections complemented the tomato-driven menu:
The white was Cantine Lendo, Lamezia Bianco Greco, Calabria
The Red was Cerasuolo Di Vittoria, Sicilia
Not unlike Broadway where the shows played out of town before hitting the Big Apple, Francesco Mutti, CEO, and fourth generation family leader, told this Examiner the company introduced its product line in Chicago a few months ago.
Upon receiving such a good reception there – the company took the leap into what they recognize as a very competitive and “crowded, knowledge-rich, foodie market” that is New York.
According to Mr. Mutti, there is no recipe or template for success in America. After all, he explains, with his practiced Parma style, Italy is a slow food and slow growth standard and way of life. The company has experienced 20% growth last year with 70% of its sales in Italy. They have expanded their markets, with Sweden cited as an example of slow growth, word of mouth success. Mr. Mutti noted they broke into the Swedish market 10 years ago as an unknown and are now a leading brand.
There is the suggestion that he hopes to follow this model in the US. Mutti is a private company, family-owned. It’s key to point out that unlike so many industrial US food companies, Mutti does sincerely want to grow their market share the old-fashioned way – by taste. By word of mouth.
Despite having done tastings, focus groups and at-home tastings with American home cooks, Mutti maintains, “Slow” is their vision and mantra.
The company’s entry point into the US and NY market is through chefs and their restaurants – ergo the Mario Batalli, Joe Bastianich and Eataly connection – in addition to high quality food stores. “We are premium, but not luxury,” noted Mr. Mutti. Tomatoes are a way of life for Italian cuisine. They don’t mind being 20 cents or so more than the average competitor but “we are not champagne,” he joked.
But they are better.
That is the good food story. Mutti makes only tomato products. They add virtually nothing but salt, maybe a bit of sugar. That's it. They also add more of the ripe tomatoes to their offerings. As we say here, the fruit is made for taste, not transport.
They know the value of making the best ingredients. So not surprisingly, Mutti has a long history of caring for their famers. "After all, the farmers are out in the fields, every day," noted Mutti. It's hard work. Plus the company needs to harvest all the year's ingredients in approximately 60 to 90 days. The company has a century-plus tradition, located in the Italian fruit valley – with parma ham, cheese, and the fresh pasta.
Most impressive is how they respect and care for their farmers and their soil. And the variety of tomato plants. You don't get this good without a passion for the process.
According to the company, “The Mutti family began its affair with the tomato in 1899 in the Emilia-Romagna region, just south of Parma, in the rich fields between the Parma and Enza Rivers. Founder Marcellino Mutti realized that the hundreds of tomato farms within a scant few miles were a bountiful source of fresh produce for his first product -- tomato paste. Marcellino accepted only the highest quality tomatoes, only used the heart of the tomato, and concentrated the pulp to achieve a smooth, creamy, naturally sweet paste.
The Mutti family understood that to achieve their goals, they must make a science of the cultivation of consistently flavorful tomatoes. They developed a system of grading –a scorecard – for the farmers’ tomatoes for flavor and texture, and studied the best practices for consistent growth and production. Now, as then, Mutti contracts with farmers at above-market prices, to ensure they get first quality. If a farmer’s product does not meet Mutti’s standards, they work with them to improve their methods and create a better crop the next year. The farmer with the best quality is awarded the coveted “Golden Tomato” – a prize hailed each year in Italian national newspapers.
In an effort to cultivate a firm, sweet tomato without processing out the flavor, Mutti developed a cold-peeling process. Other brands usually dip their tomatoes in hot water to make the peels slip off, but Mutti discovered this begins to break down the cell structure, which alters the texture and destroys some of the nutrients. Mutti uses mechanical cold-peeling, better preserving the texture and flavor. Their polpa is thick; better because it is from the best part of the fruit.
In 1951, Ugo Mutti, Marcellino’s son, introduced the first-ever tomato paste in a tube, with twice the concentration of tomato flavor, pairing it with an iconic bright red top that doubled as a thimble. The innovation continued in 2004 when the increasing sophistication of the home chef and the popularity of balsamic vinegar inspired the creation of Mutti Tomato Vinegar. Chef Carlo said that to put a bit of the Tomato Vinegar over nuts and parmesan cheese or on top of pistachio ice cream is "paradise."
Most recently, in 2007, Mutti added pre-spiced sauces to its line of products.
The luncheon tasting menu included a spirited and delicious showcase of tomatoes cooked in delicate, artisanal and innovative ways. This Examiner particularly liked the Tomato Soup and the Rosette of Fresh Pasta. The tuna was good, robust, with spicy yet light tomato crust and the ratatouille nestled in parmesan cheese nest was an inspired presentation. The dessert was creative; the tomato jam benefitting from the citrus and chocolate and cream.
Sadly, the Mutti recipes have not been translated into US metrics. And yes, one could argue that Americans have long needed to get on the global bandwagon and missed the opportunity to join the metric system. Nevertheless, the recipes could have been made readily available for the local market. The recipes are relatively easy to make and readily translated but still...
Tomato Soup with Arugula Pesto (Antipasto)
Ingredients (serves 10):
600 grams Mutti Passata
2 bay leaves
10 leaves of basil
100 ml. extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon of sugar
70 ml. fresh cream
200 grams Parmesan cheese
150 grams chopped onion
FOR ARUGULA PESTO:
100 grams of arugula
70 grams of pine nuts
70 grams of almonds
2 cloves of garlic
80 grams of grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
100 ml of extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper
Croutons, for serving
· In a medium saucepan, brown the onion with olive oil and bay leaves.
· Add Mutti tomato puree (Passata), sugar, and chopped basil leaves, then cook for 10 minutes over low heat.
· Remove the bay leaves and strain the soup.
· Slightly heat the fresh cream and add to the tomato sauce, then season with salt and pepper.
· For the Arugula Pesto: put all the ingredients in a blender and mix for 2 minutes. If the pesto is too thick, add 3 or 4 tablespoons of warm water.
· Serve the tomato soup hot with croutons, grated Parmesan cheese, and arugula pesto.
“Rosette” of Fresh Pasta with Mutti Polpa (Primo)
Ingredients (serves 4):
FOR FRESH PASTA:
400 grams of flour
FOR BÉCHAMEL SAUCE:
1 liter of milk
70 grams of butter
70 grams of flour
250 grams of Mutti Polpa
400 grams of Mutti Passata
300 grams of cooked ham, sliced
300 grams of Fontina or Emmental cheese, sliced
150 grams of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
100 grams of leek, cut into strips and boiled until pliable
30 grams of chive
10 leaves of basil
Salt & pepper, to taste
- On a flat surface, break the eggs into a mound of flour and mix and knead for 10 minutes to obtain smooth and soft dough. Wrap in wax paper and put in the fridge for 1 hour.
- Drain tomato juice from Polpa, leaving only the Polpa, and season with oil, salt, and pepper.
- Roll the fresh pasta dough into 4 sheets about 7.5” long and cook them in salted boiling water for
2-3 minutes. Put the pasta sheets down on a chopping board and dry with paper towels.
- For the Béchamel Sauce: melt the butter and mix it with flour, then mix with hot milk and nutmeg and cook for 5 minutes.
- Spread the béchamel on top of each pasta sheet. Add cooked ham, Fontina or Emmental cheese, and Parmesan. Spread the Polpa and roll like a cannelloni.
- Cut each roll into 3 equal pieces. Tie three pieces together with leek strips to create the Rosette and put in a casserole dish. Bake for 15 minutes at 355°F.
- In a frying pan, warm oil and add Mutti Passata and sliced basil. Serve on top of Rosette and garnish with chives.
Tuna and Mixed Vegetables Baked Al Cartoccio (Secondo)
Ingredients (serves 4):
1 kg of fresh tuna cut in 8 large slices
200 grams of breadcrumbs
70 grams of Mutti double concentrated tomato paste
2 tablespoons of basil and parsley, minced
100 grams of extra virgin olive oil
1 small clove of garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
100 grams Mutti Passata (Tomato Puree)
200 grams eggplant
100 grams zucchini
100 grams carrots
100 grams onions
100 grams red peppers
100 grams extra virgin olive oil
100 grams of Mutti cherry tomatoes
- Mix together breadcrumbs, tomato paste, minced garlic, basil, parsley and 100g of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
- Mix the rest of the olive oil with the large slices of tuna and cover tuna in the breadcrumb mixture.
- Cut all the vegetables (except the leek) into strips and sauté in oil in a nonstick frying pan.
- Add salt, pepper, Mutti Tomato Puree, and Mutti Cherry Tomatoes to the pan and mix well.
- Meanwhile, cut the leek into long strips and boil until pliable.
- Cut parchment paper into 4 squares of 8x8 inches and divide the vegetable mixture into the center of each paper.
- Place two pieces of tuna on top of the vegetables, close the wrapper by twisting each end, then tie ends with strips of leek.
- Bake at 355°F for 8 to 10 minutes.
- To serve, transfer a whole wrapper to each plate and slice open the paper at the top.
Hazelnut, Chocolate, and Orange Mousse with Cherry Tomato Jam (Dolce)
Ingredients (serves 8):
500 grams of hazelnut chocolate (gianduia)
200 grams of vegetable cream or heavy cream
100 grams of warm water
100 grams of butter
100 grams of sunflower oil
100 grams of sugar
20 grams of cornstarch
4 egg yolks
4 egg whites whipped
50 grams of orange peel (very thin and cut in small cubes)
2 tablespoons of fresh orange juice
6 tablespoons of Amaretto di Saronno liquor
FOR TOMATO JAM:
400 grams Mutti cherry tomatoes (drained)
200 grams sugar
1 tablespoon of grated ginger
1 vanilla bean
Half a glass of Sambuca liquor
Grated rind of 1 lemon
Sesame seeds, for garnish
- For Jam: put all ingredients in a quart pan and cook over medium heat for 25 minutes. Blend in a blender until smooth and allow to cool.
- For Mousse: melt the hazelnut chocolate in a bain marie with warm water, butter, and sunflower oil.
- In a bowl, whisk together sugar and egg yolks for 10 minutes.
- Slowly add the egg mixture into the chocolate mixture and allow to cool for 20 minutes.
- Add orange peel, orange juice, cornstarch, and vegetable cream. Fold in the egg whites.
- Leave the mousse outside the fridge for 1 hour (to eliminate the air bubbles). Then put in the fridge for 3 hours.
- Serve with tomato jam and sesame seeds.
Besides Eataly, Mutti products will be available at Gourmet Garage, Zabar's, Grace's Marketplace, Fairway, and Wegman's; in Chicago: Mariano's and Caputo's; and in LA: Gelson's. Mutti products are also available for purchase on Amazon.com.
Products include puree, concentrates, pulp, flavored and simple sauces, cherry tomatoes, peeled tomatoes, and tomato vinegar and tomato ketchup. Prices range: $3.75 for a 4.5oz tube of tomato paste, $2.49 for a 12oz can of peeled tomatoes, $11.98 for a 24.5oz jar of tomato puree. For more information visit www.mutt-parma.com