Is there a single ingredient that so strongly represents an entire cuisine as tomatoes and Italian food? From pizza to pasta, tomatoes are an essential ingredient in many popular Italian dishes. But has this always been the case?
As it turns out, tomatoes are not native to Italy. The plant was only introduced in the 15th century. Prior to this, Italian cuisine largely resembled that of other Mediterranean countries, with ingredients such as bread, olives, and oil playing a large role in traditional recipes.
Despite this, creating delicious Italian food certainly requires an understanding of how to use tomatoes and tomato based products, including basilico pasta sauce. Read on to discover everything you need to know about the inherent and long-standing link between tomatoes and Italian food.
A little bit about tomatoes
Tomatoes are native to South and Central America. The Aztec people of Central America used tomatoes as a centrepiece for many of their dishes. In the 15th century, the Spanish, led by Christopher Columbus, colonised Mexico and brought the plant back to Europe. From here, it spread throughout the continent and became an integral part of many different country’s national cuisines.
People often question whether the tomato is a fruit or vegetable. Officially, it is classified as a fruit, due to the fact that it contains seeds and grows from a flower. However, many botanists contest the use of the term ‘vegetable’ at all, claiming that there is actually no such classification in the natural world.
What we know as ‘vegetables’ tend to be plants that have a lower sugar count than traditional fruits, such as bananas and oranges. The tomato, therefore, could be considered a vegetable due to the fact that it’s flavour palette is predominantly ‘umami’ —a savory taste.
The tomato is ubiquitous and can be found in salads, soups, stir-fries, curries, and pasta dishes.
Tomatoes and Italian food
It is near impossible to cook an Italian dish without tomatoes. Ironically, when the Spanish first brought the plant back to Europe, many people worried that the vegetable was poisonous.
Once they had gotten over this initial fear, tomatoes quickly became one of the most popular ingredients on the continent. Initially, they were widely used due to their distinct flavour, with spices at the time being quite expensive. By the 19th century, many of the dishes we recognise today as being ‘traditionally Italian’ had hit the scene, including margarita pizza and basilico pasta, both of which utilise tomato as a base ingredient.
Tasty tomato treats!
Feeling inspired by all this talk of tomatoes? One of the reasons that Italian dishes are so popular is that they tend to be very easy to put together. Try these tasty tomato-based treats to see for yourself!
Pasta with winter vegetables
Winter is the perfect time to load up on nutrient-rich veggies. Serves 4.
● 350 g penne pasta
● 1 jar basilico pasta sauce
● 2 garlic cloves, minced
● 1 onion, diced
● 1 carrot, diced
● 1 leek, diced
● ½ pumpkin, diced
● Fresh thyme, to serve
● Parmesan, to serve
1. Preheat the oven to 180 ℃.
2. Place all vegetables on an oven tray. Coat in oil, salt, and pepper.
3. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, fill a large saucepan with water and bring it to the boil.
5. Cook the pasta according to packet instructions.
6. Remove vegetables from the oven and place them in a large frypan.
7. Add the jar of basilico pasta sauce to the fry pan, stirring to coat the vegetables.
8. Bring the vegetables and sauce mixture to a simmer.
9. Drain the pasta and add it to the fry pan, alongside ½ cup of pasta water.
10. Stir until the pasta, vegetables and sauce are completely combined.
11. Serve topped with fresh thyme and parmesan — enjoy!
Creamy tomato and basil soup
Stay warm with this creamy, delicious soup. Serves 4.
● 2 tbsp olive oil
● 1 onion, finely chopped
● 3 garlic cloves, minced
● 1 jar basilico pasta sauce
● 1 cup heavy cream
● Fresh basil leaves
● Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Heat the olive oil in a medium pot and add the onion.
2. Cook until the onion is soft and starting to brown. Add the garlic.
3. Continue to cook (and stir) until fragrant.
4. Add the fresh basil leaves to the pot.
5. Add the jar of basilico pasta sauce. Season with salt and pepper.
6. Bring the mixture to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
7. Place the mixture into a blender and puree until very smooth.
8. Return to the pot and add the cream.
9. Add salt and pepper to season as necessary.
10. Serve with toast — enjoy!