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The Discovery of Tomato Sauce





pomodoroThe POMODORO (Solanum lycopersicum, L. 1753) was brought to Europe in 1540 by Hernán Cortés. Originally known as a love remedy, in Italy the tomato sauce was to replace the pepper preserve during the 16th century. From the original Aztec "xitomatl" derived the English-language "tomato", while the etymology of the Italian "pomodoro", that many derive from "pomo d'oro" (=fruit of gold) seems to come historically from the French "pomme d'amour" or Italian "pomo d'amore", connected to the earliest use in Europe as a medicine.

Actually, in the French language the term "tomate" entered the dictionary of the French Academy in 1835, whereas until then the fruit had long been called "pomme d'amour" or "pomme d'or". The names derived from the Aztec "xitomatl" became widespread in most languages: English tomato, tomate in Spanish, French, German and Portuguese, tomat in Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and Estonian, tomaat in Dutch, tomaquet in Catalan.

The "pomme d'amour" or "pomme d'or" remained only in the Italian pomodoro and Polish pomidor.

The legend of the tomato sauce

Originally known as a love remedy, the tomato sauce was to replace the pepper preserve, giving rise to an infinity of dishes among them the "sugo" or "salsa al pomodoro", or the celebrated Neapolitan pizza. The first "tomato sauce" was born on a summer night, which was meant to be a night of love. Vexed for the continuous refusals of a maid, the young d'Avalos marquis picked three "pommes d'amour" from the garden, crushed and mixed them with the leftovers of the onions and herbs lightly fried in oil. The red fruit coming from the New World was believed to be a love potion.

The gluttonous maid ate the dish. The youth then seized her, thinking he would find no resistance whatsoever. Alas, he received a blow with a frying pan on his head. While he was rising back on his feet, completely stunned, the maid was safe in her room.

He was desolate. Staring at the leftover on the table, he tasted a bit. In an instant he devoured it all. That mysterious flavors had conquered him. The next day he ordered his cook to serve him a sauce with pommes d'amour.

Whether the story of the noble Avalos is true, it is difficult to say. But it is a fact that the "pummarole" slowly lost the evidently undeserved fame of love remedy, but acquired throughout the 18th century a new notoriety.

A new sauce had been discovered, that replaced the pepper preserve and that could be joined to an infinity of dishes, enriching and even exalting their taste.

By then the cultivation of tomatoes was no more limited to gardens and orchards, but extended to the countryside, especially in the Vesuvian area. Farmers discovered that the pummarole cultivation was easy, inexpensive, and could become profitable. Finally in 1839 Ippolito Cavalcanti, Duke of Buonvicino (1787 -1860) paved the road, inventing the match between the pasta and the tomato sauce: in the Appendix in Neapolitan dialect to the second edition of his volume Cucina teorico-pratica he suggested the recipe "Vermicelli con lo pommodoro".

The first recipe

Piglia rotoli 4 de pommodoro, li tagli in croce, li levi la semenza e quella acquiccia, li fai bollire, e quando si sono squagliati li passi al setaccio, e quel sugo lo fai restringere sopra al fuoco, mettendoci un terzo di sugna, ossia strutto di maiale. Quando quella salsa si è stretta giusta bollirai 2 rotoli di vermicelli verdi verdi e scolati bene, li metterai in quella salsa, col sale e il pepe, tenendoli al calore del fuoco, così s'asciuttano un poco. Ogni tanto gli darai una rivoltata, e quando son ben conditi li servirai.

[English translation] Take 4 "rotoli" (2.760 kg) of tomatoes, cut them in a cross, take out the seed and water, boil them, and when they are melted, pass them through a sieve, and that sauce let it condense over the fire, adding one third (gr.275) of suet, or lard. When the sauce is dense, boil 2 "rotoli" (1.380 kg) of vermicelli, very green (a typical Neapolitan expression to mean "al dente") and drain well, put them in the sauce with salt and pepper, keeping them on the heat of the fire so they dry a little. Every now and then turn, and when they are well seasoned serve them.