In the early days of November, we finally pulled out the Sun Gold cherry tomato plants that I wrote about at the end of August. We enjoyed those delicious little tomatoes through September and into October, but now, battered by cold, wind and rain, the plants were certainly, undeniably, dead.
No more of these delights until next summer, I thought.
And then I remembered the amazing tomatoes I’d encountered in Italy — fresh tomatoes that last all winter long.
Cathy and I were staying on the Amalfi Coast, at Serafina, a wonderful agriturismo (a working farm with lodging) high in the terraced hills above the Mediterranean. Every night at dinner, we were served fresh pasta with the most delectable tomatoes.
But how was it that these tomatoes, which had been picked in June or July, were still fresh in October?
Rosa Fusco, the extraordinarily hard-working and knowledgeable daughter of Serafina’s proprietors, told us that these special small tomatoes, called piennolo, are grown in the area around Mount Vesuvius. They are dry farmed and are lower in moisture than most tomatoes.
After they’re picked, the piennolo tomatoes are hung in clusters to conserve them (like all the products of the Fusco’s farm, the process is traditional and labor-intensive). The special room at Serafina where the clusters of tomatoes are hung from the ceiling has just the right amount of humidity, Rosa said.
And the taste? Well, simply delectable, a concentrated tomato-y sweetness that gave a depth of flavor and texture to the simplest pasta.
The Fusco family of Serafina’s farm describe themselves as “deeply tied to the history of this earth suspended between sky and sea,” giving as an example the piennolo tomato “patiently collected in clusters, hung and conserved for months, until making them to become concentrated of scents and tastes.”
Short of a trip to Southern Italy, we are unlikely to taste any winter tomatoes with even a hint of such flavor, but here’s a great video that shows and explains more about these remarkable tomatoes. And we can dream about such wonders.