Mini San Marzano Tomatoes, the Newest Tomato Sensation

by Kemp Minifie, Gourmet

The perfectly red tomatoes above look a lot like bite-size grape tomatoes, don't they? They're actually miniature San Marzano tomatoes grown by Village Farms, a huge greenhouse and hydroponic company with facilities all over North America. Village Farms worked with a seed company to create what they've trademarked as the Heavenly Villagio Marzano," which they claim is an authentic San Marzano tomato in a miniature size.

San Marzano tomatoes have rock star status among Italian food lovers. (For more about Italian food, check out Gourmet Live's latest issue on Italy.) It's considered the tomato for tomato sauce, and the fruit--yes, tomatoes are technically a fruit--grown near the town of San Marzano in the rich volcanic soil of the Sarno Valley (thanks to nearby Mt. Vesuvius) gets the European Union Protected Designation of Origin (DOP) status. If you've spent any time in the canned tomato aisle of a supermarket, you've seen the labels for San Marzano.

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Village Farms introduced their fresh mini San Marzano tomatoes a year ago, and I'm amazed it took that long for them to show up at my neighborhood supermarket. Cute zippered bags of them suddenly appeared in the produce section last week. According to the Village Farm website, the Heavenly Villagio Marzano is being marketed as a healthy snack, to be eaten raw.

I couldn't resist buying a bag and trying them out. The Heavenly Villagio Marzano is a tad bigger than a grape tomato, but a lot denser with pulp. If you love how cherry or grape tomatoes explode in your mouth with juice, you'll find this mini San Marzano lacking.

Eager for a second opinion, I asked my tomato-loving younger daughter, who consumes grape tomatoes at the same speedy rate as chocolate bonbons, to try one. "Boring," was her verdict. "It's not juicy," she continued.

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The San Marzano isn't known for its juice. It's a tomato famous for its pulp. The San Marzano tomatoes grown from seed in New York State that I've bought at the farmers market aren't ones that beckon to be eaten raw.

So I tossed several minis into a hot skillet filmed with olive oil and seared them, covered, for a couple minutes. Unlike cherry tomatoes, which split their sides and spill their seedy guts in no time when sautéed, the Heavenly Villagio Marzanos stayed intact, wilting and softening in the heat. Sprinkled with a little sea salt, my daughter and I sampled them again. Ah, what a difference! The boring minis had turned into tender nuggets of meaty tomato, with that still-fresh taste of lightly cooked produce.

Now these San Marzanos were something to get excited about! Possibilities started firing off in my brain: Vegetable ragouts, deconstructed ratatouille, pasta, etc. If you see a bag, grab one and have some creative fun in the kitchen. And let us know what you think about them.

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