I just love it when the tomatoes come in at the beginning of spring. My little garden is brimming with tomatoes and I grow basil, cilantro and oregano as well. Naturally I grow the tomatoes to eat them and I thought I would share my thoughts on preparing a truly delicious tomato salad.
We decided to visit the “farmers market” in Nevşehir, Cappadocia. This was a really large market. Usually the market is one long aisle, here it was at least 5×5 aisles, coverering a small city block. Farmers markets are called Pazar in Turkish. More and more Turks seek out organic and sustainably farmed foods for the sake of their family’s health and the health of the planet. Farmers markets in Cappadocia include: Saturdays in Ürgüp, Sundays and Mondays in Nevşehir, Wednesdays in Göreme, Fridays in Avanos. The term “farmers market” in Turkey assumes a new level of interest, with live chicks, goslings and rabbits in addition to spices and exotic fruits and vegetables. Street markets in Turkey are one of the greatest pleasures and attractions for locals and for tourists, with their bright colors and delicious mingled scents. The herb and spices stalls always attract me by the wonderful glowing rich colors of paprika, cumin, saffron, cloves, mustard seeds, fenugreek, cardamom and ginger and their heady, enticing fragrances. Strings of dried vegetables and innumerable fresh fruits and vegetables are on artistic displays.
There are a lot of open air markets in Paris but this one on Avenue President Wilson, just down from the Trocadero is said to be one of the largest. This market is technically in the 16th arrondissement, but so close to the 7th that everyone from the neighborhood shops there. The market is open Wednesday and Saturday mornings, from about 7:30 to about 1:30. If you are coming from the left bank, walk across the Alma bridge and turn slightly left up Avenue de President Wilson – you can't miss the white trucks which have brought wines, cheeses, oils, spices, breads, meats and flowers from the country, parked on the street. Similarly, if you get tired of the Eiffel tower, go up to the Trocadero and turn right on Avenue President Wilson.
I have been writing about the heirloom tomatoes available in the produce markets here in France and their incredible flavor. Apparently scientists have come to the same conclusion. The picture above is from Syngenta, an innovative agribusiness, not afraid to try new things like seeds for these green shouldered tomatoes.
Today, scientists revealed a small but intriguing chapter in the story of the relative loss of taste in store bought tomatoes. They found a genetic mutation that seemed like a real improvement in the tomato’s quality, but which actually undermined its taste.
Sometime before 1930, somewhere in America, a tomato grower noticed a plant that was producing distinctive fruit. These fruit turned red from stem to tip in a uniform way. They didn’t have any of those bothersome green shoulders. They called it the “uniform ripening” trait. In 1930, the agricultural experiment station in Fargo, N.D., released a new tomato variety containing this mutation. The variety was called All Red.
Ann Powell, a researcher at the University of California, Davis, says it spread through the entire tomato industry. “It’s a little hard to find a variety in modern production that doesn’t have it,” she says. Powell is one of the scientists who now has discovered the genetic change responsible for “uniform ripening.”
The researchers discovered that this natural tomato gene, when it works properly, produces those green shoulders on tomatoes as in the picture above. The darker green color comes from the chlorophyll in plant structures called chloroplasts, which is what converts sunlight into sugars for the plant. In fact, those dark green shoulders were making those old tomatoes sweeter and creating more flavor. The uniform-ripening mutation disabled this gene.
Harry Klee has been exploring the chemistry and genetics of tomato taste. Now, Klee says, with some of this new science, we have a chance to undo some of those decisions. “What I tell people is, we can have 100 percent of the flavor [of heirloom varieties] with 80 percent of the agricultural performance of the modern varieties, with very little work.”
Now we just need to get American consumers to recognize that tomatoes like the ones pictured above, or even totally green tomatoes like the ones below are sweeter and have more tomato taste than completely red tomatoes.
There is nothing particularly unusual about this beautiful little strand of cherry tomatoes but I was confronted by whole display of them at a new produce store I was visiting and I couldn’t help myself, I bought half a kilo. I would catorgorize this as kitchen porn. Which brings up the larger question, how do specialty vegetable, meat, cheese and bakeries compete with supermarkets in Paris. The answer is presentation, quality, service and particularly beautiful or unusual items. In a supermarket these might be thrown into a bin, but at my produce store, they were carefully lined up and stacked to attract my attention. The green beans were presented in exactly the same way, a neat stack stretching 2-3 feet, a striking appearance as were the flat peaches (I should have taken a picture).
Everybody walks in the neighborhood here, no one drives to market (no parking). It is not unlike an open air shopping mall, except the anchors are the various little cafes where you have coffee (espresso) once or twice a day and three small supermarkets. As you go to market, you pass the bread store..beautiful aroma, the cheese shop…huge wheels of Brie, the butcher…mouthwatering cooked filet and the wonderful beauty of the fruit and vegetable store. As I picked my selections, half a kilo each of cherry tomatoes, striated beans and flat peaches, they were carefully lifted from their displays and placed in neat, little white bags, as if the owner was parting with little nuggets of gold. He nodded to me, as if to say, I approve of your selection. The cost was only 11 euros and it took 3 minutes. That is how they stay in business.
We were visiting my friend Jean Luc in Paris today and we started discussing the variety of tomatoes available in Paris. He agreed, and showed me his favorite, a Sicilian tomato which is only available in Paris in the spring (picture above). He didn’t know the name but said it was the sweetest tomato he had ever eaten.
I did a little looking into this and found the Sicilian Faro Co-op with this beautiful chart of the tomatoes they produce to the right.
I believe the tomato which my friend likes is the Pomodora Marinda, best eaten small with green shooting through. These Sicilian varieties are from all over Sicily although Pachino is famous for its tomatoes. The BBC reported last year that the mafia has developed a stranglehold over the Sicilian tomato trade. I am sure this is not funny, but in my mind I see a bunch of mafioso’s throwing rotten tomatoes at each other.
After see the crypts of Notre Dame today, we were hungry and crossed on the small bridge behind Notre Dame and found this cute little cafe in the Latin Quarter. We ordered tomatoes and mozzarella to start, with onion soup and terraine pâté (basically country pâté).
The food was simple and great, those are Costoluto Genovese tomatoes, which as I told you in my post on Paresian tomatoes are extra good. For the dressing they mixed a little fresh basil with olive oil (not so much as for a pesto) and dribbled it over the tomatoes and mozzarella with a little balsamic vinegar. Amazing and very fresh tasting. The pâté and onion soup was also pretty good, but the salad was the star.
One of the greatest things about Paris, as we all know, is the food. The photo shown above is a collection of varietal tomatoes I found in a local produce store. One of the reasons the food is so great is because of the quality of the raw ingredients. In every neighborhood of Paris there are weekly produce markets where you can find an astounding array of fresh fruits and vegetables, cheese, poultry, meat, fish plus non-food items such as household goods, clothes, dishes and so on. In Paris there are unusual forms of fresh produce that are simply unavailable in US markets. I thought I would share some of them with you in this post, although I expect there will be more posts on this subject.