“Tomatoes for us in the south (of Italy) mean summer. When we see fresh tomatoes at the local store, it means summer is here, the beach, friends, the panino caprese with mozzarella that we take to the beach…and caponata with fresh tomatoes, tuna, olives and red onions… summer mode: ON.”
—Giuliana Galati, Export Manager for Gentile
As you may have guessed, this little bit of writing is about tomatoes–specifically exceptional jarred tomatoes from Gentile’s preserved product line. Gentile jars three varieties–Piennolo, San Marzano, and Gialli–using only the best tomatoes and traditional jarring methods to ensure you get a little bit of summer every time you open a jar!
Opened in 1876, family-run Gentile (pronounced “Jen-TEE-lay”) was one of the pioneering pasta makers that helped put Gragnano, Italy on the map as the “city of pasta.” Today, Gentile remains a family affair. The Zampino family, to be precise. Brothers Alberto and Pasquale head up sales and business relationships while father, Natale, oversees production management and mother, Maria Sorrentina a.k.a. “Mamma Maria”, spearheads the line of fruit and vegetable preserves (including the tomatoes!) which are all processed a few hours after the harvest. Maria also cooks amazing meals for guests touring their facility.
Click here to watch a video of Alberto Zampino from Gentile explain their philosophy and tradition!
So, back to those tomatoes!
Gentile’s Piennolo, Gialli and San Marzano tomatoes are grown in the lava and potassium-rich, sandy soil of the National Park of Mt. Vesuvius south of Naples, marking them with a signature sweetness and distinct excellence. The Piennolo and San Marzano have DOP certifications (PDO, or Protected Designation of Origin) which ensurs these special tomatoes are grown in soil with a unique composition, exposure to sun, in a specific and limited area of Mt. Vesuvius with temperature differences due to the altitude. Fairly new on the tomato scene, the yellow Gialli –cousin to the red Piennolo–is an autochthonous variety (indigenous) mainly cultivated on the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius. The cool thing is that yellow tomatoes are receiving deserved appreciation and gaining popularity in pizzerias and home kitchens alike!
All three varieties are grown with care, diligence and specifications. Giuliana says, “We personally know [the] farmers… in early spring we give them indications of quantities [and] varieties we need so they can adjust [the] crop accordingly. Maria goes personally to check on them.”
Each jar of Gentile tomatoes preserves the authentic taste of carefully selected raw fruit processed in the same way that Mamma Maria learned from her family. Pacchetelle is the traditional method of preserving tomatoes in the environs of Mt. Vesuvius. After harvest, the tomatoes were either dried and hung in bunches (called “pacchetelle”) or halved and placed in jars. Gentile maintains these traditions by processing the tomatoes within a few hours of harvest, selecting and carefully washing the best quality tomatoes as they arrive at the company, placing them by hand into sterile jars with salt, and covering with boiling water to immediately seal the jars. Following the pasteurization process, jars are maintained in a cool spot for 40 days before being packed into cartons.
Giuliana remembers her own family gathering each August to “fare le bottiglie” –to preserve tomatoes in bottles. She says, “[It was] following basically the same procedure that Maria does now. It was like a family reunion, in the home yard, everybody had [their] own duty, even the younger ones. For lunch, bread with freshly squeezed tomatoes, a pinch of salt and evoo.”
Well, I’m hungry!
So, a bit more about each variety, and how to enjoy them:
Pomodorini Gialli are yellow, small, cherry-like tomatoes with less acidity than their red cousins and milder, juicier and a little sweeter, too! These golden delights are well-suited for pasta dishes with vegetable or fish sauces. Or pizza! How about homemade organic gentile flour pizza dough baked with prosciutto (we love Prosciutto di Parma from Pio Tosini) topped with a jar of Gentile Gialli tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and sage leaves? YES, please!
The Pomodorino del Piennolo del Vesuvio DOP is a small, pear shaped, deep red tomato which develops a slightly thick skin–but delicate enough to bite into–to protect itself from the day to night temperature fluctuations characteristic of the area. The name “piennolo” comes from its meaning “hanging” in Neapolitan dialect, as the tomatoes, if not jarred, were commonly hung up and dried in bunches tied with hemp string. Mamma Maria suggests using Piennolo for simple and fragrant sauces. The possibilities are endless! I can smell the tang of tomatoes and garlic simmering now…
The San Marzano DOP tomatoes originate from the small town of San Marzano sul Sarno, near Naples, Italy. Gentile’s San Marzano’s are famous for their sweetness and low acidity making them ideal to accompany meats and cheeses, and pasta, of course! Elizabeth Minchilli, author of Eating My Way Through Italy, recounts on her blog of the same name the meals Mamma Maria made for her. “My favorite was the Spaghettone she made with a simple tomato sauce.” One smashed garlic clove, basil leaves, a pinch of salt, extra virgin olive oil and, of course, jarred Gentile San Marzano tomatoes.
The great thing about Gentile’s jarred tomatoes is they are perfect any time of year–whether for a hearty, long-simmered winter sauce, a summer pizza or a light sauce with fish and vegetables. Open a jar…or two…or three, to experience the tradition, flavor and quality of Gentile’s jarred tomatoes. You won’t be disappointed!
Gentile Preserves are “small treasure chests that preserve the authentic flavor of carefully selected raw material…following the teachings that mother Maria learned from her family.” (Gentile)
I know what I’m having for dinner tonight!
Written by Leska Tomash