The tomatoes are a watery pink and they taste like cold dishwater (“Dish-waterrr” squeaks Helium*). It is late January. Someone in the newspaper writes pessimistically that Sweden is just not the country for tomatoes in winter. If I remember well, Holland wasn’t either. There, in January, Tomatoes came from Spain just as ours, and they were just as watery. (Funny, isn’t it, how I can afford to generalize in this outrageous manner. That’s what a consistent product profile does to you.) January is, simply, a time for compromises. One way to go is to buy organic tomatoes, which sometimes are in fact better; and the tendency is definitely upward, with ever more people buying organic food and encouraging the market.
But even organic tomatoes grow slowly in January, on this half of the earth. The person from my newspaper recommends canned tomatoes: not the three-cans-for-a-buck kind, or the pre-chopped ones, since they contain more juice and fewer tomatoes. You ought to buy whole, nice, red, Italian canned quality tomatoes. I agree, although I had to find a compromise out here, where the whole canned tomatoes, most of the time (inexplicably) are called Eldorado or Euroshopper, and are rather of the translucent, watery kind. The organic canned tomatoes of the brand Kung Markatta, on the other hand, are chopped, or “krossade”, as the Swedish language makes them (the word evokes fantasies of large splintery objects being crushed to bits in a huge hydraulic press of some sort. Think Goldfinger…). But they come from Sicily, and the label says that there is no juice added. They’re red, too, so I have stocked up on those.
Also Marcella Hazan recommends canned tomatoes if there are no really good fresh ones available. Look up her explanation in her The Classic Italian Cookbook, and her vast amount of fantastic and simple recipes using canned tomatoes. (It is reassuring that all this happens in her first cookbook. In later works, she sometimes welcomes strange compromises: for instance, she accepts bouillon cubes instead of real broth. Bouillon cubes are disgusting.)
Marcella’s various ways of treating canned tomatoes also make clear what needs to be done to rid them of their image as a poor substitute. It’s all in the timing of this sound:
squoorch – splatter
to be heard when one opens the can and empties it into a saucepan. That sound needs to be heard at least forty minutes before your sauce has to be ready. It faithfully and nauseatingly describes the complete non-edibility of tomatoes that come straight out of the can. What wonders one cannot create with some well-chosen seasoning, enough oil to please the palate, a bit of toasted garlic and some smothered and slightly reduced canned tomatoes! Undercooked canned tomatoes, on the other hand, are a slithering chunky nightmare, and the cooks who dare to offer them in any dish to paying guests ought to be marinated from the waist down in a huge cauldron of cold, chopped Eldorado canned tomatoes. For a week.
*If you really want to know more about Strindberg and Helium, check out their wacky site.