IMO: Italy & San Marzano Tomatoes

Mark DeWolf, Food and Drinks Editor, Occasions

Arrabiata Amore

I spend enough time in Italy hosting culinary and wine tours that I’ve come to know some people so well, I think of them as being like family. My Italian mama is Teresa Galli — her name is actually Maria Teresa, but as she says “half the women in Italy are named Maria Teresa,” so we shorten it to Teresa. Teresa hosts cooking classes for my groups in Tuscany and sometimes in Campania. In Tuscany, tomatoes are the heart of their cuisine but in Campania you’ll find the best tomatoes.

This is where San Marzano tomatoes originate. One of my favourite pastas she makes is the spicy Bucatini all’Amatriciana sauce (see Kathy’s Amatriciana sauce recipe in our In a Snap feature on page 29), from the town of Amatrice, northeast of Rome. A similarly spicy dish, Penna all’Arrabiata — Arrabiata meaning angry (a reference to the chilies) — also has Roman origins. This recipe calls for San Marzano tomatoes, whose sweetness help counteract the spiciness of the chilies used in the recipe.

Can of Tomatoes

Penna Arrabiata

Prep time: Less than 30 minutes
Total time: Less than 30 minutes

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 small dried chili peppers, finely diced
  • 28 oz can San Marzano tomatoes
  • Pinch salt & pepper

Directions: Heat oil over medium heat. When oil is hot, add garlic and sauté until fragrant. Add tomatoes and chili peppers. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 35-40 minutes. Let the sauce sit out, on its own, for 3 to 4 hours, to let the flavours combine. Traditionally Arrabiata sauce is served over penne pasta but you can substitute with another pasta of your choice.

Jennifer Katona, NSLC Category Manager, Wine

“You say tomato, I say tom’ah’to”

Either way, they are a staple in the kitchen. While they are best when freshly picked in season, savvy foodies make the most of them by cooking and freezing sauces to enjoy all year round. San Marzano tomatoes, a variety of plum tomatoes, are considered the best for sauces. They are grown throughout Italy, with the original and best coming from the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius near Naples. When I think tomatoes in a meal, I immediately think of Mediterranean inspired dishes. Like most Old World wine producing countries, wines naturally reflect the region and culinary ingredients available. So it makes sense that rustic tomato based sauces found in Tuscany, work well with the regional wine of Chianti, made from the Sangiovese grape which is higher in acidity. The rule of thumb is: acidic foods go well with acidic wines (and avoid heavy oak). Other wines that work well with tomato based dishes are: for lighter dishes, like salad, try a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or dry French rose. For heartier fare, try a red wine from Southern France or Spain.

  • Santa Margherita Chianti Classico, Italy, $23.99
  • Frescobaldi Remole Toscana Rosso, Italy, $15.99


The Negroni is still the most popular Italian cocktail, but in the summer at outside cafes across Italy, it is certainly the Aperol Spritz. It’s simple but never ordinary. The Spritz is a wine-based cocktail commonly served as an aperitif. It’s a mainstay of apertivo hour, an Italian version of “happy hour” where bars and restaurants set out free hors d’oeuvres for their patrons to enjoy with a glass of wine or cocktail.


The cocktail originates in Northeast Italy in the Veneto Region, home of Prosecco sparkling wine. The Spritz is prepared with Prosecco sparkling wine, a bitter liqueur such as Aperol, Campari or Cynar and topped off with soda water, and served over ice.

The Aperol Spritz

  • 2 Servings
  • 1 1/2 fl oz Aperol
  • 2 fl oz Prosecco
  • Soda water
  • Orange wedges

Directions: Fill old-fashioned glasses with ice. Top with equal amounts Aperol, Prosecco and then top with soda water. Garnish with an orange wedge.

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