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I dare anyone to bite into a little sweet and perfectly ripened tomato without thinking of summer meals in a Mediterranean land, Sicily in particular.
Pachino is a small Sicilian municipality in the south east of Italy’s largest Island. It is interesting to note that this is the municipality with the greatest number of daylight hours in Europe; the brackish water coming from the groundwater close to the sea is absorbed by the plants and transformed into sugar, which gives Pachino tomaoes their full sweet taste.
As well as Pachino, this PGI appelation also consists of Ispica, Portopalo and Noto.
What are Pachino Tomatoes?
The Pachino tomato obtained the PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) label in 2013. It comprises three varieties: the cherry tomato, which is the best known, the smooth round variety that grows as a single fruit or on a vine and the ribbed tomato. The tomatoes growing in this area are fruit of the southern sun, the bright winter days, the clay soil and mild climate.
The history of Pachino tomatoes
It is widely believed that tomatoes have always been grown in these parts of Sicily. That is not the case, or at least the quality used to be different. In 1989 the Israeli seed company Hazera Genetics first introduced two new tomato varieties to Sicily: the Naomi cherry tomato and the Rita vine tomato.
Initially, local producers were skeptical, but the Pachino cherry tomato soon became famous. Their seeds are hybrids, fruit of scientific research carried out in the last few decades. Every year, farmers have to repurchase them, otherwise they lose the characteristics that make them desirable. In actual fact, they purchase young plants directly from the nursery.
In the 1980s, the decade of the tomato revolution, Italians practically ate nothing but traditional “salad tomatoes,” which varied in size and shape and were green and red in colour. The small vine tomatoes were not available in supermarkets, and neither were cherry tomatoes.
Tomatoes of that type, of a reddish-yellow colour, were grown in vegetable gardens in the South of Italy and were stored in clusters in a sheltered place to be eaten in the winter months. However, from the PGI application form we learn that the production of tomatoes started in Pachino in 1925 when they were planted in place of the vines that used to grow along the coastal strip. The vegetables grown in this area ripen 15-20 days earlier than anywhere else.
This plant prefers the milder, warmer climates of the southern regions, even when located hundreds of metres above sea level. It is fairly hardy but suffers when the temperature drops excessively. The plant’s ideal habitat is around 23 degrees centigrade and it should never be exposed to temperatures any lower than 10/12 degrees.
The Pachino needs frequent and constant irrigation and the soil must be kept moist and well drained. It is important not to wet the leaves and fruit because this could lead to fungal diseases. Pachino tomatoes are hand-picked from July to October, when they are bright red in colour and fully ripened. They can be stored in the refrigerator for about a fortnight.
How to eat Pachino tomatoes
The best way to enjoy Pachino tomatoes is to toss them in a pan with oil, garlic and chilli pepper for serving with pasta of any shape or size. Our advice is to eat them fresh or in the form of tomato confit: arrange the Pachino tomatoes on an oven tray, sprinkle each of them with fresh herbs, sugar, salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.
Cook for around 2 hours at 140°C until they look slightly withered but still have their fleshy centre intact. They can be consumed hot or cold; they can be preserved in oil inside hermetically sealed glass jars, or teamed with pasta dishes, oven baked salt cod, beef tagliata or cheese.
As always, the purists love them just as they are, with nothing but a hint of extra virgin olive oil.