Photo by Travis Rainey, Food Styling by Judy Haubert
Plenty of home cooks are familiar with the delayed gratification of a slowly simmered pot of Sunday marinara or the concentrated umami of tomato paste that’s been thoroughly caramelized. Heat and time can help soften some of the acidity and tinny edge that tomatoes have straight from the can, developing a sweeter, rounder flavor. But when you have a hankering for fresh tomato flavor in a hurry, there’s another way. Just stroll right past those fire truck red San Marzano labels and head for the yellow canned tomatoes.
“I think a lot of people have a limited view of canned tomatoes, or view canned tomatoes as kind of a monolith,” says Rick Easton, a co-owner of Jersey City’s Bread and Salt and coauthor, with Melissa McCart, of the cookbook Bread and How to Eat It. At Bread and Salt, Easton sells two types of canned yellow tomatoes and has used them on the occasional pizza or sandwich. Because of their delicate, sweet flavor, he likes pairing yellow tomatoes with fish, or barely cooking them before adding to a pasta.
“The biggest difference is that the yellow tomatoes are naturally very sweet,” chef and author Giada De Laurentiis tells me. “Red plum tomatoes like San Marzanos have an acidity that’s really important for building balanced flavor in sauces that are long-simmered, like a pomodoro or marinara. Yellow tomatoes, on the other hand, are almost candy-like in their sweetness. The experience is closer to picking a cherry tomato off the vine and eating it.” De Laurentiis’s retail site, Giadzy, sells both jarred yellow datterini tomatoes and jarred yellow Corbara tomatoes.
Corbara Yellow Tomatoes
Because of their sweetness, De Laurentiis tells me, “You don’t want to cook them for long, if at all. I love tossing them with pasta at the last minute, whipping up a quick golden pomodoro or using them as a pizza topping. They’re also really nice on salads in the winter, when fresh tomatoes are a bit sad and flavorless.”
“Yellow tomatoes, for me, in my experience, are all very, very fast-cooking,” Easton agrees. I recently experimented myself by briefly poaching a fillet of salmon in a sauce made from coconut milk and canned yellow datterini tomatoes, and I was blown away by how sweet and flavorful the tomatoes were straight from the can, before adding seasoning or even heat. In Bread and How to Eat It, you’ll find yellow Piennolo tomatoes cooked only for a few quick minutes with garlic and capers before the briny, fresh sauce is tossed with linguine.
Last year, while talking with Cento vice president Maurice Christino about the rise of shelf-stable gnocchi, I learned that canned yellow tomatoes became one of Cento’s top selling products a few years ago when the company started selling directly to Blue Apron for inclusion in meal kit boxes for quick dinners.
Cento Italian Yellow Tomatoes (6 cans)
Gustiamo, a Bronx-based importer of Italian ingredients, sells both a yellow tomato passata and yellow cherry tomatoes from a brand called Maida. Martina Reggia, who works in marketing for Gustiamo, tells me that both are farmed by Francesco Vastola in Cilento, 80 miles south of Naples. Because the cherry tomatoes have such a delicate mineral taste, Vastola refers to spaghetti made with these tomatoes as “spaghetti con la vongola scappata” (or “spaghetti with escaped clams”) because the minerality of the tomatoes can almost trick you into thinking you’re eating seafood even when there is none. This characteristic is also why Vastola likes to pair the yellow cherry tomatoes with prawns or clams.
Yellow Tomato Passata
The key to getting the best out of both Gustiamo’s yellow cherry tomatoes and their yellow passata, Reggia tells me, “is that they should cook for no longer than five or six minutes, otherwise the heat will destroy their delightful tender flesh and elegant subtle flavor.”
The stark contrast between canned yellow tomatoes and red tomatoes also makes them fun to mix and match as toppings for pizza or foccacia. At Farina in Brooklyn, chef Tony Pisaniello combines a Corbarino yellow tomato with San Marzanos and little red pachino cherry tomatoes for his marinara ai tre pomodori (“marinara with three tomatoes”). Similarly, at Razza in Jersey City, Dan Richer swirls together canned Gustarosso red tomatoes and Maida yellow cherry tomatoes for his tomato pie. Because each variety has such a distinct flavor, these combos are more than just a cool visual trick—they balance each other out the way that grapes might balance each other in a wine blend.
Even when you don’t have a few hours to spend letting a dough rise (and especially when you don’t), these juicy golden tomatoes are heroes of the pantry. Keep a few cans around, and you’ll always only be a couple minutes away from sunny late-summer flavor—even in the depths of winter.
Originally Appeared on Epicurious
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