A Plum of a Tomato

Slender, flavorful San Marzanos are our favorite tomatoes for classic Roman pastas and stews.

Todd Coleman

Slender San Marzano tomatoes have a more pronounced flavor than romas and other popular plum varieties. They are also relatively low in acidity and thus have a mellower character that works well in sauces for Roman pasta dishes such as bucatini all'amatriciana (see ** Bucatini all'Amatriciana) and in braises like coda alla vaccinara, the Roman oxtail stew (see ** Roman Oxtail Stew). What's more, San Marzanos have only two seed pockets, meaning there's more flesh and less pulp. The tomatoes' name refers both to the cultivar and to the town in Italy's Campania region where it was first grown. Some cooks insist on using only San Marzanos that bear the D.O.P. label, meaning they were raised in the volcanic soil of the officially designated San Marzano appellation in Campania. Lou Di Palo, the owner of Di Palo Selects, a New York City-based purveyor of fine Italian foods, recommends the imported Fortuna and Pastosa brands. But demand for the imported tomatoes is high, and a single 28-ounce can from the best producers may cost as much as $15. In testing the Roman recipes in Eternal Pleasures (see ** Eternal Pleasures**), we found that less-expensive domestic San Marzano-style tomatoes, especially the San Marzano brand, worked just as well as imported ones.