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Today, it is impossible to think of Italian cuisine without tomatoes - but remember that they only arrived in Europe in the middle of the 16th century with the Spanish conquests in central and southern America. Originally grown as a purely ornamental plant, they have slowly become the staple that today dominates Italian cooking.

During the height of summer a visit to an Italian greengrocer, or alimentari, will reveal the enormous range of varieties now available to the Italian cook. Starting from the smallest, the datterino, to the massive oxheart, cuore di bue, there is a tomato for every occasion. 

From this enormous choice one or two need to be highlighted. First is the San Marzano which is the tomato of choice for any chef with aspirations to win the world pizza championship. This fleshy fruit which is ideal for sauce the best is grown in the volcanic soils of Vesuvius and because of this it has the most intense flavour which cannot be matched. 

The other name to look out for is Pachino. Pachino is not a variety but rather a small town in the south east corner of Sicily that produces tomatoes of such quality that they have been awarded DOP, or protected place of origin, status. From small cherry tomatoes to enormous oxheart four different varieties are permitted within the DOP label.

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