If you haven’t started tomato seeds indoors yet, it’s time to do so if you want them ready to set out into the garden before the end of May. I find the sheer variety of tomato varieties a delight, and for me leafing through the pages of a well-stocked seed catalogue while enjoying a cup of tea and dreaming of the tomato varieties I’d grow if only I had the space is a sublime pleasure.
If space (and time and energy) weren’t issues I’d grow several types of what are known as paste tomatoes. Sometimes they are called sauce tomatoes, or even plum or pear tomatoes to further confuse the issue. But not all paste tomatoes are plum or pear shaped; some varieties are perfectly round and look like a suitable candidate for slicing and placing on a hamburger, until you cut into it.
Paste tomatoes are not judged by their outward appearance. Rather, it’s the high amounts of sugars and acids, plus pectin that they contain and the relatively low amount of water and seeds within the walls. Those walls tend to be thicker than most varieties too.
This combination of high pectin and low water makes the paste tomato a much better choice for cooking, as it makes the juice thicker and requires less time to boil down. Paste tomatoes, with their meaty walls and lack of juice, would probably earn a thumbs down from most tomato connoisseurs when it comes to taste.
For cooking into a sauce, slicing and drying in a dehydrator or in the sun, or freezing for later use paste tomatoes can’t be matched. Plus, most varieties are determinate, meaning that they’re bushy and can be trained to grow within cages in the garden. Finally, they’re relatively carefree and not as demanding as the tastier, but more delicate, fresh eating types.
No matter what variety you use, remember my surefire combination for making great pasta sauce; Sinatra on the stereo and a bottle of good red wine. The wine does not go into the sauce. Here are some paste tomato varieties you might want to consider growing this year. If you can’t grow them from seed look for them on garden centre shelves next month-
La Roma-this is the standard and probably best-known paste tomato on the market. It ripens early and is a consistent high producer of meaty plum-shaped fruit.
San Marzano-some gardeners swear that this is the only paste tomato worth growing. This heirloom variety from the Campania region of southern Italy is very prolific, with clusters of five or six tapered fruits.
Viva Italia-a revelation when it first appeared, as it combined the cooking qualities of a paste tomato with outstanding fresh flavour, thus solving the problem of what to do if you had too many sauce tomatoes-eat them!
Scatalone-Italian for a cardboard box or carton, this is a San Marzano type that, like many, ripens from the inside out.
Ludmillas Red Plum-a variety from Kazakhstan that features flesh with few seeds.