Campari Tomatoes – and an Amazing Salad

                                   Campari Tomatoes – and an Amazing  Salad 


I don’t know how I missed these for so long. “Campari” tomatoes are 2-3 inch round, richly red fruits with outstanding tomato sweetness and flavor, and no hint of mealy texture. They’re usually sold “on the vine.” Camparis make a great salad, and are wonderful on BLTs, in fresh tomato chutney, and other dishes showcasing rich tomato flavor and sweetness.


I’d been vaguely aware of Campari tomatoes at the supermarket and picked some up once or twice at Christina’s request. But until last week, when I had some homegrown, ripe-on-the-vine, peak-of-season tomatoes at the in-laws’ in Pennsylvania, I had forgotten how extraordinary a really good tomato could be. Without access to homegrown wonders, for us the next best thing may be Campari tomatoes. And they’re available year round!


Camparis were developed in the early 1990s by a Dutch seed company for greenhouse hydroponic culture. The variety is a hybrid, but not genetically modified (few if any tomatoes are GMO), and when raised in greenhouses do not need pesticides for disease or pest control. Campari tomatoes are now grown extensively in Canada, where greenhouse vegetable production is a major industry due to their short summers, plus in Mexico and in some parts of the US. (The ones I got for the tomato salad pictured in this blog post were grown in Mexico and sold under Kroger’s own premium house label.)


The tomatoes were trademarked “Campari” in 2002 by a Canadian agricultural company, whose trademark has been challenged. But apparently the tomatoes were already called “Campari” in Holland, named for the century-and-a-half old Italian herbal liqueur that has that a rich carmine color, and which was originally dedicated by its creator, a gentleman named Gaspare Campari, to Holland. So the culinary favor was returned by the Dutch. Campari tomatoes do have almost the color and sweetness of Campari liqueur, but none of its distinguishing bitterness. In any case, “Campari” is certainly a classy name for a classy variety of tomato.


At the risk of too much information, I’ll note that the word “tomato,” or “tomate” in Spanish and French, comes from “tomatl” in the Nahuatl language of the Aztec people of Pre-Columbian Mexico, who grew the vegetable. However in Italy, home of  the original Campari, a tomato is a “pomodoro,” a golden apple. And botanically, tomatoes are a fruit, a type of berry, rather than a “vegetable.”  (Sorry, but I almost went into botany and agricultural biochemistry years ago.) For best flavor, tomatoes should not be refrigerated, unless they are starting to get old.


So now a simple dish that shows off the wonders of Campari tomatoes. They are already so good I only add light touches to the basic ingredient, a rub of garlic in the salad bowl, a little sea salt, extra-virgin olive oil, wine vinegar plus a bit of fresh basil. That last item can be left out if not wanted or unavailable.


The recipe serves six people.


1 clove garlic

1 pound “Campari” tomatoes

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon wine vinegar, white or red

1/4 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste

5-10 small leaves fresh basil (can be omitted)


Rub a decorative ceramic salad bowl with the garlic, to flavor it, after partially crushing the garlic clove. Discard the garlic remains.


With very sharp knife, slice the tomatoes 1/8-inch thick, after slicing off their stem ends. Place tomato slices in the garlic-rubbed bowl. Sprinkle the tomatoes, but do not mix them yet, with the olive oil, vinegar, and salt.


Stack up the basil leaves and slice them finely crosswise. Sprinkle these over the salad. Do not mix until a few minutes before eating. Keep at room temperature if the salad will be consumed in the next several hours.


Just before dinner time, carefully mix the salad a few times. Taste, and add a little more 

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