What a tomato!

August, a long, long, looonggg summer. The thermometer is still showing 35ºC at 10:00 pm, and a scented steam raises from the garden, smelling like wet soil and tomato plants. An unmistakable summer perfume that will become red taste on the table, sweet but not sweet and salty without salt. A strange taste, hard to describe and even harder to find at the supermarket. A tomato.

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A bit of History

Native to Central America, tomato travelled to Europe from Tenochtitlan, Aztec capital city, where it was called xitomatl: ‘fruit with a navel’. But for long years, even centuries in some places, it was only a decorative plant, because it was thought to be toxic.

However, from XVI century it became a must of Italian and Spanish cuisine. Sauces, gazpacho, soups, salads or just fresh tomatoes with a bit of salt and olive oil, it has always be part of our menu since then.

Properties of tomato

We can say that tomato is the perfect food. Beside of its taste and the hint of colour that it gives to your dishes, it has an endless list of attributes. Tomato contains lots of vitamines and minerals, but its most outstanding feature is the combination of vitamine C and lycopen, a kind of carotene that gives tomato its red color. They both are two of the most powerful known antioxidants, protecting cells against the oxidative stress that causes cancer, cardiovascular illness and skin ageing.

Lycopen is liberated when tomato is cooked, and when it gets in contact with some fatty acids, as the ones in olive oil. So that, tomato sauce, stir-fry and even ketchup are excellent anti-age solutions. In adition, tomato mineralizes our bodies and is a really good diuretic. It helps to expel uric acid and provides only 20 kilocalories per 100 g. So it is perfect for any diet.

Tomato is Umami

We are not the only to say that tomato is delicious. Scientists claim it too. Besides the four traditional tastes (Sweet, salty, bitter and acid) Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda set up a fifth one that he called umami (Japanese word for ‘delicious taste’. Umamis is present in breast milk, green tea, cheese, aspargus and, obviously, tomatoes. And these last ones are also able to increase the taste of other food.

Food industry has known it for a long time. Aminoacids responsibles for perceiving this taste – mainly glutamate and aspartame- has been isolated for being used as artificial intensifiers. Nowadays, these artificial intensifiers have got a vaery bad press, however researching on their health effects are contradictory.

Nevertheless, why would you wanted to use artificial intensifiers when a pair of good tomatoes is going to get a perfect taste?

Tomato in our kitchen

Organic tomato on its season, or from local producers when we buy tinned tomato, has become in one of our main stars. Obviously it plays a leading role in our Gazpacho, co-starring with fish in our Cod in Tomato Sauce, and it is the guest star of our Pisto with Fried Egg. Three really umami and very healthy choices.

Say Cheese!

Cheese is one of those things discovered by chance that changed human life -or human diet at least.

10.000, 5.000 years ago, a man or a woman -probably one in each corner of the world- put some milk in a wineskin made from the stomach of an animal, the rennet did its work and voilá: the history of gastronomy changed forever. Stilton, Pecorino, Cabrales, Camembert, Gouda, Feta, Paneer, who could imagine food culture without cheese?

Even when supermarkets are full of substitutes and other heresies created by food industry in the name of progress and developement, good cheese is still produced in a very traditional way, attached to environmental conditions of its area of production. It is the case of La Serena Cheese and all flower cheese in Extremadura.

Flower cheese is made with sheep milk curled by milk thistle, and it is usually the result of a kind of ecosystem: La Serena is a district of Extremadura where there are more sheeps than people, with large open plain lands inhabited by merino sheep and plenty of thistles, where cheese has grown as a solid industry.

Nowadays, the cheese of La Serena has a protected denomination of origin, which proudly states that it is the only Spanish cheese exclusively made with raw milk from Merino sheeps and vegetal rennet. One kilo of cheese needs the milk of 15 sheeps and it is produced in an traditional way, fire-branded to guarantee its authenticity because it implies that the cheese has followed all the quality controls.

Here, in La Tertulia, we serve Tortas de La Serena (D.O), a kind of La Serena Cheese characterized by its creamy, semi-soft consistence, so it is eaten spread on toast bread or biscuits (we usually serve it with homemade tomato jam). Your first impresion could be a bit unpleasant (I’m not gonna lie, it really stinks) but wait to taste it: you won’t be able to forget “its brash, strong and memorable flavors“.

Yes, flavours, in plural, because it has the four of them: sour at first, then a bit salty, a bit bitter, and finally, with a sweet after-taste. A mix that claims for a good wine, maybe a Rioja, but I would choose a Ribera del Guadiana to have a whole symbiotic experience.

Now that you have said cheese, there is only a decision to be made: starter or dessert?

Our Wine List

Thinking of Spanish wine is usually thinking of Rioja wine, but there is still life beyond it, because there are plenty options to enjoy a good wine in Spain. Here, at La Tertulia, we believe in local produces, in our goods and flavours, so we have created a wine list  focused on Ribera del Guadiana D.O. We firmly believe that our wine can support a sound and diverse wine list.

The main core of our selection of wine references is focused on wine from Matanegra area, such as our house wine, a young red wine which amazes people when they try it by the first time and gets adepts everyday.  It is a wine by Bodegas La Pelina, in Usagre, a family winery with a long tradition. They grow their own vineyards (Cabernet, Tempranillo and Merlot) so they can control the whole process, harvesting grapes manually and taking care of the vines. Paying attention even of the smallest details and receiving different prizes as a consequence, as in the case of their Privilegio de Chacona Oro (Merlot, barrel fermented) and Bronce (Cabernet Sauvignon crianza).

Also from Matanegra is Bodegas Toribio. Here you can find a pair of classic references, Viña Puebla Crianza (Tempranillo) and Viña Puebla Selección (Tinto Roble, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Garnacha and Shyrah), although we also have some of their new creations, gathered together under the name of Torivín. Other wine from Matanegra that we especially like is Jaloco rosé, by Bodegas Medina.

Our wine list from Ribera del Guadiana usually includes Quinta Alaude, Payva, Señorío de Orán and Castelar, in addition of some other references that changes regularly.

White wine from Matanegra features prominently in our menu too, such as Viña Puebla Macabeo (fruity young white wine), Torivín Young White (Macabeo, Verdejo y Eva) and Verdejo del Pizarral by La Pelina. But maybe our most popular white wines are medium-sweet wines, like Primavera, a  young wine by Bodegas Sani fromTierra de Barros area, and Dulce Eva, by Viña Maimona.

Still life with four bunches of grapes

Well, and now that we have feathered our own nest enough, its time to be clear: a good Spanish wine list is not complete without a good wine from Rioja D.O.and a good wine from Ribera del Duero D.O. too. From Rioja, we remain faithful to Ramón Bilbao, but sometimes we also offer other references like Cune or Baigorri; From Ribera del Duero, we have chosen Carramimbre. Regarding to white wines, we have a couple of essentials: Castillo de San Diego, by Barbadillo, and Mocén (Vedejo-Viura), a classy Rueda. Finaly, we are glad to introduce our most recent incorporation, Mar de Frades, a first class Albariño.

So, now that you know our selection, why don’t you come and have a glass of wine?

* The picture is Still life with four bunches of grapes, by  Juan Fernández el Labrador, an enigmatic baroque painter. It is believed that he is from this area, and the aspect of these grapes seems to reinforce that idea.