When I feel the sweat dripping down my legs on a stalled subway train, I can only think of the one time in my life that I truly liked summer: high school. Then, July and August meant getting tan, teaching tennis to 3-year-olds, no school or homework, my hair smelling like chlorine, and long weekends at my friend Jackie’s house in Rockford, Illinois. We’d pile onto her huge couch in the basement, marathon movies, and eat tons of her mom’s delicious salsa.
Jackie’s mom’s salsa had just the right hit of jalapeño, copious amounts of cilantro, and big, chunky tomatoes that tasted inexplicably fresh and juicy, even out of season. I can never be that young, carefree, tan, or hormonal again, but I can still enjoy that salsa — a standard combo of cilantro, jalapeños, lime juice, and spices. But the one nonnegotiable ingredient was that special can of tomatoes: Dei Fratelli’s Chopped Mexican Tomatoes and Jalapeños. Jackie’s mom had heard about them from a friend and never wavered in her loyalty; luckily, they can be found at any grocery store in the Midwest.
In New York, it’s virtually impossible to buy them without going online. In my attempt to re-create the salsa, I tried chopped fresh tomatoes (too much like pico de gallo) and then canned-tomato substitutes, but none of them were seasoned right (even the “Mexican”-flavored ones). They’d all be too bland, too metallic-tasting, or too processed. Finally, I relented and bought a few cans of Dei Fratelli online — Amazon’s funny pricing means that 12 cans cost $29, while 6 cans cost $22 — and remembered why Dei Fratelli’s are the only tomatoes I should ever use. It has that jalapeño kick, a zippy bit of seasoning with garlic, cilantro, and onion, and the very freshest-tasting tomatoes. I since discovered that Dei Fratelli’s tomatoes are sourced from local-ish growers (you can see some of the families on their site) in Ohio and Michigan that practice sustainable farming, which probably explains that ineffable flavor. I’ve since made the salsa (this recipe is similar) for friends, brought it to rooftop parties, and enjoyed it in the air-conditioning of my own apartment. And you know what? It’s always a hit.
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