Tomato-free pizza on UK menus as chefs choke on fruit and veg prices | italian food and drink

Get ready for tomato-free pasta sauce and white pizza. Italian restaurants across Britain are having to ration tomatoes, raise prices and, in some cases, remove the pomodoro of their menus entirely as costs rise.

The price of tomatoes quadrupled last year, from £5 a box to £20, according to the Federazione Italian Cuochi UK (FIC UK), an association of chefs.

The price of canned tomatoes has doubled from £15 a box to £30. insalata Iceberg lettuce has also skyrocketed, from around £7 a box to £22.

Tomatoes are among the species most affected by the UK’s fruit and vegetable shortage, which has left supermarket shelves empty. The government blamed bad weather on southern Europe and North Africa. High electricity prices have also affected the supply of greenhouse-grown produce in Britain and the Netherlands.

Enzo Oliveri, chairman of FIC UK, said that after the problems with rising costs and Brexit, it was now a “very difficult” time for Italian restaurants and warned that some could close. “I don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

Its members typically buy tomatoes from Italy, Spain or Morocco. “But since there are shortages everywhere, there are no tomatoes coming from anywhere,” he said.

Chef Theo Randall of the InterContinental Hotel in Mayfair says caterers seem to be rationing cans of tomato passata. Photography: PR

Oliveri is working with tomato suppliers to secure quantities of high-quality canned and crushed tomatoes, but they too are facing shortages.

Some restaurants, Oliveri said, are adapting, moving their menus away from the ingredient and instead offering “white” tomato-free pizzas and pastas.

Chefs are using cheeses like ricotta or vegetables, including zucchini or aubergines, as a base and to thicken sauces. “White pizza, white sauces for pasta or less tomato. We are making it a trend because prices are going up and because of scarcity.”

He called on the government to limit tomato prices, warning: “When prices go up, we have problems. We can no longer calculate margins.”

Carmelo Carnevale, president of the Italian Culinary Consortium, said tomato prices have risen threefold in just the past two weeks. While restaurants are still getting tomatoes, they aren’t getting them in their usual quantities.

“It is very stressful for us, especially as we also have our imports from Italy twice a week. We’re lucky to get it,” he said. “Tomatoes are in many of our dishes. We as a company promote ‘made in Italy’ and we have to maintain our identity without compromising on quality. We also cannot raise our prices, so we are not making a profit.”

Restaurant owners are worried about their future, he said, adding that this is “not a good time”.

Antonio Alderuccio, of the Plant Club vegetarian restaurant in London, said prices for passata (sifted tomatoes) had risen by 70% in the past year. “Tomato prices are skyrocketing right now.”

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One of its Sicilian producers blames the climate crisis. “In Sicily, temperatures during the past winter averaged 22°C,” he said. “That meant the tomatoes ripened very quickly, which is why many products didn’t make it to market.” Alderuccio still cooks with tomatoes, but has raised prices to preserve quality without losing money, he said.

Chef Theo Randall, who specializes in Italian cuisine at his restaurant at the InterContinental Hotel in Mayfair, said he hasn’t had any problems yet, but has noticed that caterers seem to be rationing passata.You order 10 cans and you get three”, he said.

To get around any supply issues, chefs are basing their menus on available ingredients. “Everything went up,” she said. “Essentially, you just need to raise your prices.

“And you have to look at the ingredients you can use. For all restaurants, it is a very difficult time. In recent years, the hospitality industry has been hit by so many things, and this is another.”

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said last week that the UK has a “highly resilient food supply chain and is well equipped to deal with disruptions”.

A spokesman said he was in “close contact with suppliers, who are clear that the current problems relating to the availability of certain fruits and vegetables were predominantly caused by bad weather in Spain and North Africa, where they are produced”.

Ministers, they added, will soon hold an industry roundtable with supermarkets on how to help normalize supplies.

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