Preserving tomatoes and their taste of summer
We are coming up to the season of plenty – plenty fresh produce from the garden, plenty juicy, tasty fruit and vegetables. I always thought that eating seasonally is so important. We are so used to find everything we want all year round nowadays, but fruit and vegetables that are in season taste so much better. Summer is the season of so much good produce and the time to enjoy it most. But when, in the darkness of the winter, we are looking for a bit of summer sunshine, we open up a jar of nicely preserved goodness. So now is the perfect time to make passata! It is such a great way to preserve the tasty tomatoes of the summer months and get to enjoy them in winter. For many Italians it is a tradition, and for me, traditions must be kept!
Did you ever tasted something that brought you back to a moment, feeling or maybe a specific day? I love the way traditions connect generations and love the way food creates memories: that delicious sandwich that my grandmother used to make for me for my afternoon snack, the bucatini all’amatriciana that my uncle would have cooked for us or the taste of those summer tomatoes eaten like an apple at the beach while visiting my grandparents in Puglia.
As I was eating a plate of spaghetti last night, with my freshly made passata, certain memories quickly came back to me.
Making passata is very simple, and if you get your family to help you, it is even more fun! If you are lucky to grow your own tomatoes, even better! I’ll tell you how I do it…
First things first – what type of tomatoes? I think that it doesn’t really matter – in Italy we use san marzano – which are nice and meaty (we’ll see how they will enjoy the Irish climate in my polytunnel this year). Using anything that is locally produced, has a good red colour and taste good is fine. Just make sure your tomatoes are nice and ripe, and there are no green bits.
So then you also need:
- A big pot that can hold all your tomatoes (you can always do it in two batches)
- Sterilized jars with lids
- A food mill or a tomato strainer machine
- Your tomatoes
- Some fresh leaves of basil
- Some salt
Here’s what you do:
- It is very important to check all your tomatoes to make sure they are looking healthy and there are no gone off bits – one bad tomato can ruin all your passata!
- Wash them in plenty water – one by one.
- Cut them in half to check if they definitely look good (it is a labour of love, I know!) and then add them to your pot on a very low heat without adding anything else.
- Keep stirring to make sure they don’t stick and burn – stir until the tomatoes break down and their juices come out (cook for about an hour, also depending on the quantities)
- Then get your food mill and bit by bit fill it with your cooked tomatoes to divide skins from pulp.
- Bring the pulp back to the boil (give the skins to your hens, they’ll love it!) and remember you haven’t added anything up until now – just your lovely tomatoes.
- Turn on your oven at a low temperature and warm up your jars slightly.
- Add some salt to the boiling passata and start filling your jars adding one or two leaves of fresh basil to each jar.
- Make sure your jars are properly vacuum sealed – your passata must be hot, the lid closed tight and you will hear it pop later, once it is sealed.
- Another way of making sure that the jars are safely sealed, is to wrap them in some cloth and slightly boil them for 30 min in a big pot of water.
- So now you can store your jars in a dark cabinet. Use your passata for lovely sauces for your pasta dishes – fry up onion, garlic, peppers, bacon or whatever you like with your sauce; make lovely ragù alla bolognese for pasta or lasagna or use it for your pizza sauce. It will be so delicious.
Another brilliant way to preserve tasty summer tomatoes is to make tomato confit. Confit is a french way of cooking slowly in fat or oil and traditionally used as a method of preservation. So if you don’t have a food mill, here’s what you could do. The tomatoes are kept whole, covered with lots and lots of good quality olive oil in an oven tray, you can add some garlic, thyme and a few spoons of balsamic vinegar and cook in the oven at low temperature (150° C) for about 2 hours. You will love this on a slice of toast, as a base for a sauce, why not, with a fry, mixed in with beans or chickpeas…you can get so creative, they taste so good.
Home made passata has always been a ‘’need to have lots of it in the cabinet’’ type of food in my family. Every year, usually at the end of August, we would buy lots of fresh san marzano from my dad’s friend – and when I say lots, I mean lots of kilos – and when I say kilos I mean – a few hundred kilos – and we would spend a whole day making passata, together! When I first moved to Ireland, this was one of the foods I was missing most and my parents would send me some all the way here (sounds mad?!). When we decided to buy a polytunnel this year we had plenty of seeds – and guess what? The tomatoes are thriving and of course, passata!
Come mid July, we had our first little harvest and since then, they kept coming – so up to now, I already made two batches of tomato passata and some delicious confit – about 15 kilos of delicious fruits.
Preserving the summer goodness is such a great way of enjoying the tastiest of ingredients throughout the year, even when they are not in season. “When you have the best and tastiest ingredients, you can cook very simply and the food will be extraordinary because it tastes like what it is.”― Alice Waters