It was at a school potluck dinner a few years ago, that I first tasted an incredible penne in plain tomato sauce. I was expecting processed tangy bland, but this was so full of flavour, I had to find out who made it, and get the recipe. Turns out it came from my friend Janet who told me it was just plain ole tomato sauce that they make and can every summer. That was the start of Fare la passata, a late summer tradition where we would process a year’s supply of “passata”, or crush tomatoes. Panic sets in when we see our stock pile dwindling in late winter. It is quite labour intensive, usually taking a very long day to process anywhere between 5-7 bushels of tomatoes. Some years I’ve taken my time, doing small manageable batches throughout the week. Trust me when I say it’s well worth the effort. Once you’ve had homemade fresh tomato sauce from fruit picked at it’s peak, you can’t go back to store-bought. Never. Unless it’s for the kids. But even they can tell.
These are San Marzano tomatoes, elongated and prized for sauce making because of their meatiness and very little seeds. Romas are good too. Make sure they are nice and ripe and red. This year, 5 bushels yielded us a hundred 1-litre jars. At $20 per bushel, each jar cost only a dollar.
Rinse with water using a large pot and a garden hose.
These plastic IKEA trash cans are perfect for holding tomatoes. Arm yourself with lots of bowls, buckets or trash cans to keep the work flow going.
Get friends and family involved: washing, cutting, pressing, filling.
They say you have to remove the green pips on top, but we didn’t bother as it’s hardly present in these tomatoes. Nothing gets wasted, it all goes through the machine. Only blemished spots are removed.
The tomatoes are halved, and macerated with salt. This will draw out some of the liquid so that you don’t end up with too watery a sauce.
Invest in an electric ‘passapommodoro’ if you plan on making a year’s supply.
Run the tomatoes through 2-3 times, until nothing comes out and it’s dry. But listen to your machine, if it sounds overworked, then stop, don’t run it a third time. Discard the skins and seeds. Make sure to do a bucket at a time so the more liquidy first press is combined with the drier second or third press.
Wash your mason jars in the dishwasher (without soap) on sterilize heat. Or you can sterilize in the oven at 250•F for 10 minutes. To each jar (cooled), add a basil leaf.
Mix you passata thoroughly into an even consistency.
Carefully spoon into the jars using a funnel, leaving no more than 1/2″ from the top. The more air left in the airspace, the higher chance of spoilage.
Wipe off all traces of tomato, you want a clean seal that won’t leak air.
Place the sterilized flat lids on top (keep the flats in a small pot of hot water so that the rubber seal stays soft), and secure by hand tightening the rings. Keep bottling until you get enough to process one batch in the hot water bath.
For a large quantity like this, we boil outside using an outdoor propane burner made for these large pots. Line the pot with a bed sheet, do not let the jars sit directly on bottom where the heat is. Rags and tea towels also work well in between to buffer against breakage.
Once the pot has come to a boil for an hour, remove jars using special lifters. Place jars on steady surface to cool. You will hear popping as the lids get sucked in creating a vacuum seal. Press down to check all the tops, if there are any that don’t seal properly, you can reprocess, or keep in the fridge and use first.
San Marzano seeds saved for next year’s tomato forest at the cottage. I hope to make passata entirely from home grown tomatoes.
Food-obsessed Henry trying to get into the sauce.