Passata from the ground up
Before you know it, your kitchen, shed and garden are all overflowing with tomatoes! What should you do?
Passata is, simply put, puréed tomato. The dictionary definition: a thick paste made from strained tomatoes and used esp. in Italian cooking.
Many recipes call for salt, basil, pepper and/or other herbs/spices. I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to ingredients. I like to mix my ingredients together when cooking a dish, not beforehand. Also, if I can help it, I don’t use salt in cooking – I like to let the flavours speak for themselves.
Passata is used mostly in Italian dishes (bolognese and other pasta sauces), but is also great in the slow-cooker and some curries. It has to be one of the easiest ingredients to use – literally, just pour it in and stir. It’s already cooked, so there’s no need to cook it further.
If you watch any Australian film with an Italian focus, there is usually a scene where the whole extended family gathers in the Nonna’s backyard around a massive pile of tomatoes for a whole day of conversation, music and laughter. It is a long-standing tradition, which sadly is dwindling, as noted by The Food Anthropologist and Eat With Me.
Of course, the day is about preserving the tomatoes for the whole year ahead, but it is equally about the social nature of the extended family – something that Western Culture (meaning, largely English descent) lacks.
Making it. Work.
Let’s be clear, here: making passata takes time. There is a reason the Italians have Passata Day – it requires as many hands as possible. The more help you have, the more passata will be made. Otherwise, there will be short supply for the year ahead.
This article is not about how to organise a big get-together, or how to delegate tasks. This is about making it simple for one or two people to manage, as well as my own experiences in trial and error. Trial and error, because, if you can believe it, there aren’t that many articles on making passata. I guess it’s because those that care already know how.
You will need:
- 2 large boiling pots (the biggest you can get)
- several large bowls
- a food mill
- as many saved jars as you have (we saved a year’s worth)
- A wide-mouth funnel
- loads of tomatoes
- lots of time
The type of tomato is really important. Do not use tomatoes with big seed cavities. The more flesh, the better, otherwise the yield will be poor. Traditionally, Roma Tomatoes are used, however any large, fleshy tomato will do.
Trial 1: Cut the tomatoes in half and salt in the sun. When the moisture is drawn out, mill the raw tomato and cook in the jar. While this is effective, it is hard work if you only have a hand-mill. The result was a fairly watery consistency too. It requires a few hours in the sun and much time reducing in the pot.
Trial 2: Boil some water, then blanch the tomatoes, whole, for ten minutes. Cut them into manageable chunks, then run through the mill. The mill needs to be at the biggest setting to manage all the skin. Then, run the pulp through again at the smallest setting. Unfortunately, this still allows seeds through, so I had to run the pulp through a sieve, which made the passata a bit thin, although not as watery as Trial 1.
Trial 3: I decided to cut the tomatoes and seed them first. It’s not particularly difficult, just time-consuming and messy. I really don’t think any method is going to be quicker, but this one gives the best consistency, with the passata showing the most body. The downside is that there will be some seeds get through, no matter how careful your are.
- Put your clean jars into the oven at 90°C to sterilise
- Cut tomatoes into quarters.
- Using fingers, scoop out the seeds, being sure to empty out every seed chamber. There are some small chambers that may escape notice. Don’t be afraid to destroy the structure of the tomato – remember, it’s going to be puréed.
- Three-quarter-fill the boiler with tomatoes
- Top up with water
- Bring to boil, then simmer for 45 minutes, or until pulp is soft and cooked through
- Take tomatoes out with a sieve and drain
- Over a large bowl, mill the cooked tomatoes on the medium setting, removing the skin periodically.
- Pour the purée into the second boiler
- Bring the pulp to a boil, then simmer for 1 hour
- Using a funnel, scoop the passata into the still-hot sterilised jars
- Screw the lids tightly onto the jars
- Leave to cool. The lids will pop down as they cool, ensuring a perfect seal.
As with all preserved food, it is best to keep your passata in a relatively cool, dark place. The garden shed is a great place, if you have one and the space required. Otherwise, wherever you feel comfortable storing your food.
The last word
You may be mistaken for thinking it’s not going to take too long. However, it is the seeding and the milling that takes the time.
Making passata is messy. Be prepared to be splattered. Again, there is a reason Passata Day happens outdoors – it’s not just for the sunshine!
Be prepared to be volumetrically disappointed. For all the hard work and time involved, don’t expect too many jars from a few kilos. To make large quantities, a good starting weight of tomatoes is 20kg. In my tests, one green shopping-bag makes 6 X 700g jars.
The very last word
My wife made some pasta sauce last night. She said that as soon as she opened the jar she was hit with an amazing aroma (something you don’t get with the bought jars). The sauce was pretty darned good too!