As summer draws to a close, Essteele looks at preserving the taste of summer tomatoes through the Italian tradition of bottling passata.
Passata is also used for a multitude of dishes in kitchens across Australia, integral to family favourite pasta sauces from Bolognese and Napoletana; on pizza bases for a quick dinner; and in soups and stews as the weather gets colder.
In the south of Italy, the average family uses three to four litres of tomato passata every week, year-round.
Italian families in Italy, and here in Australia, have long preserved summer tomatoes, boiling and bottling them as passata for later use. Harvesting from their own kitchen gardens, or buying boxes of tomatoes from local markets or trusted greengrocers to turn into sauce.
Gathering in late summer, 'tomato day' is the annual gathering where family and friends spend the day together boiling, peeling, crushing and bottling tomatoes for use later in the year.
You don't have to be part of a large Italian family to bottle passata, you can make your passata at home using a large stockpot for use all year round.
Homemade tomato passata:
- San Marzano (Roma) tomatoes at the peak of the season (the season generally runs from January to early March depending on the weather). Ask your greengrocer when tomatoes are best.
- One kilogram of tomatoes will make about one 750ml bottle/jar of passata.
- A bunch of fresh basil leaves. One large or a couple of small basil leaves per bottle. Wash and dry the leaves before use.
- A mouli, or a sieve, placed over a large bowl.
- A funnel to help pour the passata into bottles or jars.
- 750ml bottles or glass preserving jars - sterilised.
- Bottle caps (and a capping machine) or tightly fitting jar lids.
- A large stockpot.
Fill a large pot with water, bring to a boil.
Wash the tomatoes. Cut an 'x' in the bottom of each tomato.
Blanch the tomatoes in the boiling water for approx. 20 to 30 seconds (check that the skins are coming away from the flesh before removing).
Scoop the tomatoes out of the water, placing the tomatoes into a sieve lined with a clean tea towel to drain any excess water.
Dry the tomatoes, and as the tomatoes become cool enough to handle, peel them. Throw away the skins.
Over a large bowl, use a sieve and a fork, to push the tomatoes through the sieve, to remove the seeds and any remaining skin.
In each clean, sterilised bottle or jar, place a large basil leaf.
Using the funnel, fill the bottles or jars with passata, leaving a 4cm gap at the top of each bottle, and a 4cm gap at the top of each jar (or fill to the bottom of the jar's rim).
Seal the bottles using a capping machine, or if using jars, screw on the sterilised lids.
At the bottom of your stockpot place a thick tea towel, or a small hand towel, and place the bottles or jars flat on the cloth.
Fill the pot with cold water and slowly bring it to the boil.
Boil the bottles or jars for 30 minutes then turn off the heat.
Leave the bottles or jars in the pot to cool for 24 hours.
Tomorrow, remove the bottles or jars, dry the outside of them and store them in a cool, dry, dark place.
Enjoy your passata year round. It will keep for up to three years if stored correctly in a cool dry place.