What do you get when you combine over a third of a ton of bursting ripe roma tomatoes, just as much red wine and the labour day long weekend. The answer is one of the busiest preserving weekends of the year, and this year’s was our biggest yet. To be honest, tomato season came a little early this year, so away we went…
Most greengrocers or markets sell tomatoes but the ones you’re looking for are best and cheapest in peak season, normally toward the end of summer. From late February to early April all over the country tomatoes are being boxed up by the truck load and sold by the box load. This year our supplier came by mere coincidence during a trip to a local ham and smallgoods factory in Thomastown, Melbourne. The hand painted Pomodoro Per Passata or “Tomatoes For Sauce” sign was the clue, and we were off, a short detour through an industrial estate and we found it. Tomato Town, Piazza Pomodoro or just some disused shed come alive for six busy weeks.
Here’s the deal. A small sun-bleached Mediterranean gent is going to wander out, if he greets you in Italian you’re in! If not no bother, he still knows you have cash and more than likely want some of his merch. Load up with tomatoes, advice and whatever else Antonio insists you need and hit the road.
A side note on the tomato purchase. A box can vary in size, the poly styrofoam boxes pictured are most common and hold about 18kg but we have purchased boxes as small as 10kg.
How much? I’ve seen tomatoes from as cheap as $6 for a 10kg box to $25 for a 18kg, a good price about $1.20 a kilogram but this depends on the season.
What type of tomatoes are best? Most people say Roma but you can use whatever you can get your hands on. Romas have a thicker skin, using this method we remove them so keep this in mind. And remember, if in doubt, ask Antonio.
By now you may have noticed some of your tomatoes are less than perfect, this is fine and completely normal, sauce tomatoes can be seconds or fruit too ripe to send to the shops. The riper the tomatoes, the richer the sauce. it’s like my Italian grandmother says “The riper the tomatoes, the richer the sauce”. First wash your fruit, this is done by submerging your fruit in a bath of water, washing and then moved to a second bath to rinse.
In a large pot bring some water to the boil and add your fruit or as much as will fit in batches, Boil for three minutes and drain. This step helps to remove the acid from the sauce, If you have ever seen a bottle of sauce with a clear liquid floating on top the sauce, this is what we are draining here. Another option is to roast your tomatoes, this takes longer but can result in a stronger flavoured sauce.
And now we pass the boiled and drained fruit over to Giancarlo and Ricardo to pass through some kind of separator, this step removes the skin and seeds and leaves us with the pulpy tomato extract. There are many ways to do this, by hand or machine but when you are processing large quantities a good sauce separator is a must.
If you’re planing on keeping your sauce for the year you need jars, wash them and dry sterilise them in your oven. We add salt and sugar, garlic and basil in the following ratio.
- Per 1 kilogram of pulp
- Five gams Salt
- Five grams Sugar
- One peeled clove of Garlic per bottle
- Two of three Basil leaves per bottle
The filled jars are then processed at boiling point for 1 hour, and cooled over night on a wooden surface. Our favourite uses for the passata vary from Italian ragout to spicy curry goat, but the limitations are only from your imagination.