When I met The Husband, he fended for himself and it wasn’t long before he informed me that a kitchen should never be without onions and tomatoes: no tasty main meal (other than breakfast), could exclude onions. Add tomatoes, he maintained, and you have the basis of a good meal. I didn’t disagree, but over the years, I’ve learned that there are some dishes that don’t need onion. However, it’s the tomatoes that have my attention, today. We both love them and have our own associations with their cultivation. The Husband, when he was beef ranching in Zimbabwe, and had the dubious pleasure, on occasions, of overseeing the harvest of the fruit for the local cannery. He also talks of the dire gastric consequences, for workers, of eating not just sun-ripe but sun-hot tomatoes. Talk about learning the hard way….
Tomatoes and brinjals are all members of the deadly nightshade (Solanum) family, as are potatoes. You’ll see the similarity looking at their flowers, not the leaves, which are poisonous.
I remember my parents (my father, actually), growing tomatoes every year until they moved into a retirement home.
Dad grew Moneymaker tomatoes from seed. Rarely anything else. This variety is a medium-sized, high-yielding tomato with excellent flavour. They were sewn in June and would germinate in very cold weather – the little seedlings felt the cold. They’d often be blue. Really.
Before they retired and living in a small town, they would go home for lunch. The pinching back and inspection of the annual tomato crop was a lunchtime ritual. Pinching out the side shoots and staking them ensured tall, robust plants, that would eventually be weighed down with delicious red, sweet fruit. I remember tomato-filled trays on every surface in the kitchen and sometimes the diningroom. Now, the same is happening around our home. Tomatoes were never stored in the fridge. It ruins the flavour. Tomatoes served from the fridge infuriated The Dad. Now it infuriates me…
For some reason, Mum didn’t often preserve tomatoes. Only twice do I remember my mother “doing” anything with them: once when a hail storm damaged the not-yet-ripe crop, she made green tomato chutney and on another, she made ketchup.
Now me, on the other hand, I’ll bottle anything. Almost. It’s a standing joke among some of our friends who warn The Husband that he might end up pickled and/or in a jar! Besides that, and enjoying tomato, both tinned (bottled) tomatoes and a basic, traditional Italian tomato sauce, are useful and versatile. Since first making it in about 2014, I make passata whenever I can get my hands on a goodly quantity of tomatoes. The recipe is courtesy of the Katie Caldesi’s 2012: Italian Cookery Course (Kyle Books, Great Britain) a gift for my 50th birthday.
Be warned, though, if you embark on this journey: passata takes an enormous quantity of tomatoes and a considerable amount of time to make a relatively small quantity.
This year (2021) we have a bumper crop of tomatoes so Passata is back on my agenda.
The basic ingredients, other than tomatoes include garlic, onions, carrots and celery as well as, of course, olive oil.
In terms of quantities, I generally double up the ingredients for the two-step process:
For the first step
200ml olive oil
2,5kg cherry tomatoes (I use both cherries and “ordinary” tomatoes – more often the latter)
200g carrots, diced
200g celery, diced
225g white onion, diced
3 cloves garlic
10g salt (which I omitted)
5g freshly ground black pepper
Chuck all these ingredients into an enormous saucepan (my stock pot just coped with the double quantity). Cook over a medium heat, stirring and squashing the tomatoes to break them up. Bring to the boil and reduce heat and simmer for about 50 minutes.
Caldesi says that the mixture should then be passed through a sieve or passetutto to remove the skins. I tried that once and it’s seriously time-consuming and tiring. So, this time round, I followed her alternative suggestion and stuck in the stick blender and puréed the mixture.
For the second step
3 tablespoons olive oil
100g white onion, finely chopped
1 fat garlic clove
salt (which I omitted) and freshly ground black pepper
3 sprigs of basil
2 tablespoons sugar, as necessary (I find that if I don’t add salt, sugar is often not necessary; also if the tomatoes are sun-ripened, even off the vine, they are generally sweeter than those that ripen artificially)
Heat the oil in another, large, clean pot (I used the base of my pasta pot) and add the onion. Stir and season with salt and pepper. Cook until soft (7 – 10 minutes). Add the basil and garlic.
Add the puréed mixture and cook until it reaches a sauce-like consistency. Depending on the water content of the tomatoes, this could happen relatively quickly or could take a while – anything from 10 minutes (I should be so lucky) to an hour.
Pour into sterilised jars and boil again.
The quantities in the recipe should yield about 1,4 kg. My 5 kg of tomatoes produced 11 jars (and a bit).
You can download a printable version of this recipe here.
Quick pasta supper
I’m thrilled with this batch: it’s delicious and some of the half-filled jar was used to make us a quick pasta supper that night. It consisted of homemade pasta, with passata stirred through it, and served with a drizzle of basil pesto and a locally made mature Gouda.
I first wrote this post in 2014, so not only was it due for an update especially given this year’s fantastic (and currently ongoing) harvest, but I have promised a recipe to Mary – she of the famous flatbreads. So, Mary, this is for you!
Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa
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