If you’ve seen a few neighbours toiling away late at night over a pot of tomato sauce in their garage, you know it’s tomato season.
Every year, Italian families gather together to get the key pantry staple for their house ready for the winter. Canned, or jarred, tomatoes. If you don’t do this often, this massive undertaking seems a bit mysterious and I’ve been asked by friends and neighbours, “how” and “why??” for years. Here’s a bit of insight into how it’s done:
Italians take their food ingredients seriously: freshness and seasonality are two key tenets to this. When vegetables, or meats, are in season they need to be preserved for the winter so we always have that taste of fresh tomatoes whenever we put a pot of sauce on (or the multitude of other dishes that tomatoes can be used for).
There’s a few different ways that tomatoes can be preserved in jars. My preferred method is plum tomatoes: taking heirloom tomatoes, seeding and peeling them, jarring and boiling the jars. When used later these tomatoes need to be broken down through cooking or blending. Some people also put fresh small tomatoes in jars and bake the jars. (I haven’t tried this yet, but I’m told it works).
Below though, is the most common process, using San Marzano tomatoes. These small tomatoes are treasured for their flavour and “meatiness”, that is that they have a lot of flesh so you don’t loose a lot of vegetable when you remove the core and seeds. In this process, the base to tomato sauce (passata) is made by cooking the tomatoes, crushing them and jarring. These jars can rest in a cool place for up to 2 years and when broken open are used to make sauce for pasta, though you’ll add in meat or other vegetables and continue to slow cook until you get a thick and flavourful sauce.
While Italians do this by the bushel-ful, the same process can be used for any number of tomatoes, so even if you only want to make a few jars.
Here’s what you’ll need:
– San Marzano tomatoes
– Fresh basil leaves
– sterilized glass mason jars and lids
– a large pot (and heat source like a stove or outdoor burner)
– a few large bowls
– a tomato crushing machine
– knives, funnel, ladle, jar handler
– towels, lots of towels
Wash all of the tomatoes and lay them out on old towels or tablecloths to dry a bit. Using a paring knife, core tomatoes, remove any seeds (this can add a sour taste to your sauce) and cut the tomatoes in half or quarters. The more people you have, the faster this process is.
Cook the tomato pieces in a large pot (do not add any other ingredient or any water, they will make their own as they break down), for about 30-45 minutes.