There are few things which, in the depths of winter, overwhelm you with the perfumes of summer as much as twisting the top off a jar of passata di pomodoro (tomato purée). It’s essence of sunshine, with a hint of hours spent in the vegetable garden.
In the end, I find we don’t use huge amounts of passata through the winter – ten litres of the stuff is more than enough for our household which usually numbers two. As the tomatoes ripen on the vines, I pick them and leave them spread on a tray (in a bowl, you may find the ones at the bottom rot before you process them) in a cool dark room and wait until there are enough ready to boil up. Tomatoes of every and any description will do: we eat what we need for salads and leave all the rest for bottling up. I never weigh them: it just has to make four kilos or more of pulp when it’s put through the mill, otherwise it’s hardly worth heating the kitchen up for them.
Last year, L moaned that my runny passata was boring, and demanded that I bottled some tomatoes whole. I obliged of course… and they are still sitting on the shelf unused. Runny my passata may be, but it makes a soup in no time and bubbles down to a thick sauce in only slightly more. It’s versatile and simple and requires almost no human effort (subsequently). What’s not to like?
Tomatoes – as many as you have
Garlic – a few cloves
Basil – a sprig or two
Wash your tomatoes, remove any stalks or blemishes, and chop the larger ones coarsely. Cover the bottom of a preserving pan with water to a depth of about one centimetre, and add the tomatoes, peeled and squashed (not chopped) garlic and basil leaves, and place the pan over a low heat. When the tomatoes are bubbling keep them at a slow boil for 15 or 20 minutes, until they’re soft and have run lots of juice.
Remove the basil sprigs.
At this point, you need to remove the skins and pips and turn the lumpy mess into a smooth soup. To do this, I use an old-fashioned mouli-legumes: one of those things with a circle of fine holes in the bottom and a wing which mashes your tomatoes though the holes as you rotate a handle… giving your arm muscles a fine work-out in the process. Alternatively, you could try fishing out the skins then blitzing the tomatoes with a stick blender, but that wouldn’t solve the pip problem. Or you could use the back of a wooden spoon to push the whole lot through a sieve – very laborious and time-consuming indeed but the end result would be fine.
When you’ve produced your soup, return it to the preserving pan and start bubbling it again, over a low to medium heat, and reduce the whole thing by a quarter or even a third.
Pour this mixture into half-litre jars (these, and their lids should have been sterilised: see here for how to do this) and screw the lids on well. Leave the jars to cool for a little while (half an hour will do) then put them in a saucepan large enough to accommodate them all without their being too packed in. Insert sponges and/or kitchen clothes around and between the jars – and one beneath them, on the bottom of the pot – so that they can’t clatter together, and fill the pot with cold water in such a way that the tops of the jars are two centimetres or so beneath the surface.
Place the pot on the cooker over a low to medium heat and bring the water to the boil. Once it’s boiling away gently, keep it that way for 35 minutes (plus an extra minute for each 100m above sea level where you are), then turn the heat off. Leave the jars in the water until it’s cool. The satisfying sound of lids popping as a vacuum forms will accompany you for a couple of hours afterwards.
Store the passata in a cool dark place; it’s best to leave it for a month at least before opening.
© Anne Hanley, 2011