Green tomato chutney

     I once went to a dinner party at which the person sitting beside me handed me a small bowl full of green tomato chutney. “You’ve got to taste this,” she said. “I don’t know what it is, but it’s fantastic.” Modestly, I told her, “yes, I know: I made it.”

I’m sure part of her enthusiasm stemmed from the novelty of the thing: this sort of sweet-and-sour condiment doesn’t figure at all in the Italian cooking cannon. But it’s also because this chutney is fantastic: I’ve given quantities below but they are more or less immaterial. Whatever proportions (within reason) you use, what comes out at the end is invariably wonderful. I can take very little credit for tasty results.

For the quantities given below, you will need an enormous pot. I had such trouble getting it into my eight-litre maslin pan that I had, initially, to ladle out some of the liquid until the whole thing reduced, at which point I put it back in. Huge quantities, however, are worth  trying to cope with, I feel. This chutney involves lengthy, very dull, preparation: I prefer to make this amount on one damp afternoon than go back to it several times to make smaller batches. But that’s just me.

I had a little twinge of guilt harvesting the crop for this year’s chutney. Usually I feel generous, giving those very last fruits – clinging to the plants though plunging temperatures mean they don’t have a hope in hell of ever ripening – a raison d’etre. But this year’s unusually wonderful September weather meant collecting green tomatoes knowing that given a few more days they would have turned beautiful red: oh well, I would have been hard pressed to think of anything else to do with them, now that my passata is made and I’ve eaten more fresh tomatoes in the space of a few weeks than most people do in their lives.

The bulk of the ones I picked for chutney were San Marzano. These were the very last I put in the ground, and have been the last to mature. Of course I should be using these plum tomatoes for passata or bottling whole, but they never do particularly well in my garden. They’re the ones most likely to develop blossom-end rot or be attacked by shield bugs. So using them up in chutney before the rot sets in isn’t a bad solution.

Green tomatoes – 5 kg
Onions – 1 kg
Shallots – 500 g
Apples – 1 kg
Garlic – 10 cloves
Sugar – 1 kg
Vinegar – 1 lt
Cardamom, black peppercorns, coriander, cloves – 1 tbsp each
Cinnamon – 1 large stick
Fresh Chilli – 4
Ginger – piece about 8 by 2 cm

Remove the stalk ends from the tomatoes and chop them roughly. (If you have some strong objection to tomato skin, drop the fruits whole into boiling water for a moment, then plunge them into a bowl full of cold water briefly and the skins should be easy to remove. I find that the skins more or less disappear during the cooking process, and therefore never bother with this extra complication.) It’s worth putting the tomatoes in the preserving pan at this point with the vinegar and all the spices (in a muslin spice bag or not, depending on your tastes) and beginning the process of slowly bringing them to a gentle bubble, while you continue with the rest of the long, long chopping process. Add the other ingredients as they are ready.

I like my chutney to have bulk and character, therefore rather than dicing the onions and shallots I simply slice them finely. The ginger should be peeled and minced. I love crunching on stray lumps of ginger, and so tip it straight into the mixture; if you prefer, it can be placed in the spice bag. I peel the garlic and chop it roughly; if you can’t face garlic lumps, mince it finely. And as for the chilli, I use bright red ones (they don’t lose their colour much during the cooking process), remove the seeds, and slice them into thin rounds.

Whatever apples you use – a good, strong-flavoured cooker is best – they will probably have dissolved into a pulp by the time the chutney is ready. So peel them and chop them to any size you have the patience for at this point in the proceedings.

When it’s all bubbling gently, pour in the sugar, stirring as you do so to ensure that none of it sticks anywhere.

At this point you’ll need a book to read, or some pressing work which can be done in the kitchen, because the chutney must now bubble away uncovered (I have a wire mesh top which I put on to stop it spitting) for anything up to three hours, until it becomes a dense, dark-amber, fragrant mess. It doesn’t need quite as much stirring or hawk-like watching out for burnt-on sugar as a jam. But that doesn’t mean you can take your eye off the ball completely: your sultanas could catch on the bottom, for example, and you’ll need to be on hand to make sure that the bubbling is proceeding smoothly. When stirring, be careful as you move the thicker mass towards the bottom of the pan: you could unleash great splashes of scalding chutney, so wear an oven glove to protect yourself.

Chutney doesn’t technically need to reach gelling point. It just needs to be fruit and vegetable pieces in a thick syrup which doesn’t run about the place when a blob is put on a saucer. Put it into sterilised jars, put lids on tightly, label and store for at least a month before eating it.

© Anne Hanley, 2011

Passata di pomodoro

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. There are two ways to proceed from here.

Either 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.

Or – and I have come to prefer this method – place the tomatoes and tomato pieces in a steamer in a large saucepan, and steam them until they’re soft-ish. (I then put a basil leaf – and sometimes a small chunk of garlic – in each jar as I’m bottling.)

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.

This soupy mess can be bottled as is. If you’d prefer a slightly denser product, return the tomatoes it to the preserving pan and start it bubbling 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