I love tomato season. Happiness is a crisp breeze fluttering the kitchen curtains while I’m leisurely stirring a big pot of tomato sauce.
Everyone knows how to make a fantastic tomato sauce for pasta and general Italian cooking. Beside, I have no recipe to share; I add a little of this, a little of that, and eventually we come to a sauce that might have more basil or less oregano or a handful of finely-diced veggies thrown in as an afterthought.
Maybe that’s why I love cooking with tomatoes so much- the fresh homegrown ones are always good, and there are no rules to follow, no fussy prep-work or standard recipes to follow.
New to me this year was making tomato paste. In the past, I’ve canned stewed tomatoes, or a basic tomato sauce or salsa. N has been bugging me to try making ketchup though, and to make ketchup one must make tomato paste.
I read on the internet (so it must be true) that Italian women would peel and seed their tomatoes, mash up the flesh, and leave the resulting juice out in the sun on wide shallow trays for 2 or 3 days to make tomato paste. I don’t know if that’s true, but I’m slightly in love with that idea.
Alas, I took the easy way out and slow-roasted my tomatoes before and after running them through the food mill. I sliced about 12 tomatoes and laid them out in two large baking pans on parchment paper (picture above), and roasted at 300 F for an hour. Then I let the ‘maters cool to room temperature and ran them through a food mill. The resulting juice went back into one of the baking pans, which I coated lightly with olive oil, and sat in the oven at 285 F for 4 hours.
I turned off the oven around midnight and let it cool til 8am, when I set it back at 285 F and cooked the tomatoes for another 4 hours. Throughout both periods, I was lightly stirring the tomatoes about once an hour. After a total of 8 hours of cooking, my tomato juice had turned into this:
Now this is tomato paste. A hearty sprinkle of kosher salt, a drizzle of olive oil, a pinch of sugar, and we’re set. The result: rich, earthy tomato paste with which to thicken sauces, to toss on freshly-boiled pasta with a little parmesan, to spoon out and spread on thick pieces of crusty toasted bread.
And, of course, to make ketchup with. I haven’t gotten there yet… but in the meanwhile, I may need to make more tomato paste.
12 large ripe tomatoes yielded one pint of tomato paste for me. I spooned in the paste, tapped it to help it settle, and topped it off with a healthy pour of olive oil, some kosher salt, and a few pretty leaves of fresh basil.
To use, pour off most of the oil along with the basil leaves into a small dish, and scoop out what you need from the side of the jar. When you’re finished, settle the remaining contents down tight again, and pour back the oil and basil, adding more oil if needed to cover the entire top surface of the paste to keep it fresh.