Taming the Tomato Glut – Part 4: fresh tomato passata

Passata is a great, versatile store-cupboard ingredient. In bottles or cartons, stashed at the back of the shelf, it comes out to save the day in soups, sauces, anywhere you want lovely fresh tomato flavour but without the texture of seeds and flesh that accompanies tinned tomatoes.  Until this year, I’d never made any of my own. And then, along came the tomato glut…

This is a really really simple passata process, but does require a couple of slightly unusual bits of kitchen equipment. If you haven’t got them, though, you can work around without them – they will just save you quite a lot of time and trouble.

To make this fresh tomato passata, you will require –

  • Fresh, ripe, home-grown tomatoesA quantity of perfectly ripe tomatoes (this batch was about 2kg)
  • A few fresh basil leaves
  • A saucepan, a colander, and a slotted spoon
  • A mouli* (hand-cranked mincer / puree mill) with the fine puree plate installed, and a bowl to go under
  • Beer bottles, cleaned & dried, a crown capping tool and enough new crown caps to seal all your bottles**. (To give you a sense of the storage capacity you’ll need, 2kg of tomatoes produced about 1.7l of passata. I bottled 1.5l and used the extra fresh.)
  • A large stock-pot, big enough to contain your bottles or jars.

* If you haven’t got a mouli, you can get the skin and seeds out by pushing it through a fine-ish metal sieve, by hand. You can easily make enough for one meal, but it’s not a useful technique if you’re making in any quantity, unless you have helpful kitchen-slaves to hand!

** If you’re not a home-brewer like me and haven’t got bottles, crown caps and a capping device, you can always store your passata in jam jars. As with the bottles, no need to sterilise, just make sure they’re clean and dry, and the lids are in perfect condition. When you come to process them later (we’ll get to that bit), keep them upright in the water.

Simmer tomatoes to split skinsWash your tomatoes carefully. Now, in the saucepan, get a couple of inches of water simmering gently. A handful at a time, add your tomatoes into the simmering pan. Watch them carefully – as soon as the skins split, fish them out again straight away, into your colander. This will probably take between 30s and a minute, but will depend on your tomatoes. Watch carefully – you’re not trying to cook them!

With skins split, drainingAllow them a couple of minutes resting in the colander to drain away any excess water. Now put them into the mouli, a few at a time, and process them through. The seeds (most of them, anyway!) will be retained on the top-side of the puree plate, along with the skins, while the beautiful fresh tomato pulp passes through into the bowl below.

Pass through the mouliI should say, I *adore* my mouli. It’s a new kitchen gadget for me this year, bought with our home-grown veggies in mind, and I already can’t imagine how I did without it. I’d love to say it was my Grandma’s (in fact, I don’t remember her having one), but it’s exactly the same design as much older ones I’ve seen – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, eh?

Rinse and repeat until you’ve processed all of your tomatoes through this very simple two-step chain. You may find you need to disassemble your mouli every so often to wash off the plate if it gets clogged with tomato skin – you could of course peel your tomatoes by hand before you start, to avoid this problem, but really, life’s too short. Just be careful, when you’re doing this, that you don’t waste any beautiful puree or drop skins or seeds into the bowl underneath.

Passata produced, along with 'waste'By the end of the process, you’ll have a surprisingly good yield, as you can see from this picture, the total ‘waste’ in seeds and skins amounted to about half a pint, with the rest of the tomatoes processed very efficiently into gorgeous fresh tomato passata. It’s orangey in colour, compared to what you might expect from a commercial tomato product, but that’s because it hasn’t been cooked down at all, or coloured artificially! Taste some, it’s beautiful, fresh, fragrant tomato nectar. You could drink this stuff.

Fill your bottlesSo now you have some lovely fresh passata you could certainly use to make bolognese or lasagne this evening. The final step is bottling & pasteurisation to allow it to be stored for a considerable time in a cool dark place. Using a funnel and ladle – or a jug, or whatever suits you really! – transfer your passata into your beer bottles, leaving about 5cm airspace in the bottle necks. Into each bottle, also add a single, carefully washed fresh basil leaf.

Seal the bottles carefully with your crown caps, using a capping tool. If you’re using jam jars, ensure they’re in perfect condition with no cracks, chips, or faults in the lids (consider buying new lids, if necessary) and seal them carefully.

Seal bottles with crown caps

Fill your big saucepan or stock pot half to two-thirds full of cold tap water. Place a tea towel in the bottom, and then put in your bottles, in layers, lying on their sides. If you’re using jars, they can sit ‘upright’.

Bottles in the stock potMake sure the water completely covers the bottles or jars. Now get some heat under the pot, and slowly it to a gentle boil, bottles / jars and all, and keep it boiling for 30 minutes before turning off the heat. Leave the bottles in the pot until everything has cooled back down to room temperature. This boiling process essentially sterilises the contents of the sealed bottle or jar, rendering it shelf-stable. Once cool, you can fish out your bottles, dry, label them, and stash them in your pantry until needed.

[I based my passata process, in great part, on this lovely blog about traditional family passata-making by Italian-Australian cooks – it’s well worth a read!]

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Taming the Tomato Glut – Part 3: ‘sun’ dried tomatoes

Today we decided to call ‘time’ on the tomato growing season, and clear out the greenhouse. As a result, I have a kitchen quite literally overflowing with tomatoes. Don’t believe me? Here they are!

Now that's what you call a glut!

But, sun-dried tomatoes? In the UK? In *October*? Some kind of witchcraft, surely?

A couple of weeks ago, I finally caved in and bought a dehydrator.  Some of those little beauties you can see there will be making their way into it very soon. I’ve made two batches already, and I’m extremely pleased with the results. The process is a little time-consuming, and slightly faffy in the preparation, but the final product is amazing, and hugely rewarding.

To make these ‘sun’ dried beauties, you will require –

  • Some lovely ripe tomatoesA glut of home-grown tomatoes, perfectly ripe but not over-ripe and going soft. I used cherry-sized tomatoes and above, since they’ll shrink anyway.
  • Sea salt
  • Mixed dried Italian herbs
  • Citric acid
  • A large bowl, colander, slotted spoon, measuring jug, and a sharp paring knife
  • A dehydrator. I selected mine on the basis of extensive background research. Erm,  hang on, no, that’s not right. I bought the cheapest one on Amazon.

Halved tomatoesWash all your tomatoes carefully and remove their little ‘top-hats’. Now, get a really sharp little paring knife, and slice the tomatoes in half. Honestly, this is my single important top tip here, if you’re slicing tomatoes, you want a really really sharp knife. Otherwise it’s all nasty hard work, and if you’re unlucky the knife will slip on the tomato skin and you’ll lose a finger. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Tomatoes soaking in acidulated waterIn your large bowl, put a litre of fresh cold tap water and add a teaspoon measure of citric acid, and dissolve by stirring energetically. The citric acid improves the preservation of the tomatoes, and enhances their colour retention as they dry. If you don’t have any, you can sometimes get it from pharmacies, and always from home-brew suppliers.

Acidulated tomatoes, dryingPlace your halved tomatoes in this acidulated water and leave them for ten minutes (you can get on with chopping the next lot meanwhile) and then remove them with the slotted spoon and place them in the colander to drip for a bit.

Arrange halved tomatoes on traysOnce you’re happy they’ve stopped dripping, arrange them on the dehydrator tray, with the skin sides down. Just touching is fine but don’t overcrowd them or let them overlap.  This takes a bit of time first time and is really fiddly, but once you’ve done it a few times you’ll find a technique which makes it a lot faster. Carry on until all your dehydrator trays are filled. Mine seems to take about 2-3kg of fresh tomatoes.

Sprinkle with salt & herb mixBefore ‘firing her up’, sprinkle a mix of sea salt and dried herbs sparingly over the cut surfaces of your tomatoes. I used a half-and-half mix, and just an ordinary dried herb mix from the shops, but if you have gorgeous fresh herbs then by all means chop those up finely and use them! Sprinkle over sparingly, but do try to make sure each piece of tomato has at least a flake of salt and a piece of herb on it.

Stacked up in dehydratorNow stack the trays up in the dehydrator, set your temperature if your dehydrator has a thermostat – I used 55C, but consult any instructions that come with your machine. While the dehydrator is running, rotate the position of the trays every few hours so that they dry evenly (the bottom of my machine, where the warm air comes out, was about 20C hotter than the top, when I checked it with a temperature probe, so this is a real factor).

As they dry, the house will fill with a beautiful sweet tomato smell. (Hubby dislikes this because he says it makes him think of pizza. Takes all sorts!) You’ll notice the tomato pieces shrinking, wrinkling, and darkening in colour.

At the end of the drying processMy tomatoes were dry after about 36 hours, but this will vary hugely depending on the temperature you use, the characteristics of your machine, size of your tomatoes… You get the idea!  Aim for the smaller pieces being really, plasticky-dry, the larger pieces will still have a bit of flex in the flesh but shouldn’t have any wetness (check for this in the middle, under the seeds).

Now remove your greatly-shrunken tomatoes and put them in a large Kilner jar, or something similar. Whether you’re planning to keep your tomatoes as they are, freeze them for longer storage, or store them in oil, you’ll still want to put them in a jar for a few days, as this helps them ‘condition’ – effectively, it allows the less-dry pieces to donate their excess moisture to the more dried out ones, so that the humidity of the dried tomatoes evens out.  Give the jar a shake a few times a day for three or four days. Of course, you’re not going to be able to resist having a taste, so dig in.  They’re amazing, sweet, little flavour-bombs. I’ve been munching on them like sweeties!

Finished 'sun' dried tomatoes

 

From a glut-busting point of view, you’ve transformed a massive bowl of fresh tomatoes 2 – 3 kg in weight, into less than a litre volume of dried tomatoes, *and*  they’re going to keep. Really, what’s not to like?

That’s it, simple, no? Of course, there’s so much else you can do with the dehydrator, too..!

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