September already. Everything is still as green as ever but the temperature has dropped (a bit) so the aircon is no longer needed, duvets are back on beds and sweatshirts go on in the evening. This month also heralds The Annual Tomato Glut, so neighbours and friends are currently getting stuck in making gallons of gorgeous passata. These are big social occasions and all the extended family members, from kids to grannies and everyone in between, work hard to produce hundreds of jars of red magic to see them all through the winter months.
For years, the thought of making my own passata featured heavily in my technicolour “living in Italy” dream, and I couldn’t wait to join in, albeit not on the same scale. I’d even bought a hand turned passata machine with me from the UK and was primed and ready to go. Big mistake. Passata production is a serious business, as is the machinery that goes with it, and my excitement soon faded when I realised that my passata machine was completely and utterly NOT up to the job.
This particular model in red plastic (you know who you are) is supposed to stay put on the worktop via a suction cup. Mine decided this was no fun and, unlike my first boyfriend, gave up any pretence at suction and conga’ed its way across the bench, splattering tomato juice everywhere. Two weeks later and I’m still finding little drops here and there. But the lack of suction was just the beginning of this massive technical fail. The feeder tube is too small to put a healthy amount of toms in at once; and the separate chutes for passata and rejected skins are too close together, so the two get mixed up. The final straw was belatedly finding out that the parts are melded together and don’t come apart for easy cleaning, so it’s impossible to remove all the skins and seeds. Just imagine pushing fresh tomatoes through, only to find a slightly mouldy tomato skin from the previous turning. Bleurgh, no thanks.
It is yet another truth universally acknowledged that I can find any excuse to buy a new kitchen gadget – but I did persevere with this sad excuse for a passata machine, I really did. However, after a rather magnificent tantrum inspired by the third tomato skin hide and seek mission fail, I chucked the lot in the recycling bin and have instead bought an Italian electric passapomodoro. They range in price from not bad to ouch, so I went the lower end of not bad. It might not be able to cope with passata production at industrial levels, but will be perfect for just me and the occasional guest. In just a few days I’ll be able to make ragu from lovely heart-healthy tomato passata, full of lycopene, antioxidants, niacin, potassium and vitamins A, B6, C, E and K. A
gallon glass or two of red wine and said guest and I will be glowing with fine fettle-ness.
I’ve also been consulting friends on the best way to prepare the tomatoes. Some cut them into chunks and soften them; others roast. Some add basil or chilli before pouring into the jars; others add those later, depending on the meal. So far, my preferred method is roasting – cut the tomatoes in half and arrange upright on a large oven tray, spray with olive oil and pop in the oven at 180 degrees for 20-30 minutes – but keep an eye on them so they don’t burn. Allow to cool and then push the mix once or twice through a (functioning) passapomodoro and the result is rich, thick passata, ready to pour into a freezer bag.
Of course, once I get into it in earnest, all this passata will have to be stored somewhere and the fridge freezer is already full. A vertical freezer is definitely needed as part of my “nothing gets wasted” programme. I’ve been trying hard not to waste food for years, even more so after working with the lovely peeps at FareShare UK, and now there’s so much fresh, cheap food available, I really get to put it into practice. Vegetables become soup, fruit gets added to home made yogurt for ice cream and a gigantic pumpkin courtesy of Mr B has been chopped into chunks and popped in freezer bags, ready for slow cooker curries for when there’s too much snow to go out.
The aim is to live primarily on locally grown, healthy simple meals – no salt, no preservatives…and with special magical qualities that will offset the high calorie pasta, pizza, focaccia bread, cheeses and other yummy items which have somehow made their way into the kitchen at Pioneer Woman HQ!