Many years have passed since my family came together to make passata - the traditional Italian celebration of bottling the last harvest of tomatoes. It was a ritual that we recapitulated with much pomp and ceremony every year . No matter where in the world we were living our nonna would call us to arms and no one would dare say no!
Excitement would bubble throughout the family for weeks before the event took place. And even though passata day was carried out with military precision, all adult members of my family would argue about ' how things should be done'. The same heated conversations accompanied by animated hand gesticulations would be reenacted every year with comforting repetition.
I feel this simple tradition carries with it a great deal of significance in a society that appears to be increasingly disconnected from the sacred relationship between food, the seasons and sometimes each other. So this year I decided that this wonderful ritual deserved to be revived. As I called each member of my family I could hear the timbre of my voice resonate with determination, just like nonna's did. Surprisingly, everyone responded with enthusiasm and it warmed my heart.
You certainly don't need to be Italian to enjoy bringing family and friends together to make passata. However there are a few extra ingredients that you do need, besides fresh ripe tomatoes, to make the perfect brew - delicious freshly made pasta that will later be cooked and combined with your passata to reward the workers, a few bottles of rich full bodied red wine, Luciano Pavarotti's gloriously warm and romantic voice pouring through your work space, passion for the task ahead and a deep appreciation for each other.
Vine ripe tomatoes which are at the peak of the season. I used Roma tomatoes that were supplied by my dear friend Heather from Coopers Shoot Tomatoes. One kilogram of tomatoes will make approximately 750mls of passata. We used about 50 kilograms of tomatoes for our passata making day and this yielded enough passata for our families to last a year.
Fresh basil leaves
A tomato press, either manual or electric. A hand operated mouli is a good substitute if you are making small quantities of passata.
A few funnels for filling the jars.
Preserving jars. I use the 1 litre Mason Jars (supplied by Heart of the Home Byron Bay)
Large stock pot for cooking the tomatoes.
Method for the tomatoes
Wash the tomatoes making sure to remove any dirt or grit. Blanch the tomatoes in boiling water for about 5 minutes then scoop them out with a slotted spoon or strainer. The skins should be easy to pull away from the flesh at this point.
Now gently place the tomatoes onto a clean dry tea towel to drain away excess water.
For small quantities of tomatoes peel the skin from the flesh and run through the mouli. For large quantities run the tomatoes through the tomato press which will separate the juice from the skins and flesh. Give the left over skins and flesh another run through the press to extract any juice that is left and then discard.
Place all the passata into your large stock pot and bring to the boil. As soon as bubbles start to appear reduce the heat to low and simmer for approximately 20 minutes then turn the heat off but leave the pot on the stove.
Method for sterilising the jars
While the passata is simmering wash your preserving jars, seals and lids in warm soapy water and then rinse throughly. Leave to dry on a wrack or clean dry tea towel.
Once dry place the lids seals and jars on a tray in a cold oven and turn the heat to 110 C. As soon as the temperature is reached turn the oven off.
Carefully take a couple of jars at a time out of the oven and place one or two basil leaves in the jars
Now funnel the hot passata into the jars leaving a 4cm space at the top, seal and lightly screw the lids in place. There is no need to screw the lids on tightly until the seal depresses and the vaccum is created. This should only take about 15 to 20 minutes at the most. You can test that the jars are correctly sealed by pressing down on the lid. If there is no movement then the job is done.
Preserving the passata in this way will keep for about two years but can of course be used immediately.
I would like to thank
Coopers Shoot Tomatoes is owned and operated by Heather and Hugh Armstrong. Their property has been in the family since 1882 and is nestled in the hills between Byron Bay and Bangalow in northern New South Wales, Australia. Hugh and Heather are the fifth generation of their family to manage the property. Coopers Shoot grow a large variety of gourmet and heritage vine ripened tomatoes that we are truly fortunate to experience in our local area.
Mason Jars provided by Heart of the Home a stunning home wares boutique in the hinterland of Byron Bay.
The wooden boxes and photo props were supplied by Karen Dyson who is a designer and colour specialist. Karen is the owner of a beautiful and sophisticated boutique in Banglow, New South Wales, Australia. www.bangalowlounge.com