The Piaggio Ape, the Italian three-wheeled light vehicle with a scooter engine, is the perfect means of transport for making deliveries and impromptu roadside market stalls for contadini to sell any surplus fruit and vegetables. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on prices on these mini mobile markets, as they are often cheaper than the market stalls and their stock is usually fresher as it’s often picked that morning.
Tomatoes are currently 50cents a kilo off the back of most of the Ape stalls in town, which is my magic number for passata-making, so I’ve been picking a 20 kilo crate up every time we’re in town to add to our own tomatoes to fill the pantry with jars of sauce to keep us going through winter and springtime.
To preserve tomatoes this way it’s best to leave your tomatoes in a single layer for a couple of days to both sweeten and make them less watery. In the past, I’ve laid them out on nets in the trullo, but this takes up too much space, so this year I decided to stack them in single layers in olive crates. This has worked really well as air can circulate around the tomatoes so there’s been minimal spoilage and they’ve only taken up the space of a single crate.
Tomatoes are then washed and cut in half (cut out any blemished or overly ripe parts) and then heated so they soften a little before running them through a passata machine. Some of my neighbours gave me their old passata machine as they now have an electric one. It really is a beast and happily mills 30 or 40 kilos of tomatoes at any one time to make the most wonderful passata. As you can see, as if by magic all the skins and pips are separated, leaving you with a thick, pulpy sauce.
Once milled, the sauce is then retuned to the hob, to reheat and salt is added for both taste and preservation before jarring in sterilised bottles. When I asked my neighbours about adding citric acid or lemon juice to each jar to avoid botulism (as advised on all US-based canning information websites) they all gave me the raised eyebrow, why on earth would you do that look and questioned what Americans know about making passata.
So long as you ensure the bottles and lids are sterilised, you leave a ¼ inch headspace in each one and you process them for the right amount of time there’s no reason why botulism should be allowed to contaminate your sauce.
Once all your jars are filled and the lids put on not too tightly they should be wrapped in something to stop them from hitting each other when you boil them in a water bath. I wrap mine in tea towels and put one in the bottom of the pan. Hot water is then added to cover the bottles and once the water is boiled a rolling boil is maintained for 30 minutes.
After this time, leave the bottles and water to cool over night before taking the jars of sauce out. You’ll probably hear quite a few of the jars pop during the evening as the lids become concave, forming a seal. If any jars have not sealed then you can either reprocess them, store them in the fridge to use within the week, or pour them into a plastic container and freeze them.
I’ve made around 60 jars of sauce so far and I’ll hopefully make the same again as you can’t beat the taste of homemade passata. I was going to write about making tomato concentrate too, but a certain someone decided to use power tools to cut some stone for a new doorway and my almost ready concentrate which was drying in the sun got covered in stone dust, so you’ll just have to wait until next time.
Before I go, I’d also like to thank Matthias and Tanja, our HelpXchangers who managed to work during a mini heatwave. To keep in the shade they did a wonderful job in some of our oldest olive trees pruning all the vertical suckers, as well as several other much appreciated jobs in the garden. We’ve a Taiwanese chap coming next week to assist Jeremy with the building of our long awaited pergola, so I’m hoping it stays as cool and breezy as it has for the past couple of weeks.