few times of year rival this, the dog days — the armpit — of summer, in terms of produce and markets, anyway. and it’s this time of year when i admire the italians for their canniness (no pun intended, i swear): in most of the country, it’s too hot to move, too hot to be anywhere that’s not near sea nor mountain, but there are more than a few households that spend a weekend (or two) putting up tomatoes (and peaches and plums and figs, etc.) to last the winter. (mind you, it’s not all romance over here: plenty of families buy their produce and industrially canned tomatoes at supermercati. but it’s nice to wander into someone’s courtyard and see the neighbors toiling over a 10-gallon pot of tomatoes, surrounded by a legion of jars, all agape.) this year i join the few and the industrious.
this is how you do it:
first, purchase a cassetta of tomatoes at the market. mine weighed approximately 11 kg (about 24 lbs) and cost about €6 (that’s total — or about 31 cents/lb, more or less). it’s best to use san marzano-type tomatoes, the long, ovoid ones that are densely fleshy and not too juicy or seedy.
just as there is more than one way to skin a cat, there is more than one way to put up your tomatoes. i like a chunky preserve, what they call polpa (or pulp or flesh). this requires peeling (scoring, briefly blanching, shocking) a SHITLOAD of tomatoes. (twice this many for the amount i wanted in the end.) it’s best to then core and deseed before cutting them (i find that sixteenths make a good size — about an inch or so, square), but i skipped this step mostly as i was also elbows-deep in:
the passata, which is how most, i would say, prefer to can. both polpa and passata must be brought to a boil before they can be put sotto vuoto (under vacuum) in order to kill our not-so-very-good friend C. botulinum. because of their high acidity, tomatoes fortunately require the least amount of messing with, a minimum of 30 minutes of boiling, so says harold mcgee. the polpa we boiled just once, but for the passata, the tomatoes are cut up into quarters, heated to boiling until they break down and then reduced to remove much of the liquid (of which there is a lot), then passed through a food mill to remove seeds and skins. everything is boiled again and reduced further until you obtain an ideal consistency. it’s all then ladled into immaculately clean jars, lids screwed on tight.
and ecco, the newest additions to my family. how i will enjoy eating you, all winter long.