In 2011 – 12 we had such an abundance of tomatoes & beetroots, I was able to make sauces, relish & pickles for the first time. I don’t think I really understood the time & effort it takes – (probably not a bad thing as I might not have done it otherwise) – but I am so glad I did! The flavour of home made is much better & it is very satisfying to hear the tell-tale ‘pop’ sound the lid makes as the bottles & jars cool, signifying job done.
This year, a friend mentioned she wanted to try bottling tomatoes, not as a condiment sauce or relish, but as, well … tomatoes! As I love a good tomato brew to go into pasta sauces & other recipes, it struck me that this could be a good idea indeed & set about looking into how it’s done.
After some quick Google-ing, I discovered that making tomato puree, or Passata, is actually really straight forward – which peaked my interest, as I consider myself a simple cook, whose doesn’t cope well with lots of complicated or technical processes, unless I am able to focus on just the job at hand. As a woman & mother, I can multi-task with the best, but there are some jobs you just know will not succeed without dedicated attention to detail. Having to make time to play in the sand pit or on the trampoline, paint, draw, paste, read, change, feed, soothe & generally avert disaster means simple & practical wins the day more often than not. I have the luxury of being home with my babies full-time, but it does not mean I have free time to play in the kitchen as much as I would like!
Our tomato crop has been a little sparse to date, but thankfully my in-laws had a great season & passed along some of the lusciousness to me. Yipee!
Traditional Passata, according to my search, is simply slow cooked tomatoes, pureed & bottled. There are of course variations that include seasonings such as pepper & salt, fresh herbs like basil or rosemary, fresh chilli or onion, just to name a few. These all looked & sounded wonderful, but for me, I decided to start with simple – just the gorgeous fresh taste of slow cooked tomatoes.
Traditional recipes also stipulate the need for peeling the tomatoes – this is not difficult to do, you start by;
- cutting a little cross in the base of the tomato,
- blanching them in boiling water for about 2 minutes,
- remove from the heat & place in cold water,
- allow to cool slightly, rub the skin back & remove, it should come away from the flesh very easily
- discard skin & place peeled tomatoes in stock pot ready for cooking.
Difficult, no, time consuming, yes! I decided against this as I was juggling quite a lot this day. Besides, I quite like the texture & nutritional value of leaving the skins in. Also, in this world of wonderful kitchen gadgetry, a stick blender takes care of any lumps you might find!
Prepping the Passata is as easy as cutting off any greenery & yucky bits, quartering them & throwing them in a large stock pot.
I started with just over 4 kg’s in this batch, cooking them, covered, over a low heat & allowing them to gradually break down. Most recipes I looked at had the cooking time at around 5 to 6 hours for an average of 5kgs of tomatoes.
This batch was cooked for around 4 hours, due to;
- It reaching a good consistency – you want it look similar to a can of tinned chopped tomatoes.
- My son was due home from his ‘Nanna Day’, so I was pressed for time without distraction.
- My daughter was due to wake up from her afternoon nap within the next hour, so bottling would be out of the question once that occurred.
Once you have the reduced thickness you are happy with, you can do the traditional sieving, using a sieve or mouli, or if you are time pressured & well, lazy like me, you can use a stick blender & go to work making your puree. About 30 seconds of that & ‘belissimo’, Passata … sort of! Purists might cringe at the use of a stick blender, but it works for me.
Leave the blended Passata on a low heat to continue reducing to a slightly denser consistency.
While the puree is reducing, it is time to get your glassware ready. You can buy preserving equipment from most homewares stores, Fowlers bottles & jars are great. Or, if you’re on a budget like us, save up your pop top glass jars & bottles & use those just as effectively.
Your glassware needs to be washed & de-labelled – I’ve tried to get into the habit of doing this as I finish them, so that I am not left with a big pile to scrape labels off – it is a crappy job best done in snippets!
Also, my advice would be to line up what you have & make sure you have the matching lids before proceeding. From experience, it is a right pain to sterilise a bottle & fill it, only to find you have no lid to seal it all up! Bottling is hot, messy, potentially burn-y work & having everything at hand is crucial.
The next step is to sterilise your glassware & lids. If you are lucky enough to have a dishwasher, (so jealous!!), the next step would be to wash the glassware & lids on the hottest wash setting you have. If however, you are like me & are sadly missing such a gadget, here’s how it goes;
- Preheat your oven to 160 degrees Celsius.
- Place glassware into oven, being careful to keep them separated slightly – the rungs on oven racks are great for this. Leave them in for around 15 minutes.
- Place the lids in a pot of boiling water on your stove top & let them bubble away while you are completing the bottling.
I chose to use 500gm jars for this Passata – mainly as this quantity suits the amount of fresh or tinned tomatoes I would use to make, say, a batch of Bolognese Sauce. You can make your quantities to preference – keeping in mind that once a jar/bottle is opened it will need to be used within a few days to ensure freshness.
To bottle your Passata;
- Remove one jar at a time, using something heatproof to protect your hands – (I use a clean dry tea towel) – it will be red hot!
- Using a heat proof jug or ladle, pour the Passata into the jar, if using narrow topped bottles, you will need a funnel for this – make sure it is a heatproof one. The Passata will sizzle & bubble as it hits the hot glass – this is good.
- Fill your glassware almost to the top, leaving a small gap, maybe 1/2 cm – do not overfill as it will not seal well.
- As the bubbling subsides, use tongs or similar to remove a lid from the boiling water & place gently on top on the jar. Do not tighten too much, just enough for the lid to be secured to the jar. Repeat with each jar until stock pot is empty.
Suggestions / Tips: It is at this point of putting the lids on where you may choose to add some seasoning to your Passata – a sprig of rosemary or oregano, maybe a basil or bay leaf can be added to each jar as desired. Doing this will allow the Passata to absorb the flavour as it cools, creating a range of taste sensations that can be added to a variety of dishes like pasta or casseroles.
Once this is complete – take a deep breath & say “Ahhh …”, for a job well done! Leave the Passata to cool, as it does, you will start to hear the pop of the jars sealing in all the fresh goodness.
When Passata has completely cooled, check that all the lids have sealed securely. You can tell by pressing on the middle of the lid – if it bounces back, the seal has not taken. If this happens, you can reheat, wash & re-sterilise & try again. Either that, or place the Passata in the fridge & consume within 4-5 days. If you end up with a half jar like I did, fridge it & use it with 4 – 5 days.
Tighten the lids on the correctly sealed Passata. It can be stored in the pantry for anywhere up to 12 months.
Cook! Eat! Enjoy!
PS – I know this recipe is very simple, but the addition of a homemade Passata adds robustness & acidity to your cooking you just can’t get from a bought can or jar.
The biggest challenge for most of us will not be in the cooking itself, but the time it takes to make – you need to be close to your stove for anywhere up to 7 hours. My experience is to plan ahead, get everything ready & make it your priority for that day. It’s a lot I know … but well worth it in the end!