September 20, 2009
Can you stand another tomato recipe? I've been cooking a lot with tomatoes lately, but hey - everyone's got an excess of tomatoes right now. Some friends dropped off some of their tomato excess the other night to us (thanks, Brian and Diane!) and that was fine with me. What was I going to do with that many tomatoes? I was going to make my own tomato paste.
Why make your own tomato paste? Besides simply being a great way to find a use for all those tomatoes, homemade tomato paste is just such a different thing than the store bought, canned type. The flavor is so deep, so intense and concentrated, there really is no comparison. With just a little effort, you can take pounds and pounds of tomatoes and turn them into a small amount of outstanding tomato paste.
In Sicily when the tomatoes come in, they make estratto - it literally means "extracted". They take the tomatoes and extract the puree, salt it and then lay that out on a wooden table or board in the sun. The puree is turned over and over with a spatula and spread out again until eventually the sun has removed all the moisture from the puree. This can take about 2 days. You are left with a thick, dark paste that is called estratto. The estratto is then packed into jars, covered with oil and salt and placed in the refrigerator, where it can actually remain for up to a year. You can buy it but then you're still left with all those tomatoes.
Since the Michigan sun is not comparable to the sun in Sicily, I made my tomato paste in the oven, replicating what the sun does - drying out the tomato puree slowly until the moisture was gone. The result is an incredible tomato product that you won't believe. In Sicily, they add a little of this to their soups, sauces or stews. You can even spread some on a piece of bread or crostini, if you like. It's so delicious you will be tempted to eat it with a spoon.
The process is simple and not at all difficult. It just takes a long time in the oven. You will need a food mill in order to strain out the seeds and skin of the tomatoes. You can use a sieve and a spoon, but a food mill will make the process so much faster because of the quantity of tomatoes you will be working with.
Homemade Tomato Paste
for a printable recipe, click here
- 6-7 pounds of tomatoes, chopped
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
- 2 bay leaves
- kosher or sea salt
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Place the tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and bay leaves and two large pinches of sea salt in a large pot and cook, until tomatoes are softened, about 10 minutes. Place a food mill over a large bowl. Transfer contents of pot, in batches, to the food mill and extract the tomato puree by turning the handle of the food mill several times in one direction and then several times in the other direction. Repeat, until all the skins and seeds has been removed from all the tomatoes.
Lightly oil a baking sheet pan with olive oil. Spread out tomato puree and place in oven. Cook for about 2 hours and then turn over the puree with a spatula, spreading it out. Return to oven. Cook for another hour and turn puree over again. Cook until the puree has turned into a paste and is very thick, maybe an hour more.
Cool puree and store in a small glass jar in the refrigerator. You can top it off with a little olive oil and sea salt if you like. It will last for several months.