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Gastronomically yours,

DYI Tomato Paste

 The garden has yet again provided a bounty of tomatoes as have the neighbors gardens. Last nights frost saw me out harvesting all of the tomatoes still on the vine
which has led to an accumulation of tomatoes ripening on the window sill while the ripened ones have simply been bagged whole and frozen in the freezer.

 This year I plan on preserving some of my tomatoes as tomato paste. Making homemade tomato paste is not an easy task as it is akin to making maple syrup. It will require a bit of time and patience on the cook’s end of things as it can take several hours to reduce your juicy tomatoes down to a thick concentrated paste, which will allow you to store your tomatoes for up to a year in the refrigerator, longer in your freezer and indefinitely if you can them.

 This artisan approach to preserving tomatoes is similar to how it has been done for centuries in Sicily, Italy and Malta where reduced tomato sauce would be spread on wooden boards and then dried in the late summer sun. The following recipe uses an oven to dry the paste to a desired consistency but can be done out of doors if you choose and are willing to consider its environment through what may take up to a week. Either method is acceptable and will provide you with a tomato paste that is free of sugar, corn sugars and the acidic tin taste often found with industrially produced tomato paste.

I suggest that you use only fully ripened tomatoes that are still releasing the fragrance of summer in the following recipe which are readily available in your own or your neighbors’ garden, or at the farmers’ markets. Try using different coloured tomatoes to produce different coloured pastes.

tomatoes

DYI Tomato Paste

Ingredients:

5 pounds very ripe tomatoes

1/8 cup kosher salt

Extra-virgin olive oil for the baking sheet, plus more for topping off the jar

Method:

Rinse your tomatoes of any dirt and remove their cores. Cut your tomatoes into quarters or sixth’s so that you can easily remove the seeds with your fingers. In a large non-reactive sauce pot bring the tomatoes to a boil over medium high heat. Stirring occasionally; allow the tomatoes to cook for 30 minutes to soften the tomatoes and release their juice.

Pass the tomatoes through a food mill or a chinois to remove the tomato skins and any remaining seeds. Return the now puréed tomatoes to their original pot, stir in the salt and continue cooking them over medium heat for about 30-40 minutes until the puree has simmered down to about 2 cups.

 As the tomato paste begins to thicken you may want to reduce the heat somewhat as the concentrated sugars in the paste will easily burn and the pot itself will be somewhat volcanic in nature as it will begin to sputter and splatter all over the stove and any bystanders.

Lightly oil any non-aluminum baking sheet, or if you only have aluminum, double line it with a generous amount of parchment paper, so that the tomato paste does not come in contact with the aluminium.  Using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula spread the tomato paste mixture evenly over the baking sheet.

 Cook the tomato paste on the center rack in a preheated oven at 200ºF for 20 minutes.

Remove tray from oven and stir the purée with the wooden spoon or rubber spatula and then spread the tomato mixture back out evenly over the pan and return it to the oven. You are then going to repeat this process every 20 minutes in a bit of an obsessive fashion so that the paste dries evenly and doesn’t form a crust. You will need to be diligent when evenly spreading the paste over the pan because if any part is spread too thin, it may burn.

 As the paste evaporates it will no longer cover the baking sheet entirely, so form the paste into a rectangle approximately 1/8th of an inch thick after each stirring/spreading session. Remove any bits of paste that may be become over cooked or won’t release from the pan on their own.

After the three hour routine has come to an end let the tomato paste cool to room temperature. Pack the tomato paste into clean jars with a spoon taking the time to compress the paste into the jar so that there are no air pockets, creating a level surface. Leave enough space at the top of the jar to pour in enough olive oil to completely cover the surface so that the paste is not exposed. Cover with a lid and refrigerate. So long as you level the surface of the paste and top with more oil after every use, the paste should store up to one year.

Yeilds: about ¾ cup of tomato paste

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