How to make tomato paste

You might NOT want to make this recipe, because once you taste it, you’ll never be able to buy tomato paste in a tube again.  Every year in summer when the tomatoes are at their finest, juiciest and ripest, you’ll have to get out this recipe and spend all day making enough paste to last you through the year.  Sounds daunting, but it’s really quite easy as your oven is doing most of the work.  You just have to have a good book to read and check the pot once in a while.  The key is to get the ripest roma tomatoes that you can find, with no green parts even at the core.

What we’re trying to make with this recipe is something that approximates conserva, estratto, ‘strattu.  ‘Strattu (Sicilian) is basically an intense tomato paste that has been dried slowly over 3-4 days in the sun at 100F until it resembles a tomato clay.  It’s hard to find those kind of temperatures over 3-5 days out here, so here’s a gem of a recipe that I’ve borrowed from Hank Shaw,  (he’s got an amazing online magazine called Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook that is such a good read) that shows you how to make it in the oven.

What do you do with this?   You add this to pasta sauces, braises… the list goes on.  It’s what I call a ‘make good’ ingredient and it’s like magic.

How to make tomato paste or ‘strattu…

Ingredients

  • 20 lb very ripe summer tomatoes (Roma, plum or other saucing tomato), chopped roughly
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 8 sprigs from a live tomato plant

Directions:

Start this recipe in the morning as it will cook all day.  Put tomatoes into a stock pot(or several) with salt and simmer over med-high heat (10 min ish) till a good amount of liquid fills about 1/2 of the pot.  Turn the heat off and let the tomatoes soften (20+min depending on how ripe your tomatoes are).  Process the tomatoes through a food mill to remove seeds and skins, this is the only time you’ll have to actually work up a sweat, don’t worry.  Add tomato sprigs.  Spread the tomato sauce on as many baking sheets/casserole pans as you need, fit these all in the oven (at 250F).  Stir every hour for 5 hours making sure the sauce never simmers.  Lower the temp to 200F. Keep moving the sauce to, eventually, one pan as the water evaporates.  Take the tomato leaves/stems out once your sauce is about the consistency of a thick pasta sauce.  Make sure to get all the sprigs out.  Turn the oven off before you go to bed and start again at 200F in the morning.  Keep stirring the sauce as it reduces every hour for 6-8 hours.  You’re done when the paste feels like clay and you can kneed it.

Coat a canning jar in olive oil and press the ‘strattu into the jar making sure there are no air pockets, cover the paste with 1/4″ olive oil and refrigerate, it should last 6 months at least.

Note: Don’t refrigerate fresh tomatoes, ever, the cold turns their sugars into starch, yuck.

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