A downside to working the ridiculous hours expected of me as a teacher, has been a lack of time to spend in the kitchen on BIG projects. Like long slow cooking of sauces, chutneys, jams and pickles. Hours spent, unhurried, pottering with purpose over freshly picked produce to create smells and tastes that simply cannot be replicated in the usual grocery line fare.
One of my goals for this year, whilst away from the classroom, is to be as commercial product-’less’ as possible. I aim to use my time – and my dollars – wisely to achieve this. I’ll be milling, grinding and preparing as much from scratch as possible, using whole foods. I aim to eliminate as much processed and packaged items from not just our pantry – but our home – as I can. And before you think I am turning into some freaked-out-peace-loving-hippy-chick, please note that:
a: this does not include gifts from my wonderful foodie friends;
b: items already in the house;
c: chocolate, chocolate or chocolate.
On a recent trip out Ipswich way, I picked up a 12kg box of roma tomatoes. $5.00. I used 8 kilograms in the oven, slow roasting for sauces. A further 2 kilo pureed, slow cooking for tomato paste. Final 2 kilos became a chunky, rustic roasted tomato, garlic and onion sauce for recipe bases or side dishes.
My freezer runneth over.
Here’s how I did it:
As a child growing up in Perth, I was exposed from a young age to the delicate sweetness of our Italian neighbour’s passata, rich tomato pastes, and sweet, salty basil leaves. Their girls and I were great friends, and my love of Italian food came from the heart of their kitchen where I spent so many of my childhood hours. Our job, every school holidays, was to help crush, cook and pour the sweet tomatoey goodness into big brown beer bottles which were then capped and stored for the family. Their yield, from a suburban back yard, would last a year.
10 kg of ripe tomatoes, cut in half
3 red onions, cut into chunks
1 whole head of garlic, papers on but root end removed.
2-3 BIG handfuls of fresh basil
handful of fresh parsley and fresh oregano
3 or 4 bay leaves
salt to taste
Layer the tomatoes, onions and garlic into roasting dishes. Make sure your garlic and onions ate tucked under the tomatoes – you don’t want any burned bits, just rich, sweet caramelisations.
Sprinkle with salt, sit for a minute or so. Drizzle with a good lug of olive oil and pop into a medium oven.
After about 40 mins or so, they will look like this.
Give them a little stir around without flipping them over. And around the sides you can bring toward the middle so that there is no sticking or uneven cooking. Using the back of a paddle spatula, gently press them all so they are nice and flat.
If your tomatoes need any extra seasoning, now is the time to do so.
Back into the oven for another 30 mins or so. By then end of this time, they should look more like this:
At this point, you can remove some and freeze as a chunky tomato/onion/garlic base (great for use with eggplant, zucchini etc). It will happily freeze.
Now, take your herbs, and give them a rough tear. This will give the wonderful tomatoes a little time to rest and cool just a bit.
Using a slotted spoon, spoon in (not tip) the chunky tomato mixture into the bowl of a good food processor. (I use my Thermomix – there is no need to ‘pass’ through a sieve if you use a thermomix as the result is pure and seedless) You will probably need to do this in batches. It’s important to spoon in, and reserve the pan juices separately or your passata will be too runny. Once you get to the end of the chunky mix, tip the sauces through a sieve or strainer, and add the chunks to your mix for pureeing. Puree, along with the added herbs (NOT the bay leaves!) on super fast for 30 – 50 seconds. You really want to work it through so it is super silky. It will turn quite orange with the air whipping through.
This is a good thing.
You’ll now have 2 mixtures – one that is your pureed tomato mix and one that holds the remaining liquids from the roasting.
Now all is left for you to do it is to put the passata back in the pot, along with the bay leaves, ready to be poured hot into freshly sterilised glass jars and lids. Place all your wonderful whipped sauce into a large pot. Set it on a medium heat, check your seasoning, pop the lid on and leave until it’s simmering. Stir occasionally.
Keep the sauce in jars in a dark cupboard and consume within 6 months.
But wait – what about those left over pan juices?
These, you can blitz up (if needed) for a lovely consommé. Again, this will freeze – but my childhood memories were of us guzzling this as one would tomato juice, still warm. So good.
Quick lesson on sterilising jars:
- To sterilise jars and lids using a cheat’s method, simply put them in the dish washer and run on the hottest temperature cycle available. Boil your lids in a small saucepan while you wait. Allow bottles to dry in the machine, then fill the hot jars with hot liquid until 7/8 full. Seal with the lid securely. Turn the jars upside down to facilitate the creation of the vacuum, and allow to cool at room temperature until you can touch them. Then turn them up the right way, place the bottles in a bath of cold water. You should hear the lids go ‘pop’ as the vacuum is created. Easy!
What childhood cooking memory do you find simply cannot be replicated by a supermarket product?