Friday, September 11, 2015

Summer, condensed.

After returning home from Santa Fe, I hit the tomatoes with gusto. Ten pounds of San Marzanos out of our garden have become tomato paste. Of course, ten pounds of tomatoes yields only 4 cups of paste, but the process is very easy. And the result... is simply amazing. I'll never cook with canned tomato paste again if I can help it!

A few years ago I did a "taste test" in my own kitchen a la America's Test Kitchen. I had made a sauce with some paste, and it tasted very metallic -- and sure enough, tasting the paste from the can and it tasted... awful. Like metal. I set out to see if that could be solved. I found that MOST did, actually -- even pricier canned pastes. The exception was expensive import pastes in a tube. While I use this a lot now, if you need 4-6oz of it for a soup or sauce, that's not really practical.

In my canning adventures, tomato products are my favorite WIN. In most areas, a tomato in the winter is as rare as a unicorn. Canning tomatoes is the best way to preserve the wonders of summer for enjoyment all year 'round. 

This year I decided to make tomato paste. Here's the process I used -- simple! 

Oh. My. God. 

Essentially, I did two batches. 5 lbs of San Marzanos (with a stray Roma or two thrown in San Marzanos were halved, and thrown in a pot with a small amount of olive oil. Cook until they start to break down, with all tomatoes soft and skins starting to peel off.

Run this through a foley mill or food strainer (I use the former) over a large bowl. Stir in one teaspoon sea salt, and a quarter teaspoon citric acid (you can find this in the spices section; I had it as a result of cheese making. It's mainly to keep it acidic enough for a hot water bath canning; you can skip the citric acid if you are going to freeze the product).

Here's the magic: pour the thick "tomato juice" into a rimmed baking sheet. Pop into a 350 oven, and set a timer for an hour. (TIP: sit your pan in the oven, and pour the juice into it from there so you don't have to move a sloshing pan of liquid.) Basically you are creating a large surface area evaporator.

Stir the pan after an hour, then set the timer for another hour. Stir again. At this point, I had paste with a small bit of moisture still left -- but I feared if I left it at temp for much longer, I'd get burned edges. So, I just closed the oven, gave it a few minutes to return to temp, then turned if off and left it to cool down. The result was a nicely reduced paste without any burn.

The paste is a deep and vibrant red, with a pure tomato flavor unlike anything I've ever experienced.

Yes, 5 lbs of tomatoes resulted in two cups of paste. But it's well worth it, IMO. I did two batches, and it was quick and easy. These little freezer containers are the perfect size for a 4 ounce block of paste, to pop into a recipe. 

And this weekend -- our own little Leith style La Tomatina! Tomorrow morning starts off with getting about 30 lbs of tomatoes from a you-pick, and setting about canning some stewed tomatoes, tomato soup, and some tomato sauce. The sisters-in-law are going to join in! We'll cap the day off with some pizza on the grill. I just made two batches of Alton Brown's pizza dough and stashed them in the fridge to rise overnight. YUM. 

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