By Aimee Blume
As September rolls on and your tomato plants go into their final fury of production, if you can or preserve, you might consider making tomato paste from some of that bounty.
Although canned diced tomatoes or tomato sauces are certainly delicious and just what you need for some recipes, there are benefits to making some paste as well. It’s not only easier, but the finished product has a greatly reduced volume and can be easily stored in the freezer.
There are varieties of tomatoes, such as Roma and San Marzano, that are developed specifically for cooking into paste and sauce. They are drier and have fewer seeds than normal slicing tomatoes. Use them if you have them, but regular tomatoes work fine, too. You just have to cook them a little longer to evaporate all that juice.
To make tomato paste, pick and peel your tomatoes. Then simply throw them, whole, into a large stainless-steel pot with a heavy bottom. You may remove the seeds if you wish, but it isn’t necessary. The pot must be stainless steel or enameled cast iron or the like — don’t use unfinished aluminum because it can react with the acidic sauce during the long cooking time. And the pan must have that heavy bottom. Tomatoes are sugary and are guaranteed to scorch on the bottom of a thin hot pot.
Once the tomatoes are in the pot, smash them up a bit with a potato masher, and add salt and seasonings of your choice. I like a sprinkle of allspice and nutmeg and a big pinch of white pepper. Don’t add too many spices and herbs, because the mixture will be reducing to 1/6th or less of its original volume and spices can easily get too strong.
Bring to a slow simmer and let it go. Stir occasionally and skim any froth that rises at the beginning of cooking.
Keep an eye on the tomatoes and keep the heat low, so they are barely bubbling. Check often to make sure that the tomatoes are not sticking to the bottom of the pot. That’s it. Let it go until it’s thick enough to mound like pudding in the pan. It might take 7 to 8 hours depending on the size of your pan and how may tomatoes you started with.
Let the paste cool. Can it in half-pint jars or simply place into small snack-size plastic storage bags and freeze them flat in the freezer. Once frozen, place them into larger freezer storage bags to keep them nice and airtight. When you need tomato paste, simply break a chunk off one of the “bricks” and return the rest to the freezer. The flavor is amazing, and if you’re making a thick sauce, you don’t have to wait for a more liquid product to reduce.
Pasta alla Amatriciana
Making Pasta alla Amatriciana, a traditional Roman dish, provides a perfect opportunity to use your homemade tomato paste.
1/3 pound thick-cut bacon or pancetta, diced
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
Big pinch red chili flake or more to taste
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup tomato paste
Salt, if necessary, and pepper to taste
1/2 pound dry linguine
1/2 cup grated pecorino cheese
Putting it together:
Heat a wide skillet and add the bacon, garlic, onion and red chili. Cook, stirring often, until the bacon and onion are lightly browned. Pour off excess fat.
Add the white wine to the skillet and reduce until syrupy. Add the chicken stock and reduce. Finally, add the tomato paste and taste for seasoning, adding salt if necessary and pepper to taste. Turn heat to low and simmer while the pasta is cooking.
In the meantime, cook the pasta according to package directions in a pot of boiling salted water. Drain well and add to the sauce in the skillet with half the cheese. Toss well.
Place on serving dishes and garnish with the remaining cheese. Makes 2-3 servings.