When I got married, I refused to consider a ‘passapomodoro’ (tomato squeezer) part of my dowry.
A ‘passapomodoro’ is a metal contraption which separates the skin from the flesh of cooked tomatoes and it’s used to make tomato sauce from raw tomatoes. I had seen my grandma sweating over (and, sometimes, into) it, my mum sweating over it (only when Grandma’s tomato sauce had run out) and thought that, by marrying an English man, I had escaped my tomato-sauce-making duties.
Alas, my husband tasted homemade tomato sauce at my grandmother’s house and made gentle ‘enquiries’ with me.
Short diversion: I was not born a Mama. Nobody is (we are all born as babies, until further notice), but I wasn’t even intending to become one. I studied hard, went to Uni and never learnt to cook. But when I got married and moved to the UK, I realized that friends and family, if invited to our home, expected if not a banquet worth of a kitchen goddess, at least some pasta cooked ‘al dente’.
I ended up buying a passapomodoro (photo) in an expensive WMF wedding gift shop in Germany (don’t ask what I was doing there, it’s a story for another post) and I’ve made megaliters of sauce since.
If you are so foolish as to want to go down the slippery slope of tomato-sauce addiction, this is how you do it:
What you need:
Ripe fresh tomatoes, as many as you can fit in a large pot
One or two large onions (they make the sauce sweeter)
Fresh basil, if you like
A passapomodoro (use the sieve with the smaller holes or you’ll get tomato skins and pips in your sauce)
Funnel and jars, if you want to freeze some sauce for later
What you do:
Roughly cut the tomatoes in half, the onions in quarters and throw everything into the pot. You don’t need to add water. Cover with a lid and put on the hob over a very, very gentle heat: you want the tomatoes to sweat out their juice, not burn and stick to the bottom (should this happen, pour everything into another pot leaving the burnt bits stuck to the first pot, and start again). After about one hour, tomatoes and onions should be a pulpy mess. Take them off the fire.
Now it’s no longer the tomatoes’ turn to sweat. It’s yours.
Take a tall pot, pour in some olive oil and place the passapomodoro over it. Now pour the cooked mixture into the pass.p. in batches and turn the handle (anticlockwise, I think) to squeeze the juices out of the tomatoes. Carry on, batch after batch, occasionally discarding the skins from your pass.p. if they are building up. But beware: the more flesh you can squeeze out of the skins before discarding them, the richer the sauce. You should really squeeze and squeeze until only very thin skins are left, with no flesh left. Stuff you really wouldn’t like to eat. When I was a child you could learn from seeing this stuff on the street when home refuse bags had been ravaged by cats or they weren’t collected often enough. Now you can’t (because the cooking mamas are dying out, not because the rubbish is collected more often). My grandma used to show off how fast she could whizz the thing round.
Once you’ve squeezed every last bit of flesh out of the skins ( and, in the process, you got an arm as big as Steffi Graff’s, Serena Williams’ or a fiddler crab’s), put the pot with the sauce over a moderate fire and let it simmer and reduce until it’s as thick as you like it. Add salt and fresh basil, if you like.
In the past, when you could only buy ripe tomatoes in summer, women made huge batches of sauce, sterilise glass bottles and preserve the sauce in their pantry for the winter. Now you can make enough sauce for a few jars, stick them in the deep freezer and use as and when needed. If you do this, don’t fill them to the top because, freezing, the sauce will expand and crack the jar. Don’t scoff, it can happen to anyone (yes, it’s happened to me).