San Marzano and Homemade Tomato Paste
Back in April March (issue #110), Saveur Magazine had a recipe on Homemade Tomato Paste. In the last few issues, Saveur has nicely covered a number of basic kitchen skills, such as making butter, making cheese, canning tuna etc – the types of things I like learning about and I like making myself; the type of things that are not difficult to make but are almost becoming a lost art, mostly become they are often judged “too time consuming”; the type of things that are just about sublime when done carefully well – and dare I say, lovingly?
What sounded really attractive was cooking the paste in the oven, as opposed to stove-top which is what other recipes said to do. So, back in March, I marked that recipe:I was planning a large tomato garden, and was hoping to have tomatoes for paste.
Now, the large tomato garden is indeed producing: it’s not unusual to pick up 5 pounds of Viva Italia Roma tomatoes or San Marzano a day – several days in a row. It was time to try to make tomato paste.
A good tomato paste will help make a good pizza a great pizza, will bring body and depth of flavor to a tomato sauce that’s a little weak (and for good reason, since they are 4 or 5 pounds of tomatoes in one cup of paste!), and will really enhance that lasagna or that that Bolognese sauce!
I made the Saveur magazine recipe. However, in my oven, it turned too dark, too fast. Also I learned that you must stir the paste often or IT WILL BURN. For example, do not go on a walk for 1 hour while the paste is baking: when you come back, all the edges and a good part of the pan will be carbonized! You’ll be able to salvage some… but how frus-tra-ting! and what a waste of perfectly good tomatoes. GGRRRRR!!!! So stick around for 3 hours so you can keep a keen eye on the paste and stir it often.
I made several batches of tomato paste (including the semi-carbonized one). I decided that I would rather have a less concentrated tomato paste and something a little less dark in color than the original Saveur recipe was calling for. It’s still plenty flavorful though! I played with the quantities a little and with the oven timing and temperature. I also tried it in the oven pan and in a LeCreuset pan. They both work, although the oven pan is not totally flat inside, so you have to pay more attention to the edges to ensure they do not burn. Finally if you are using two pans at once (because, after all, since you have the oven going, you may as well fill it, right?), then make sure to rotate the pans every hours. In the end, the Homemade Tomato Paste worked very nicely.
I plan to make more, and I plan to can it, as soon as I can put my hand on the small (1/2 cup) canning jars.
Homemade Tomato Paste
Yield: About 2 cups
· 8 to 9 lbs. plum tomatoes. I used a mixture of Roma & San Marzano
· 1⁄3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Oil two large rimmed baking sheets, oven pans or other metal pans with a little olive oil.
Roughly chop tomatoes. Heat the rest of the oil in a skillet (or Dutch oven) over high heat (I used my cast-iron pan). Add tomatoes; bring to a boil. Cook, stirring, until very soft, about 10 minutes. I did this in several batches (using two separate pans going simultaneously) to avoid overcrowding the pan.
Process the tomatoes through a food mill (the finest plate you have) getting as much of the pulp as possible.
Heat oven to 275° F.
Spread tomato purée evenly in pan(s). The thinner the layer of puree, the more you are going to have to watch and stir to avoid burning. Bake, stirring the purée occasionally, until most of the water evaporates and the surface darkens, about 2.5 hours. Reduce heat to 250°; cook until thick and brick colored, another 30 minutes. Stir often.
Saveur says to keep the pastein fridge for up to 1 month. I froze it in a rectangular pan until soft frozen. I then cut through to form little rectangles of paste (because you never need but a couple of tablespoons at once). I immediately put them back in the freezer, lining them up on wax paper in a freezer container, each little pat not touching the other. LABEL the container! If you have ice cube trays, you could use those to freeze the paste, and then pop the cubes in a freezer bag. Either way, it’ll be easy to get a pat or two whenever needed.