Preparing for our First Tomato Passata Making Season

Nothing beats the authentic Italian red sauce on everything from a simple pasta napolitana to a crowd pleasing lasagne or one of my favourites, parmigiana di melanzane aka eggplant parmigiana. If the passata is homemade, the dish is out of this world.

Having been born into an Australian family with no direct Italian connections I have managed to make my own Italian connections my whole life. Since leaving school I’ve always managed to find kindhearted Italian friends who would take me home to their mamas and feed me. With awe and wonder I would observe and question everything, always trying to learn and I guess become a little bit Italian myself.

One of the most revered days on the Italian calendar was passata making day. Unfortunately I was never brave enough to invite myself along so the actual running of the day is still a mix of mystery and fantasy to me. So I am going to do some sleuthing amongst my Italian friends to put together a running sheet plan for the day. I have time - passata making day won’t be until late February or March depending on when the tomatoes are ready.

In place of the traditional Italian family gathering, this passata making day will hopefully mark the start of a new tradition for our family, gathering neighbours and friends together, to share the work of cutting 10 boxes of tomatoes, pressing tomatoes, bottling and preserving the sauce and sharing the yields of the rewards. All while enjoying each other's stories, news and tall tales. I think it's going to blow the kids minds! It certainly will give them something to talk about when they go back to school the following week.

Recently I took my first step towards this commitment and purchased the Tomato Machine and the tub to collect the pulp with a nifty bottle filling attachment. Not a small investment but I chose to buy one that would last, had the power to go the distance and had spare parts available should we need them. Marta at Home Make It was so helpful explaining the process, the machine and the bottling options. When I actually have the boxes of tomatoes in my hot little hands then I will know how many bottles I will need. But until then I still need to decide how I will go about the bottling as there so many option here - small jars, large jars, beer bottles, passata bottles, champagne bottles, new or re-used. A warning about re-using random jars and bottles - be sure they will be able to take the heat when it comes to the preserving part so that they don’t explode. Caps for champagne bottles are a different size to beer bottles and each need their own tool - the capper. Jars need lids that simply twist on. Then what size pot will I buy and which gas burner matches the pot? The size of the pot determines how many jars or bottles can be preserved at a time, as they are carefully laid down in the pot and stacked upon each other before covered with water and brought to the boil for a couple of hours. When choosing between the many sizes of bottles, a helpful tip was to realise that it's best to use all the sauce at once when it's opened so none is wasted, so the 1 litre bottles may be too large for us non-Italians. As I wish to gift some bottles away to friends I have decided to choose between the 750 ml jars or the old style 660 ml brown beer bottles. So with Marta’s guidance I did the maths and the bottom line is they come out about the same. So it’s a matter of personal choice. Is one safer than the other? Last better? Is twisting a lid easier than capping? I estimate we will  be making about 100 bottles or jars. Plenty to give away and plenty to keep!