Simplifying Italian Tomato Passata

It’s tomato time once again and that means passata making month. We grow a wide variety of tomatoes each year, but always reserve two beds for saucing tomatoes, either Roma or San Marzano, both cultivars of egg shaped tomatoes. This year I grew San Marzano from seed, starting in late winter. I planted out 12 seedlings and made sure they were well spaced, at around 35- 40cms apart, which guarantees a bigger crop. They are situated in full sun all day, another factor in considering the siting of your tomatoes. San Marzano and Roma tomatoes store well as their thick skins prevent early rotting or splitting. In the height of the fruiting season we harvest around 5 kilo per day: I’m pleased to see the crops slowing down now dwindling to around one kilo per day.

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Dealing with this constant flushing means addressing sauce making in a very different way from the big annual sauce making day favoured by many. I don’t have a cool room or sufficient fridge space to store masses of tomatoes so we make sauce every second or third day. The following approach takes around 10 minutes of preparation, and minimal equipment. The resulting thick sauce captures the taste of summer to use throughout the colder months. The sauce consists of tomatoes only, no basil, herbs or garlic. 

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What you need:

  • 3 kilo of San Marzano tomatoes or similar egg shaped tomatoes
  • a large heavy based stainless steel stock pot
  • an old fashioned mouli or passatutto ( metal hand cranked food mill) with larger holed disc.
  • rectangular plastic storage containers

Weigh the tomatoes and wash them if necessary. Remove ends and half, or quarter if very large. Throw them into the stock pot and cook on high heat for approximately 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure they don’t catch on the base of the pan. Place your mouli over a bowl. Pour the mushy tomatoes into the mouli. Once all the juice has fallen through, turn the mill to extract the remaining pulp. Scrape the thick pulp from beneath the holed plate and add to puree. Discard the skins and other left overs in the mouli. Return pulp to the stock pot and cook on medium heat for around 30- 40 minutes to reduce and thicken. When cool, place into plastic storage containers. Label with date and freeze.

Yield. 3 kilos will yield around 1.5 litres or so of thick passata/two tubs of 750 mls.

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My mouli is one of my most useful tools. It’s easy to clean, easy to store and fast to use. It’s the perfect implement when you want a certain texture to your food. Sometimes they turn up in opportunity shops so if you see one, grab it. They come with two or three interchangeable discs.

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Interesting Uses for passata.

I deliberately leave my passata plain so that it can be used in a variety of cuisines. Once defrosted, I cook half with some garlic in olive oil, dried oregano and a little tomato paste to use in the week’s supply of Italian dishes such as pizza, pasta, eggplant parmigiana, or Italian soups such as Pasta e Ceci or Minestrone. The remaining un flavoured passata is added to Indian or Chinese dishes. Last night I made a quick Indian sauce using passata with added garlic, some homemade tomato kasundi, and cream. This was used to sauce some lentil balls and became a quick version of Malai Kofta. It was a huge success, and consequently I now must make this year’s batch of Kasundi, which also uses another kilo of plain tomato thick passata. A few spoons of passata can be added to a stir fry along with soy or oyster sauce. Passata enriched with onion, garlic, chilli and smoked pimento is an excellent sauce for baked beans. And when tomatoes are sad and woody in winter, enliven them with a tub of passata to make a brunch shakshuka.

15 thoughts on “Simplifying Italian Tomato Passata”

  1. Thank you Milady for the most sensible and practical post my eyes have sighted today . . . nay, this week ! I have always been somewhat envious viewing the Italian family yearly passata-making days on foodie shows . . . and I admit to having smiled with the same envy at your recent tomato harvest pics on IG. No, this year I did not even have my usual potted harvest – but, in season, one can oft buy cases of tomatoes at affordable prices . . . You show the practicalities to be manageable and I love that you prepare such a simple version with which you can then travel right across the culinary world. This foolproof and practical version of preparation has already travelled > my kitchen to wait for ‘next time’ ! All the ‘raving’ aside I cannot believe 12 well-loved plants created such wealth ! Good’onya . . . !!!

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  2. Years ago my aunt used a mouli to make baby food for my cousins… my only exposure to one. I like kitchen tools which are useful and easy to store. Your post impresses on me the desirability for both the tool and the product of its union with tomatoes!

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    1. A mouli is great also for getting cooked potatoes ready for light gnocchi, and gives the right texture to some pureed soups, where blending goes too far. I love them.

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  3. Another interesting and enlightening post thank you Francesca. Interesting also that you are harvesting tomatoes, while up here (fnq) we are just thinking about planting them. We are learner veggie gardeners.

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    1. The seasons are so different from fnq to fsv… far south vic. Our days are getting cooler but the summer crops hang on for another month. Hope your tomatoes are bountiful Louise.

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  4. I love reading how other people manage the big harvest. This year we swapped for a bigger chest freezer, and now on a daily basis, I just chop up the raw tomatoes and put them into take away containers and freeze for future use. Fantastically easy. I have also frozen raw snow peas and sugar snaps to be used in stir fries etc.

    How is the Ottolenghi cookathon going?

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  5. Although we don’t grow tomatoes, I love seeing your beautiful harvest photos! It’s amazing how the tomato, of Central American origin, became important in so many world cuisines.

    be well… mae at maefood.blogspot.com

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  6. I have tried to subscribe to your blog again.
    Until a day or 2 ago I could still use the Classic Editor on my blog, but it changed overnight and the only option is the Block Editor which I loathe. I sought help from WordPress but the explanation on how to use the Block Editor is just as confusing.
    I then found out that if you pay to upgrade to Business you can continue to use the Classic…nice trick. If I wasn’t alone in Italy I would be looking for help to change to a self managed site, or maybe I will just give up writing a blog. I have paid for the upgrade, but I will be looking for alternatives.

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    1. Hi Debra, I’m able to use the classic editor, found on pull down section on the left hand side, though it’s not so user friendly as it once was but it is there.
      Are you having difficulty subscribing to my blog? Let me know if there’s a problem.
      I pay around $200 a year to use wordpress premium so I can choose a better template, and font style as well as my domain name. This isn’t a business plan but just an upgrade. I must say that it’s more onerous using the site than it once was, so it’s a rather expensive hobby.

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