Homemade tomato sauce.
Tomato sauce is essential to Italian meals, and is made at the end of August or the beginning of September. I’m going to give you an insider’s view of how this is done. The only catch is that you need a machine. My Nonnies (grandparents) machine cost about $600.00, and so like I was hinting before this is SERIOUS.
The first step is to purchase bushels of tomatoes at the best price possible, and then lay the bushels out to dry in the garage on tables. My Nonna said you should cover them because the warmth, and heat allows them to ripen faster. When red in colour they’re ready.
Next you wash the tomatoes. Since I was a kid we have done this the same way. You wash them in batches and 3 times. Transferring them from 1 bucket to the 2nd bucket, and lastly the 3rd bucket. You do the same with the basil, which we grow ourselves.
Usually the kids job is to put a tea-spoon of salt, and one basil leaf – or two depending on the size – in each jar.
While someone is prepping the jars Nonno boils the cleaned tomatoes in huge tin pots. Once the tomatoes begin bursting open, and are softened they are removed and placed on top of cloths to strain the excess water. My Nonna uses a fork to poke most of the tomatoes so that even more water is able to escape. Now they are ready for the grinder.
This is where that machine comes into play. If you want to make your own tomato sauce, but on a smaller scale, you can follow these steps. Instead of grinding the tomatoes you dice them and just allow them to cook over the stove until they condense and thicken.
This machine is heavy-duty. You basically just feed whole tomatoes through and the grinder does most of the work. It separates the yucky insides – seeds and mulch like contents – from the good stuff which makes the sauce. You only need three people to handle this machine. One person (Nonna) puts the tomatoes in, another (Nonno) feeds them through the machine pushing them down, and the third person pushes the pulp to the side while scrapping the inside of the machine allowing the sauce to flow out faster. Once an entire bushel is fed through the machine you then process the yucky pulp of the tomatoes that has been discarded through the machine. You do this once.
You’d think the last step is jarring the tomato juice, but it’s not. Usually the women pour the juice into each jar, and the men seal them. The lids need to be TIGHT or else they’ll open while boiling, and that’s just not good.
Finally, you boil the jars for about 20 – 30 minutes in order to have a proper seal. You should store your freshly pressed jars in a cool space. Italians have cantina’s. This is exactly what they are for – storing tomato sauce – and wine.
It’s a lot of work to make tomato sauce. My Nonna threatened that this year would be the last. It wouldn’t be too horrible because this is my last “planned” year away from home to do my masters and I need the sauce the most this year. I don’t have the time to make fresh sauce every time I cook, but if I continued living at home my mom would be doing it from scratch. Regardless, it’d be devastating to put an end to the tradition.
One thing that has changed is that all 14 of us – my Nonna’s daughters, their husbands, and us grandchildren – don’t all make our sauce on the same day anymore. It’s just too many kids running around, too many hands on the tomatoes, and too many tomatoes to process in one shot. We divide the work now. One family at a time – and on different days – heads over to Nonna’s and helps them to do the work.
As I type this blog my parents are fast asleep on the couch after an early start, and long day filled with tomatoes…but for more Napoli food traditions, be sure to read: “Napoli, Italy Traditions: Red Peppers” to get insight on how to roast your own!