The summer is over and we are now firmly into the autumn. The leaves on the fruit trees in the orchards are turning yellow and dropping, but there is still plenty of action in the vegetable garden. In this late season, the little yellow tomatoes are doing well and sprawling all over the garden beds, putting down adventitious roots as they go and still flowering and fruiting well. They sprawl about the place like drunken revellers at the end of a very boozy party, making a mess and refusing to leave. I’ve picked a wicker basketful full of these little wonders. They are slowing down now, but I can still fill the basket once a week.
I am engaged in the repetitive task of boiling them down into tomato sugo, then sieving the result and heating it again to reduce it further and concentrate the full flavour of summer tomatoes. I will find lots of uses for it in the coming months for the winter stews and casseroles. Then in spring and even early summer I will use it up in all manner sauces. We don’t get our first ripe tomatoes here until around, or even after Xmas, but even then, they start of in a very shy way, only giving us just enough ripe fruit for our salad lunches.
The really productive time for tomatoes is now, right at the end of the season. So it’s sugo and passata making time.
I make my own version of preserved tomato pulp. I add in onion, garlic, capsicum, chilli and basil, as these are all producing well at this time of year, so it makes sense to incorporate all that I have in the garden that is compatible.
If I’m pressed for time, and aren’t we all, always pressed for time? I just make a quick boiled down sugo or sauce. Mostly tomatoes, placed in a big stew pan and brought to the boil. Seeds and skins all left in and the whole lot ladled into heated glass jars straight from the oven. This works OK, but the flavour from the seeds and skins that are left in there is not as good as when they are removed. It seems to make the sauce a bit thin and sharp somehow? So, I’ve found that it is worth the effort to pass the whole lot through the rotary moullii sieve. But time is always in short supply, so time has to be made for a good passata. Passata sauce has to be sieved. I believe that ‘passata’ means passed through a sieve in Italian? Passata = passed? Whereas ’sugo’ just means sauce.
I haven’t made sugo for two years now. I prefer the flavour of passata, so that is what I plan to do again this season and every year. But the best of intensions often get side tracked or even de-railed completely. So when everything goes temporarily pear shaped. I can still make sugo. I have tried to make time to get every batch of this autumns tomatoes twice cooked and moulied. so far I have been successful and have let other things go temporarily to make the time for it. Something has to give and that something is watching the grim offerings on what Peter Rushforth use to call ‘The idiot box’! No loss there.
I like to add some herbs of whatever takes my fancy. I must say that my favourite is always basil, sweet basil, and plenty of it, but I also vary it with sweet marjoram, thyme and or bay leaves. And of course pepper, but very little salt, just a touch. I make my own salt substitute mix, but that’s another story for another blog.
I like to brown some brown onions in olive oil to start with. We are getting to the end of our own onions by this time of the year. I’ve never been very successful with growing a years worth of onions. The small seeds soon get swamped out with weeds and it’s a lot of work to get them up and above the competition, so that I can mulch them to suppress the weeds. I do what I can, but it’s never enough. Still, we do get some onions to dry for 3 or 4 months use.
I dice the onions very fine so that they will break down easily and eventually pass through the fine mouli easily. I soften them out slowly in Australian olive oil and when they are translucent, I add in a few knobs of our smallest, under-size garlic. We grow a few hundred knobs of garlic each year and about a quarter of them never reach a suitable size, for one reason or another. They remail small, about 1.5 to 3 cm acress, not worth plaiting and hanging. They all get sun-dried and then stored in a large wooden bowl on the kitchen counter. I top and tail them and cut them in half, crush them with the side of a knife to break down the fibres and release all the flavour and them drop them into the pot with skins and all. It will all get sieved out at the end, so it won’t matter. Peeling small garlic cloves is a really slow and in this case an almost pointless job as I’m going to sieve it anyway. So this is my easy, fast solution to the small garlic clove problem. How to use everything that we grow, the good, the ugly and the undersized!
I put on two medium sized boilers of tomatoes, capsicum, chilli, basil mix. This time there is even a few zucchini’s in there and a couple of very ripe aubergines. It is easily reduced down to just one medium boiler of passata after it has all been passed through the mouli. I re-heat it all and bring it to the boil for a few minutes and then let is simmer slowly to reduce and concentrate. It also sterilises it. Meanwhile I get the glass jars washed and ready to pre-heat in the oven to 120oC for 10 minutes or so and I simmer the lids equally.
The easiest part of the whole exercise is to pour the concentrated liquid puree into the jars and screw on the caps. As they cool, I can hear the sharp, loud ‘clack’ noise as the whole lot shrinks and creates a vacuum in each of the jars in turn, sucking down the ‘pop-top’ lid, to indicate that it is now vacuum sealed These jars will now keep for up to 12 months without any further energy being applied to them. It’s a wonderfully fast and efficient way to preserve food. It’s the cooking and sieving that takes the time, but spread over a couple of evenings, it’s not such a big job and I really enjoy it. It’s a seasonal special event. Something to be looked forward to and relished because it’s a real, honest, creative activity. It might also be supremely healthy, tomato juice concentrate, loaded with lycopene, especially the way that we do it, entirely organic and free of any fertilisers, sprays and preservatives. Even if lycopene isn’t as healthy as some people claim, passata is still amazingly delicious.
I don’t think that many people are aware of this kind of activity these days and how important it is to take control of your own life and take as much personal responsibility for your actions and your own health as possible. It doesn’t get exhibited, or advertised, talked about or reviewed. It is not sexy or marketable. It is just one of the small invisible things that we do to make a tiny part of our larger life here.
The really big job as always, is the washing up!
The saucy Ms Sugo and her concentrated Mr Passata