Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Putting Food By: Tomato Paste

I was totally bummed when my friend Hank Shaw, author of DIY (and by that I mean forage, kill, scavenge-it-yourself) guide Hunt, Gather, Cook, mentioned that every year he makes tomato paste in his driveway. You see, he lives in Sacramento where it gets around a million degrees in the summer. He can put a tray of puréed tomatoes on the hood of his truck and in a couple of days it has evaporated into paste.

Try that here and you'd have a tray-full of moldy moosh.

The raw goods, straight out of the field.

Somehow it had never occurred to me to try another method, that is until I was out at Ayers Creek Farm and Anthony Boutard was putting a bowl of puréed Astianas into their wood-fired oven. Call it a lightbulb moment, OMG, St. Paul-flattened-in-the-road, whatever. Here I've been making gallons of roasted tomatoes to pull out this winter and have never once considered sticking some in the oven for a few hours to make paste.

Knock me over with a feather. Or, as Anthony's wife Carol says, "Shoot me in the foot."


Fortunately I'd just gleaned a box of tomatoes from their field, and I couldn't get home fast enough to roast 'em up (400° oven for 45 min.-1 hr.), purée them with an immersion blender—I'll use a food mill next time to make a completely smooth texture—and stick them in a 200° oven.

About halfway there.

With my 2 3/4 qt. Le Creuset preheated in the oven as it came up to temp and then filled to the rim, it took about 24 hours for it to reduce by half (top photo). It needed stirring every few hours, and I probably could have reduced it further, but the paste was rich and smooth and would suffice for my purposes. I ladled it in 8 to 10-ounce quantities into zip-lock freezer bags, packed them two-to-a-bag in quart bags and stuck them in the freezer. Done.

And I'm sure my embarrassment about not thinking of this before will abate the first time I thaw it out, spread it on bruschetta and top it with chevre or tapenade, don't you think?

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