Tomato season means it’s time to make passata

Tomatoes 005

There’s a rumour that Melbourne hospitals lay on extra staff in the Emergency Department at this time of year.

Yes, it’s tomato season and given our vast migrant population, there will invariably be a few home-bottling and canning disasters. Every Italian family will be firing up boiling vats of tomatoes in the backyard, and making a day of it. Think of Looking for Alibrandi. Young and old they’ll all be there; along with food, wine, music and arguing, making the perfect passata, my dream family. As a guest poster on Tomato, it seems apt to have a go at this tomato tradition, although in the absence of Nonnas or a backyard I will make do with the Aga instead of the 44 gallon drum and blazing backyard fire.

While most of us might make a small quantity with our own home-grown produce or a trip to the market, there is another option. Just head North-West out of the city and there you will find a bounty of road-side boxes of tomatoes for sale. Marco was my man, and sold me a box for only $15. Apparently there are about 5000 varieties of tomatoes in the world, but in Melbourne’s North-Western suburbs, Roma seems to be the tomato of choice.

I thought passsata was really an Italian thing, but my Greek neighbours look at me with new respect as I heave the polystyrene box of Romas out of the car.

Making passata

I don’t want to let Marco and the team down, but I am a busy woman, and apart from not wanting to alarm the neighbours by lighting a bonfire in the street, I am looking for an easier method.

This is what I came up with:

First I washed the tomatoes, and cut off any manky or bruised bits before cutting them in half and tossing them in my largest stock pot. The larger ones I quartered. Purists might skin the tomatoes first, but I have a lot of tomatoes and little patience. I chose to keep the heat low to avoid scorching the bottom, especially as stirring such a vast quantity proves to be a challenge. I am romantic – slow cooking almost always tastes better. Bung the lid on and leave them be. The temptation to throw in seasoning is strong, but instead I choose to stick with tradition, passata is simply tomato, nothing more.

Making passata

Six hours later, and after some distraction from both Massimo Bottura on Art, Theatre, Politics, Food as a part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, and the annual Nude Bike Ride passing through my ‘hood, the tomatoes finally reduce to this.

Making passata

While waiting for the sauce to reduce, I sterilised the bottles, using the very hot wash of the dishwasher.
In the absence of a nonna to help sieve, I enlisted the help of my ancient Macina-Legumi, and the BF. This did not take as long as expected, although for backyard-bottling quantities a commercial food-mill would be a good idea.

From here on it was plain sailing. We reduced the resulting puree slightly to reach the desired thickness.

Making passata

The thickened passata was then poured into a funnel into the bottles. Had my basil crop been a little healthier I would have dropped a few leaves in at this stage. It’s important not to fill the bottles to the very top.

Making passata

The lids were then lightly screwed on, allowing a little air to escape, and the bottles wrapped in tea towels to avoid breakage, before being placed into a large pot of simmering water for about 20 minutes.

Making passata

Upon removing the bottles from the water we tightened the lids, which later ‘popped’ as they cooled, leaving an indented lid. If any fail to ‘pop’ they can be reheated and sealed again.

From Marco’s single box of tomatoes I have produced  ten large bottles of passata and two of a spicy tomato sauce without the loss of a finger, or setting fire to the street, and with the newly gained respect of my neighbours, and hopefully, Marco.

51 Responses to “Tomato season means it’s time to make passata”

  1. adelee

    Hi all.
    Good quality roma tomatoes still available $17/box at Queen Victoria markets, stall one row in from the walkway next to Market Lane coffee on Victoria street. Purchased 2 boxes today – wish me luck for sauce making tomorrow!

  2. andrea

    Have just relocated to Vic and was wondering where the heck I can buy romas to make my sugo? I was told Shepparton, but not worth the $ in petrol. I remember there being a guy on keilor pk drive back in the day, but not sure if he’s still there. Is th Moreland Rd bloke still around?

    • eric sando

      try sydney road near Fawkner…..there is a huge outlet ther for saucing tomatoes.

      • Andrea

        Cheers, will try my luck. Hope I haven’t left it too late

    • Nico

      The old Italian guys on Klr park drive are still there, $15/box

  3. eric sando

    don,t use screw on pop top jars sidewats immersed in water for sterilising, e.g., in a 44 gallon drum…..they must be upright or there will be breakages, leaks, suckbacks, disaster! Crown seals are the most reliable.

  4. Margaret Blair

    Hi , I just used the same method for normal tomatoes. I notice you mentioned a Spicy Tomato Sauce recipe, would you share that too please as I seem to have lost mine. Many thanks

  5. Paul

    Do go careful. A couple of years ago I had a (beer) bottle of boiling passata burst in my face whilst processing the backyard. Lesson learned – leave them until they have fully cooled. The ambos commented they were expecting a nonna when they got the call over the radio. All good now thankfully.

    • marisa

      paul I’m from an italian background and we never touch them until they are totally cold usually the next day, you poor thing that must have been terrible for you.

  6. Alison

    @Sally, yep you can definitely reuse jars for canning but should always use new lids :)

    • marisa

      I always use old jars and I also use the same lids it doesn’t make any difference unless the lid has rust in it, then I’ll use a new one.

  7. Bob

    Hi Lisa

    He was still there today as i drove home from work (4pm ish), i don’t think he stays much later than that. Sometimes he’s there at 8am on my way to work, sometimes not. I’d think he’ll be there for only a few more days, maybe end of the week. Last week he had only Roma, $15 a box, the week before he had plain, “gourmet” as coles would say, as well for $10. It seems he gets fresh deliveries every few days. The box is about the size of two wine boxes.

  8. Lisa

    Has anyone got a location of someone selling boxes of tomatoes in the Northern Melbourne suburbs and a cost? Is the person still on Moreland road? If so what time/day is he there? I’d like to make some sauce this weekend and my plants didn’t do so well this year. Thank you!

  9. Adriane

    Thanks for the tip Bob, I’ll be heading out there soon! I also bought my bottles from Chefs Hat in South Melbourne, ‘Quattro Stagione’, and every one of them successfully ‘popped’.

    Lisa thanks for the tip, looks like a great shop!

  10. Bob

    Adriane and Cathy

    I was in Brunswick and YES the tomato man is still there! Says he’ll be there for a few weeks at least. (364 Moreland Road, Brunswick West). I picked up another box after a successful morning of “popping” post visiting chef’s hat in South Melbourne. So…. to everyone; don’t buy preserving jars from the $2 shop. They have trouble sealing and staying sealed, plus the glass is so thin they are very easy to crack. I lost a whole 1.5litres :( Invest in some good quality ones from Chef/cooking suppliers. Like Cathy said, they will last forever and new lids are always available.

  11. Cathy

    Bob

    I use Fowler’s Jars and a preserving urn. It’s expensive to start, but foolproof to use. I have never had anything fail to seal properly, and the bottles are reusable – the only consumable is the rings that sit on the neck of the jar.

  12. Bob

    Hi Adriane (and Cathy),

    I might be driving past tomorrow. I’ll let you both know if he’s still there. I’ve made my batch and it’s pretty amazing. Our Napoli last night was so sweet!!! But…. I’m having trouble getting the lids to pop. They’ve popped on a few but not all. I’m using the same preserving jars/bottles like in your photos, but the lids seem a bit crap. If you tighten them too much they just keep turning… so maybe this is the issue. I’ll try once more before going to get more (and checking the lids in the shop!). Where did you get yours? I got mine at the 2dollar shop and now wondering if they have the factory seconds jars i.e. the dodgy lid seconds…. Thoughts?
    p.s. Thanks for the post. It was great to use a recipe that was about as local as you get!!! Go Melbourne (and i don’t mean the footy team!).

  13. Cathy

    Thanks Bob. I’ll be in Melbourne at the weekend so I’ll check it out. I wonder how many boxes I can fit in my car and have the time to process when I get home!

  14. Adriane

    Bob thanks for the tip, sounds like it might be my man! I was thinking it must be about the right time to head out there as the annual Nude Bike Ride is being advertised – forever linked in my mind now. Good luck with your passata, I’ll be making more this year too.

    Rosalie, Sorry I don’t know anyone local making it to sell.

  15. Bob

    Hi @Cathy

    I picked up some last week (polystyrene box of Roma for $15 so sounds like it almost might be Adrienne’s guy!). He was on Moreland Road in a vacant lot up the hill from the corner of Melville Road. Approx 134 Moreland according to google maps. Don’t know if he will still be there although he did have HEAPS!

  16. Cathy

    Can anyone recommend somewhere to buy good quantities of roma tomatoes to make passata in North West Melbourne? I have made tomato sauce with my crop from the garden, but fear that I won’t have enough coming for the 150 bottles of passata that I want to knock over this year.

  17. rosalie

    Does anyone know a place we can purchase homemade italian tomato sauce. My mother has now retired from making them and she will not show me how , She is willing to pay for a few dozen bottles. Melbourne vicinity would be desirable.

    Thank you

  18. Adriane

    Hi Natalie,

    I have just finished my last bottle form last year, so assume the life span lasts until the next season. Common sense would be to keep them in a cool cupboard or out of direct sunlight. I don’t think it matters whether the bottles are totally submersed or not, as long as they ‘pop’. And are still ‘popped’ when you go to use them, which mine all were. Can’t help with the lemon as I haven’t heard of it, but sounds interesting.

  19. natalie

    just picked my harvest of toms & cherry toms and will definitely be making passata… just a curious question, how long will the canned jars store for? I have seen tomatoes being canned and they’ve added some lemon to ensure it’s longer shelf life, then the bottles are completely submersed in water until the water pressure itself ‘pops’ the lid.

  20. Dylan

    Hiya Adriane, this has been so helpful. Exactly the type of advice I was looking for, as I live in a small unit in inner city Melbourne. Thanks for your efforts and I look forward to giving this a go! Cheers & mille grazie.

  21. Lisa

    Thank you for this!! Yesterday I harvested the last of my roma and cherry tomatoes from my garden and made 6 x 250ml jars of passata following this, it made it so easy!!
    I’m now eager to go buy a box of roma’s and some jars to make more!

  22. Julie Carter

    Hi David
    Don’t know if anyone is doing a public bottling in Melbourne, pop up to Sydney for a weekend in March!
    We bottled almost a litre for every kilo of tomatoes, but we didn’t cook (therefore we didn’t reduce it). One of my friends asked is it really worth doing, considering you can buy commercial passata for around $2 a bottle. She was back within a week. Her husband has not been able to eat any tomato based dishes at night since he had a severe (almost fatal) case of diverticulitis. He had absolutely no digestion problems with our Carter Passata. The ingredients are completely fresh and unprocessed.

  23. David S

    Hi,

    Julie, great to see what you’re organising for up in Sydney. Do you know if such a thing is being organised for down in Melbourne? Ed?

    Cheers,
    Dave

  24. Julie Carter

    Adriane
    Loved your blog – at exactly the same time last year, we ran our first passata making day. We invited friends and family and ended up with about 40 eager helpers. Through contacts at Flemington markets, we sourced 200kg of roma tomatoes. I think there are as many recipes for passata as villages in Italy, but most Italians we spoke to in Sydney bottled the fresh passata with our own basil leaves and a little lemon juice, rather than cooking it first.
    We used three passata machines and passed the tomatoes (that had been quartered) through twice. Our only problem was finding enough bottles and cleaning them. We then placed the bottles in a half 44gallon drum, on newspaper, covered with water and brought to the boil. Then we simmered for 30 minutes.
    Lunch was pasta con sugo, insalata, pane and of course vino!
    This year we’ve sourced an electric passata machine which will really cut down on the time. The bottle issue was such a pain, we’re buying new jars. There was such a demand, we are running two this year – on the 20th and 27th March. We found the teenagers and kids were just as involved as the adults. They must have watched Waiting for Alibrandi. If anyone is interested, you can contact us on info@culinaryinterludestuscany.com

  25. David S

    Hi – thanks for this post! I tried it at home with standard tomatoes (can’t remember the name of the varierty) which cost a fortune as I bought them at the side of the road out of season – I just wanted to do it so much! Anyway, out of 4kgs, I only got 2 x 750ml bottles and I think it is pretty thin.

    So! Does the tomato type massively impact the amount of sugo(!?) you get? I only reduced it for about 4.5 hours, not the 6 hours suggested.

    Loved the sealing bit though – never knew how to do that!

    Any comments greatly received!
    Cheers,
    Dave

  26. Forager

    What a great idea! I think it would be so satisfying to make paste using my own homemade passata – better yet if I make my own pasta and use basil from my garden. Done! You’ve inspired me!

  27. Megan

    Thanks for posting this. I shall be attempting to make my own passata sauce. Wish me luck. Maybe I’ll try the oven method too.

  28. Henry

    Loved this post, been wanting to make my own for ages now! Going to try and make loads of organic sauce!

  29. Amanda

    This is really what summer is about!!
    I have found that I get a much richer flavour if I cook the tomatoes in the oven, though. The sauce is sweeter and deeper that way.
    Of course, I do struggle to find oven-proof dishes that are large enough and it is not worth doing on a very hot day!

  30. Adriane

    Thanks Penny, lucky you, at least you have some made by a real Italian!

    Thanks Joe, love your work.

    Marisa, mille grazie!!!

    Mike, as evrything was already sterile, the hot water was really just about getting the vacuum going. They all popped first time. Good luck with yours!

    Thanks Conor, fortunately there were no explosions on the tomato front. Looking forward to next year. Tomato season, of course!

    Ciao Anneg, I agree, there’s nothing like the smell of freshly picked tomatoes on your fingers – so summery. Add basil, and it’s heaven.

  31. anneg

    It’s not just Melb that has continued this tradition – I clearly recall bottling passata in tallies with my Nonna as a child. The smell of ripe tomato/tomato vine warmed by the sun on your fingers is one of my favourite kitcheny aromas. Thanks for the post!

  32. Mike

    I always thought water baths needed to cover the jars. If it doesn’t, like in your photo, this is going to make my life a heck of a lot easier!