Tomato paste brings a nice reminder of summer into one’s kitchen in cold weather. But the canned tomato paste from the grocery store can be problematic in our house: we never seem to use an entire can. Inevitably, half of it goes moldy and must be discarded. Having already put up tomato sauce this month, I wanted to try my hand at estratto do pomodoro, sun-dried tomato paste.
The recipe is from Anna Tasca Lanza’s fabulous book “The Heart of Sicily.” There are many enticing recipes in this book, which revolves around the seasons on the famous Regaleali estate. (Disclaimer: I used to work for the company that imports Regaleali to the U.S.) rather than imparting a codified recipe, Lanza writes about reviving the tradition of preparing estratto and rediscovering the process herself:
“Making estratto has unfortunately come to be regarded as too much work, and it is done less and less often in Sicily. Because of my interest in reviving old culinary traditions, however, a couple of years ago we started to make estratto for ourselves at Regaleali.”
Instead of Lanza’s huge batches of tomatoes and a giant cast iron cauldron, I started small, with about 2 pounds of tomatoes from my garden.
I cut the tomatoes in half. Using my thumb, I removed the soft watery parts with the seeds. The halves went into a pot with a tablespoon of olive oil and a teaspoon of salt. In retrospect, I should have reduced the salt; a quarter teaspoon would have sufficed. The tomatoes simmered under a low flame for an hour.
The next morning, hewing to the photos in the book, I put the resulting sauce out on a board that I’d cleaned thoroughly with vinegar. The sauce stayed out in the bright, hot sun all day. After eight hours, two pounds of
tomatoes had evaporated to a quarter cup or a bit less. Given the minimal quantity, I opted not to set it out for another day (Lanza spent eight or nine days in this part of the process.) But what to do with the tomato skins that remained in my paste? I didn’t have nearly enough raw material for a food mill to be practical. I pulsed the paste in a food processor several times until the tomato skins were incorporated. While the consistency isn’t perfect, this was a satisfactory first effort.
A taste yielded pure essence of tomato. Again quoting the countess:
“At this moment it was no longer tomato extract; it was liquid gold.”