Pommarola – fresh tomato and vegetable preserves – is an Italian summertime activity more than a genuine seasonal recipe. After the tomato harvest, families get busy peeling and canning tomatoes into preserves-form for the winter. This recipe expands well, and most households make gallons of it when the flood of tomatoes reaches its peak in August.
Mason jars filled with the final product are a delicious pantry staple. With an incredibly long shelf life.
Fresh, ripe ingredients are key, and fortunately organic heirloom, Roma, or plum tomatoes can be found in virtually every farmer's market. It is best to choose red and firm fruits for this preparation, in any variety that don't release as much water as vine-ripened or slicing tomatoes, which could extend cooking time.
Early this morning we took in 4 overflowing crates of tomatoes from the orto, the vegetable garden, which yielded 5 kg (11 lbs) of finished product. Yesterday we made double that.
Below I have listed quantities and ingredients that yield about 5 jars of pommarola:
4 lbs Roma (plum) tomatoes, cored and cut into pieces
2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 rib of celery - leaves and all - cut into pieces
1 large onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 bunches of fresh basil
3 tbsp Kosher sor sea alt
150 ml (3/4 cup) extra virgin olive oil
4-6 clean 10-oz capacity mason jars and capsule screw caps*
Choose a wide, heavy-bottomed pot, with a tight fitting lid, and arm yourself with a sturdy wooden spoon: your best friend for the hours to come.
When all the vegetables are soft, and the derived rich and soupy tomato sauce has taken on a deep color, sexy texture and delightful aroma, it will be time to take the pot off the stove.
The next step is the hardest work, so try to recruit helpers.
Crank the sauce through a food mill and occasionally discard the pulpy stuff. This is key, because otherwise during storage, the skins and seeds of the tomato – and all other vegetable discards – turn your pommarola bitter and oddly textured.
If the resulting sauce should appear too watery, cook it uncovered for an additional 20 minutes, to thicken. Test it: if a silky spoonful on a flat plate no longer gives off a large watery halo around the dollop, it's done.
Transfer the sauce at once into clean mason jars, scooping it with a ladle. Fill each leaving a 1/4" gap, and screw the lid on. Now place all the jars huddled together, and cover them with a warm wool or fleece blanket in a dimly lit room, away from drafts, overnight.
This rather mysterious-sounding procedure is the technique that guarantees pasteurization. Thanks to the heat, jars are hermetically sealed, and through natural vacuum, air is expelled. The result will be that the capsule in the lids of the jars will no longer "pop" when pressed down. If the capsule still pops, repeat pasteurization process with a new lid. Once the jars are vacuum sealed, they can be stored in your pantry for 10 to 13 months!
As active participant and valid helper, I get to take home part of the stash. This incredible bounty will last me a year, and I will use my pommarola with profuse abandon: to dress pasta, as a base for vegetable and meat stews, to make pizza, as a dip, or instead of ketchup on my burgers.
Also, since this sugo is already cooked, all I have to do on the day is pour some out in a serving bowl (any left over in the jar needs to be refrigerated), add my cooked and drained pasta al dente, a curl of butter and a generous hand of grated Parmigiano. Voilà, "pasta al sugo" - ready and steaming on the plate.
And every time I will open one of the little red jars in the middle of winter, I will close my eyes and smell the delightful aroma of these precious summer days.
*Safe and hygienic preserving is obtained by using new jars and special lids with soft rubber gaskets that ensure a "venting" effect during pasteurization, and that provide an effective, long-lasting vacuum seal. Furthermore, the paint must be suitable for contact with the foods on the inside. The jars and lids we use are The Quattro Stagioni line by the Italian manufacturer Bormioli. To learn more about the technical features visit the Bormioli website.