As you drive through the villages here, you can see rows of ripe tomatoes growing in the gardens, I drive past my neighbours with his lines of short bushes on which hang swollen red peppers, his French bean plants are laden with a multitude of green fingers and his chillies, like mine are bursting with a riot of red fruits. I sun-dry my chillies and they last me for a year, and I have other veg I’ve grown stored in the freezer. My neighbour was out today picking his tomatoes, he has about sixty plants so you can imagine how many kilo’s of fruit he’s got. “I’m making my passata this weekend,” he tells me. That’ll explain the crates of empty Peroni bottles outside his front door.
I’m surprised how many Italians still bottle their own tomato sauces considering the work involved and the relatively cheap price of passata in the shops. The only explanation must be that it tastes better than the mass produced ones, and I guess there’s that satisfaction of growing and producing something yourself to feed your family, not to mention the memory of summer past as you taste it outweighs the laborious process.
Making the red sauce is a long-winded affair, first the tomatoes are cleaned and dropped into boiling water for a few seconds to split the skins. Once cooled they’re passed through a passapomodoro, basically a sieve that removes the skin and seeds. The pulp is then cooked and if you’re flavouring it with herbs or spices these are added during cooking. The bottles or jars are cleaned and sterilised in advance and kept warm in the oven. The warm sauce is bottled, lids are secured and the sauce is then allowed to cool. The bottles are then placed inside a large container of water: my neighbour uses and old oil-drum, a fire is lit below and the bottled sauce is heated through again, thus creating a vacuum and sealing the lids properly. Once cooled the sauce will remain good for several years, but no self-respecting Italian would use any left over passata once a new batch has been produced.
Needless to say mine is from the supermarket, I don’t think I could be bothered with the work involved and can I really drink enough Peroni to get the bottles for sixty plants of fruit?