Well this is embarrassing. It turns out that iPhone cameras aren't great for all purposes. Apologies for the terrible photos, folks, but I am overcoming my chagrin because this recipe is worth it. Well, maybe "recipe" is too strong of a term. It's more of a set of directions and (bad) photos to go encourage you to take yourself to a farmers' market this week, ask a farmer with delicious tomatoes if they have any ugly or overripe ones, and load up. That's what I did last Thursday. I ended up getting about 10.5 lbs for $10. Luckily for me, these orange beauties happened to be Romas, which is handy since they're fleshier and less waterier that some varieties. Here is a short article listing the the best tomatoes for canning (just ignore the author's generalizations about heirlooms). As you can see, even though most of my batch was orange, the paste itself turned out surprisingly red. Not as deep of a red as in years past, but much redder than I anticipated.
The reasons to make your own are endless:
-Flavor. You simply can't compare homemade and store bought. You may not believe me now, but once you try your own, you will be a convert.
-Flavor Part 2. Adding a couple tablespoons of paste to your pastas, sauces, chilis, soups, stews, risottos, and anything else you can think of will make them have a better, richer, deeper flavor. In fact, tomato paste is a great source of the much sought after umami magic.
-Economics. Those cans of paste are relatively inexpensive at the store, right? They're generally in the $1-$2 range. I don't know about you, but whenever I bought one of those, I never used the whole can up at once, and I usually forgot about the leftovers until they were growing fuzzy mold in the back of the fridge. So really, I used maybe thirty cents worth of the can and had to toss the rest. That suddenly makes every tablespoon of paste cost $1.50. The great thing about this technique is that I freeze my homemade tomato paste in 1-2 tablespoon size portions, so I can just grab what I need and stick the rest back in the freezer. Et voila. No more waste.
-Just like all the other food you make at home, you know exactly what's in your paste (and what isn't). What's more, by talking to the farmer, you'll actually be meeting the person who grew part of you dinner. Sweet. Do you have a bumper crop of your own tomatoes this year? a) I'm jealous and b) even better!
So. Tomato paste.
Until a couple of years ago, I thought that making tomato paste would be a pain in the neck. It turns out that is not true. The article that originally set me straight is no longer available, but the moral of the story is that homemade tomato paste is one of the easiest things you can make. Yes, it takes time (many hours), but that's really all it takes. If you can boil water and remember to stir occasionally, you're all set.
So. You have your tomatoes. It doesn't matter how many you start with, the process is the same. The only variables here are the juiciness of your tomatoes and time. Find yourself a large, wide pot, a sturdy spoon, and an afternoon. Let's make tomato paste!
Begin by washing them (yes, even if they're organic. My mom says so). Remove any stems and bad bits. Bruised, over ripe, mushy spots are fine, but cut off the mold. You don't need to peel or seed them. Cut them into halves (or smaller if they are large).
Put the prepared tomatoes into a large pot. Wider is better, because the greater the surface area, the faster the evaporation. You'll need a sturdy spoon, too.
Heat them over medium, stirring occasionally. If you're super worried about sticking, you can add a smidge of water to help prevent that, but I've found the tomatoes own juices and a stir now and then are enough.
Bring them to a boil, still stirring once in a while to ensure there's no sticking. You can boil them pretty hard for a while, because that's going to be the fastest way to evaporate all that water.
It may not seem like it at first, but your tomatoes will begin to cook down. Promise. Stir occasionally, and lower the heat as the level of water in the pot goes down. Scrape the sides down once in a while to make sure you're not missing any tomatoey goodness.
(please ignore the jam-stained spoon)
Eventually, it will begin to look like tomato paste. It will darken and become quite thick. But don't give in or give up! You're not quite there. Stir more frequently to prevent scorching. If you have one, and feel so inclined, this might be a good time to use your immersion blender. I don't mind the not-perfectly-smooth texture, but you might.
You want to keep cooking it down until there's not really enough water left to evaporate. Between the last photo and this one, mine stopped bubbling because there wasn't enough water left to boil. When it's done, or nearly there, your tomato paste will also become shiny. Weird, but true.
My easy freezer method involves filling the compartments of a couple ice cube trays with 1-2 tablespoons of paste. I couldn't remember if I greased the trays in years past or not, but this year I did to ensure my tomato cubes would pop out easily. I bet if you use a silicon mold you can skip the cooking spray. This 10 pound batch of tomatoes yielded 24 cubes of 1-2 tablespoons each.
Once they are fully frozen, remove cubes from tray, place in zip top freezer bag, squeeze the air out, and stash in your freezer. Homemade tomato paste is a great addition to paella, casseroles, stew, chili, sauce, or risotto, whether or not the recipe actually calls for it.
Have you ever made your own tomato paste? Any tips? Did you fall as hard in love with it as I did?