Tomato paste is one of those basic pantry staples that I love to put up. As much as I love creating interesting, and sometimes wacky, jams & preserves, it gives me a great sense of satisfaction when cooking to reach into the pantry and pull out basics that I preserved myself: canned tomatoes, applesauce, dried basil, ground chile pepper. And tomato paste, of course. I first made tomato paste two years ago, when we were flush with tomatoes in the Northeast, and it was eye-opening in several ways; first, that it took forever to make; second, that it took a lot of tomatoes; third, that it tasted like liquid gold. I guarded my tiny yield jealously and mourned when the last spoonful was gone. Tomato paste was a luxury few could afford last summer, when late blight wiped out tomato crops all over New York and New England; I was surprised by how much I missed having my homemade tomato paste on hand.
This year, with plentiful sunshine and hot temps, tomatoes abound (except for those poor folks in the Pacific Northwest, who seem to be having our cold, wet summer of last year, this year; I feel your pain, truly) and I promised myself that tomato paste would be on the docket. I decided to use a modified version of the procrastinaty method, straining the tomato pulp to remove the juice in advance and reduce the cooking time. It did, certainly, markedly reduce the cooking time (the tomato pulp yielded from straining is almost paste even before you start cooking it); however, this paste doesn’t seem to have the depth of flavor that I remember from two years ago. Maybe the (torturously) long cooking is necessary to get that liquid gold flavor? Maybe it is because I just couldn’t find heirloom, organic tomatoes at a reasonable price and went with a standard utility tomato from a local farm? Maybe 2008 was just an exceptional tomato year, flavor-wise? Either way, this method is much easier and the tomato paste will still be as useful, and as satisfying, to use in all sorts of dishes this winter. Perhaps next year I can grow a garden again and test out the heirloom vs. hybrid tomato theory.
Adapted from Tomato Paste in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, J. Kingry and L. Devine, eds.
- food mill or chinois
- about 14 lbs tomatoes, to yield 4 and 1/2 cups thick tomato pulp (I used a mix of paste and globe tomatoes)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 tsp sea salt (optional)
- 3/4 tsp bottled lemon juice OR 1/8 tsp citric acid per 4-ounce jar (double amounts for half-pint jar)
- Slice tomatoes in half, or in quarters if large, and crush some into the bottom of a large (8-quart) stockpot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat as you continue to slice and crush, adding tomatoes to the pot. Squish tomatoes so that most of the fruit is submerged in tomato juice. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until soft, about 20 minutes.
- Push softened tomatoes through a food mill (I use the medium disk); discard seeds & skins.
- Transfer tomato pulp to a scalded jelly bag, or colander lined with dampened cheesecloth, to strain juice from tomato pulp. Allow to drain for about 2 hours, or until tomato pulp is no longer actively dripping. (Tomato juice is cloudy anyway, so go ahead and squeeze the jelly bag). Reserve juice for another recipe (or, you know, bloody Marys).
- Prepare canner, jars and lids.
- Transfer tomato pulp to a large, wide-bottomed skillet or Dutch oven. Add bay leaf and salt and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring often. Simmer, stirring as you go to prevent sticking and to encourage evaporation, until paste thickens somewhat and is quite fragrant, about 15 to 20 minutes. For a smoother paste, blend with an immersion blender prior to canning (remove bay leaf first, unless you want tiny little bay bits in your tomato paste. Not that I would ever do that.)
- Fill hot, sterilized jars to 1/4-inch headspace; remove air bubbles, tamp the jars down on the counter to try to settle the paste into the jar, then wipe rim, affix lid and process in a boiling water bath for 45 minutes.
Yields about 4 cups or 8, 4-oz jars.
- Salt is not critical to the recipe and may be omitted.
- Bottled lemon juice is required for consistency of acidity.
- Up to 3/4 cups of chopped, seeded red bell pepper may be added, for flavor and color boost. Add peppers to the initial tomato simmer and pulp along with the tomatoes.
- Processing times are the same for 4-oz (quarter pint) or 8-oz (half-pint) jars.
Canned, store in a cool, dark spot for up to 1 year. Refrigerated, use within 2 weeks.