Homemade Tomato Paste, The True Gold of Summer Gardens

I had grown up all my life thinking I knew what a tomato tasted like. You know, those red things in grocery stores. You slice into them, which is tricky in and of its self, and they are kinda light in color and even at times a bit mealy. Maybe they are the smaller oval shaped ones and when you slice them open they are either mostly hallow or the little sack of seeds slips right out. I know now, that these are technically tomatoes but let me tell you. When my husband planned our first garden two years ago we packed it with tomatoes. Little did we know just how abundant these plants would be in out little piece of northern Iowa. 

A happy yielding plant can give you master tomatoes and once it starts there is not stopping it until the over night temps drop into the lower 40’s. What does this mean? It means you need to have a plan of what you are going to do with all the tomatoes as they start ripening. That first garden I had no idea. I knew I wanted to make some tomato sauce and I knew my husband wanted to stock up our pantry with some canned tomatoes as well but I didn’t have a “plan”. Then the first of the tomatoes ripened. It was a Mortgage Lifter. This thing was bigger than my fist. I pulled it off the plant. The first thing I notice is that this tomato is firm and heavy. I brought it into the kitchen and sliced into it. First thing I notice here? The knife effortlessly slid right through the tomato giving me gorgeous slices. Then I was hit with the aroma. Nothing says summer to me like the smell of a truly ripe tomato. It’s intoxicating. It’s rich and complex as well as sweet and maybe even smoky or acidic.

So with these amazing tomatoes I knew I wanted to make a super sexy sauce. Now, I should tell you I had never made tomato sauce before this point. So I did what I was supposed to and did it in a giant pot on the stove and let it go for what felt like forever. It never got “sexy”. It just looked like a pot of watery tomato soup. This was NOT what I wanted. After that failed attempt I knew there had to be a better way. I did a lot of googling and ended up stumbling across a recipe for oven roasting the tomatoes. This discovery is the true secret to processing tomatoes.

Whether you’re going to make pasta sauce, pizza sauce, or tomato paste they all want a tomato that has significantly less moisture than what you just pulled off the vine. The problem with doing this in a pot on the stove is you never get that deep rich flavor that a caramelized tomato can give you and that’s where all the magic happens. Another discovery when searching the web was that there are those who remove the skin and seeds and those who don’t. (I am one who DOESN’T, well unless it’s tomato paste but more on that in a minute.) So here’s the thing almost all fruits and vegetables the bulk of the flavor and the nutrition is in the skin. Secondly, when it comes to tomatoes a huge amount of the flavor is also in all the liquid that holds the seeds. Getting rid of those sources of flavor before you even begin to cook is only your loss, well, that’s my opinion at least.

Now, with leaving the skins and the seeds in place this significantly cuts down on your workload. I wrote an entire post about my pasta sauce so I won’t go into that here but instead tell you the one thing you should ALWAYS make when growing tomatoes is tomato paste.

I was like you. I would buy a tube of tomato paste and use the tiny amount the recipe called for and the tube would sit in my cupboard or pantry for I don’t even know how long. When I used my first homemade paste to things happened… Popping open the lid I was hit with that wonderful smell of summer but with a much deeper and richer tone to it and then I discovered I could be very generous with how much I was adding to recipes. It added AMAZING flavor, why hold back? Homemade tomato paste is the one thing that can elevate your cooking throughout the year and it couldn’t be easier to make.

Ingredients:

  • 10 pounds of the ripest Tomatoes you can get your hands on. That’s it.

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 275ºf. Line two rimmed half-sheet pans with parchment.

Cut up your tomatoes in to whatever size wedges make sense based on the size of the tomato. If you grew San Marzano’s and quartering looks good than do that. If you, like me, grew Cherokee Purple’s and Mortgage Lifters which can be bigger than a softball than you might need to make it into much more manageable pieces. Just remember that everything cooks at the same rate. So if you have huge pieces and tiny pieces, by the time your huge pieces are roasted enough you might burn the tiny pieces. So the goal is to get all your pieces close to the same size and place them on the prepared sheet pans.

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Place these in the oven and roast for anywhere up to 5 hours. Rotate your pans every hour. Once you see caramelization you can stop the roasting. If you want to do this over 2 days I would recommend stopping here by putting the roasted tomatoes into a bowl and covering them overnight. They can sit on the counter and will be just fine.

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When you’re ready to move on either raise the temp on the oven or preheat to 375ºf.

Pour the tomatoes into your food processor and puree. I would say let this go for a good couple minutes. The pour all the contents into a clean roasting pan, something like you would do a turkey in, and place in the oven for 2-3 hours. Stir every 30 minutes until you have a very thick paste. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature.

Pass this paste through a mine mesh sieve using a rubber scraper to push it through. Word of warning whatever you’re going to use will turn red. (I think it would be possible to use a mill instead, although I have never done it that way.) Scrape the paste off the underside of the sieve periodically as it will build up.

Now you can either can it or freeze it.

If you’re going to freeze it:

Use ice cube trays and fill them up, let them freeze then break them apart and keep in a large ziplock bag in the freezer. This will make it convenient to use when cooking.

If you are going to can it:

  • ⅛ teaspoon Citric Acid in the bottom of every 4 ounce jar
  • ½ inch Headspace
  • Processing time – 45 minutes

I am not going to go into all the ins and outs of canning as their are a lot of safe guards to know. Simply reference any canning guide for your local information for things like elevation and how to prep the cans, lids and rings. It will also provide information on how to know if your jars are sealed.

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Now you’ll have tomato paste to enjoy all year!

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