HEALTHY HOMEMADE TOMATO SAUCE: LA POMAROLA!
Posted on September 26, 2016 in Recipes
It's that time of year again! September in Italy means the tradition of mammas and nonnas stirring at the stove, pots of steaming homemade tomato sauce ready to be stored away for use during the long winter months when tomatoes are no longer season.
In any farmer's market in Italy in September, you will find crates and crates of juicy ripe (almost too ripe!) tomatoes at ¤1 per kilo (even cheaper in the south)...the cheapest you will ever find them during the year. This is because this is the end of the tomato season -- a vibrant season that starts in the spring and continues through the hot, colorful summer months marked with so many different kinds of varieties of tomatoes -- from the pop-in-your-mouth popcorn-like grape tomates to the great, gnarly occhio di bue ("eye of the bull") that can require 2 hands to lift into your shopping basket. Anyone who has been to Italy in the summer knows that Italian tomatoes are like no other -- juicy, meaty, sweet, tangy and aromatic. With a drizzle of local olive oil and a sprinkle of fresh Sicilian oregano, they can often suffice as a meal on their own.
At the end of the summer farmers gather the last tomatoes on the vines, often quite ripe and maybe with a couple of bruises and cracks here and there, and load them into their wooden crates. These last fruits might not win a beauty pageant, but Italian mammas know that these are the ones that yield the best sauces.
The absolute best variety for making la pomorala, as homemade tomato sauce is called in Tuscany, is the San Marzano tomato -- a variety of plum tomato considered by chefs to be the best of its kind in the world. Compared to the Roma tomato, San Marzanos are thinner and have a pointed tip. The flesh is meatier with less seeds, and the taste is more intense, sweeter and less acidic.
HEALTHY HOMEMADE TOMATO SAUCE - "LA POMAROLA"
5 kilos super-ripe San Marzano tomatoes
2-3 white onions
1 head of garlic
A generous bunch of fresh basil leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
I've guesstimated the quantities in my list of ingredients because I measure everything pretty much by eye. I buy a crate of super-ripe tomatoes and wash them in my kitchen sink. If some are a bit bruised or cracked, no need to worry, those can go straight in the pot and will make the sauce's flavor all the more intense. Of course if any are rotten those should be tossed out.
Once your tomatoes are washed, cut each one in half or into 3 chunks and place them into a large steel pot (or 2 large pots if they don't all fit in one). Together with the tomatoes, add in onions (peeled, cleaned and cut into chunks), whole cloves of garlic and the basil (it's okay to throw in a whole branch from the basil plant, stem and all). It's okay to fill your pot to the brim, it will all sink down once you start to simmer.
Now put your pot on the stove and turn on the fire. Leave it uncovered on a low to medium flame and soon you will hear bubbling as your tomatoes soften and release their juices. It's very important to not cover the pot because a lot of liquid will come out of the tomatoes and about half of this will need to evaporate to thicken the sauce. Covering the pot will hinder evaporation.
Your pomarola will cook anywhere from 45 minutes to 1 hour and a half, depending on how much liquid is released from the tomatoes. Stir occasionally to avoid sticking to the bottom of the pot and once it is all reduced to a thick "saucy" texture, remove from fire.
The traditional Italian way of now removing skin and seeds and grinding pulp is by using a food mill. A simple, inexpensive, hand-held stainless steel food mill will do the trick! Just fit the mill with the proper strainer attachment -- choose one with holes that are small enough to keep the seeds out and let only the pulp through. Rest the food mill over a clean pot, spoon a few ladles of your stewed tomato mixture over the top, and turn the handle. As you turn the handle the pulp will get pushed through into the pot underneath leaving the skin and seeds on top. Continue this process until you've milled all the tomatoes (every now and then discard leftover skin and seeds on the top part of the mill).
And.....ecco! Now you should have a potful of thick, rich tomato sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste. As you can see, this is a basic and very simple recipe using the freshest of ingredients and a healthy preparation method. At this point you can store away your sauce in sterilized jars (please make sure you read up on how to properly sterilize your jars to avoid dangerous bacteria) or you can freeze your sauce in portioned containers.
When I want to use my pomarola, I heat it up and then mix in a couple of spoonfuls of extravirgin olive oil only once I turn off the fire, before serving. This maintains the vitamins and nutrients in the oil, making for a truly healthy sauce you can use on top of pasta, rice, meat, fish, vegetables or just about anything!