Passata di pomodoro is an Italian staple. You have likely heard of it or used it without even knowing! Tomato passata is something any chef should be familiar with, and the history behind it is also worth knowing.
It is indeed part of Italian culture, not merely a kitchen necessity.
What is Tomato Passata?
At its core, tomato passata is simply a tomato puree. However, true passata di pomodoro is a little more complicated than just pureed tomatoes.
There are a few characteristics that define tomato passata and set it apart from basic tomato puree. At first, tomato passata is strained through a sieve to remove the seeds from the puree. This extra step isn’t always present when making a tomato puree.
Also, passata is never cooked but always bottled or used in its uncooked form. Tomato puree, on the other hand, is often cooked before canning or using to reduce the water content and sweeten the tomatoes.
So, is passata and tomato puree the same thing? No, they are definitely different!
Passata is a strained, raw tomato blend.
A canned tomato puree most likely is unstrained and cooked before canning.
Yes, they are very close, and almost the same product, but those few differences are essential to understand! If you buy a can of tomato puree in the grocery store, it will definitely be different than a Passata di Pomodoro!
How to Use Tomato Passata
So what exactly is this specialty tomato passata used for? You can pretty much use passata in any recipe that calls for tomatoes. It can be used in soups, stews, and sauces. Passata di pomodoro will give your dish the full flavor of fresh tomatoes, yet you can get the taste right from a can rather than needing fresh, ripe tomatoes!
Many people prefer to use passata over regular tomato puree since the authentic taste of tomatoes is much more prevalent in the passata. This is mostly because the tomatoes are canned at peak ripeness and never cooked, keeping them in their pure state.
Tomato passata already has a smooth sauce-like texture, making it the perfect base for any pasta sauce like bolognese sauce, stew or casserole like eggplant parmigiana. You do not need to puree passata or alter it in any way – it is ready to use right out of the jar! Once you try using tomato passata rather than canned tomato puree, you will never go back- the taste is unbeatable.
Traditions Surrounding Passata di Pomodoro
Passata di pomodoro is a long standing family tradition in Italy, especially southern Italy, where tomatoes grow in abundance.
At the end of August, when the tomatoes are at their peak ripeness, families gather together to prepare enough passata di pomodoro for the next year. In one or two days, they will process enough tomatoes for a full year!
However, pomodoro was not always an Italian staple. It was brought to Europe in the 16th century by the Spanish. Nowadays, it is know that there are more than 10,000 types of tomatoes.
At first, the plants were ornamental as they were bitter and even toxic. Yet over time, the tomatoes adapted to the Mediterranean climate and became sweeter and more like they are today.
After the plants began to change, Italian immediately started incorporating them into their cuisine. And now, families come together every year to pick the ripest tomatoes on the vines and make enough tomato passata for the year- it is that important!
The tradition of making tomato passata at the end of each summer is one that has carried over to various countries as well. Italian immigrants continued to gather and bottle jars upon jars of passata even after they had left their home country.
The practice is on-going still, especially in the United States, where many Italian families gather in kitchens and garages to mass-produce the precious puree.
Everyone has their job on “Passata Day,” and the family works together, as a team, to keep the tradition going. And who can blame them? The taste of fresh, summer tomatoes available year-round can’t be beaten!
While getting the family together to make tomato passata is important to food production and preparation, it is also a very social event.
There is food, wine, and lots of conversation as the tomatoes are processed. It is a bonding event as much as it is a food preparation occasion, and that is another reason why this tradition has likely continued.
How to Make Passata di Pomodoro
When families gather to make passata di pomodoro, they must make it correctly, getting the most out of the tomato harvest.
The passata that they make will be the base of many meals to come, so having it be perfect is a necessity.
The first key to a perfect passata di pomodoro is to have ripe tomatoes.
They cannot be under-ripe, or they will have no flavor, and over-ripe tomatoes will cause the sauce to be sour.
After ripe tomatoes are selected, they are washed and cleaned. Any black, rotten spots are cut out and discarded.
The tomatoes are then boiled for two minutes to soften the fruit and help loosen the skins. The tomato skins are peeled off by hand or machine and discarded- it is the tomato pulp that you want!
Many Italian families who make tomato passata every year have a machine called a “passapomodoro” or a pulp machine.
This will remove the skins from the tomatoes and crush the flesh in the process, making a smooth puree from the vegetables.
If you do not have a machine, puree the skinless tomatoes in a standard blender and then pour through a sieve.
After being strained, the tomato puree is placed into sterilized glass canning jars, and then the jars are boiled in large pots of water to seal.
Canning the tomato passata the right way is essential so that the puree is shelf-stable.
After the jars have been sealed, the tomato passata is done! Now you too are ready to make enough passata for an entire year! Should you start with 100 jars? 200? Or maybe just a few dozen…
Tomato Passata Recipe
- 4 ½ pounds tomatoes ripe, Roma or San Marazano
- 1 cup fresh basil chopped, optional
- Slice each tomato in half and scoop out the seeds. You can opt to leave the seeds in the tomatoes and simply strain the vegetables later in the recipe, however, removing them in the beginning is the best way to ensure there are no seeds in the passata. It also prevents the passata from being too liquid and allows for a thicker sauce.
- Place the cleaned tomatoes in a large pot, cover and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. Cook the tomatoes until they are soft, not totally mashed. Roughly it will take about 20 minutes.
- Place the tomatoes through a strainer machine or food mill to puree them well, crushing the skins and making the sauce perfectly smooth.
- If the sauce is too liquid for you at this stage, place it in a very fine strainer to remove some of the liquid.
- The sauce is now ready to use or can!