Happy Friday, everyone! Has this week felt terribly long to you? Maybe you just want to put your feet up this weekend, relax and enjoy some sun, and who could blame you if you do? But if you’re looking for a project, something that sounds impressive yet requires minimal effort — the best kind of project for lazy summer weekends — here’s a great one: homemade tomato paste. You may be wondering exactly why you should bother when little cans of the stuff are already so very, very cheap and so very, very convenient, but you’ll just have to believe me when I tell you that homemade is so much better than canned that it’s like a completely different animal. Or fruit. (You know what I mean. Don’t make me turn this car around.) It has a bright, zingy, concentrated (duh) tomato flavor without any of that tinny aftertaste we’ve all grown accustomed to after years of eating the canned variety. It’s a treat anytime you use it, but in midwinter when hot sun and bountiful produce couldn’t be farther away, it’s damn near a revelation.
But before you start, fortify yourself with a light salad because the kitchen will get hot while the paste is cooking and you won’t want to spend much time in there. And while you’re up to your elbows in tomatoes anyway, why not make them into your meal? I reworked the Roman Summer Salad with more of an emphasis on fresh tomatoes while they’re as perfect as possible. I started with a base layer of assorted, sliced tomatoes from Bialas Farms and drizzled them with olive oil and red wine vinegar.
Then I mashed together some anchovies and garlic in a mortar and pestle to make a paste. I scattered the paste across the tomatoes along with chopped capers, black olives, basil, parsley and goat’s milk ricotta, and devoured half the salad in one sitting.
But let’s get moving; you’re here for tomato paste! It’s a time-consuming process, but really very easy. You cook the tomatoes briefly, use a food mill to get rid of skins and seeds, then leave a sheet pan filled with the tomato purée in the oven until the water has evaporated and you’re left with a pan of brick-red loveliness. Just freeze the cooled paste in a thin layer in a Ziploc bag until you need a hit of summer.
I used bacon fat on the sheet pans instead of olive oil to give my tomato paste a smokey flavor, but it really isn’t necessary, just indulgent.
I hope to get at least a couple more batches of paste put up for the winter. Rationing my one bag from last summer got me through April, but I’d like to put away enough this year to keep me going until next year’s tomatoes are in market.