As a last gasp of summer tomato love, I recently made tomato paste.
I didn’t start out with that particular obsession. I have plenty of my own, well-established, obsessions. It came on in a brief moment one September morning, when I visited Anna Saint John.
You might know Anna from the Bethesda Central Farm Market, or CHOP or even Kensington market. And it’s very likely you’ve had her food at a catered function. She’s been ‘in the business’ for a few years, after a start as a legal secretary and a computer-fixer. It was no surprise she ended up cooking delicious foods, growing up in a big family where, as she says, “There was always good food, and, with six kids, every night was a party.”
The first three foods she made on her own were chocolate chip cookies, brownies and a scrambled egg. I had to laugh, remembering cooking all three, myself, at a very early age. Anna and I – we’re sisters with different mothers.
Now, Anna caters lunches, dinners, parties big and small, but in my life, she’s the happy face, with partner John, who greets first Louie, then Dennis and me, every Sunday morning. Her offerings range from handmade raviolis, soups, and excellent condiments and sauces (my personal fave, for the name alone, is “What A Jerk” sauce.) Her condiments are intentionally not shelf-stable. Rather, she likes to encourage customers to put the sauce to use, not on the shelf. It’s clear – customers come back for more.
Her ready-to-bake items, like biscuits, are sheer heaven. Her combination of butter and excellent shortening give exquisite lift and rise to these gems.
And Louie’s personal favorite, Dog Bark, a crispy snack filled with good things like sweet potato, oats, corn meal, and more. An earlier version, Dog Balls, were a favorite treat of our Dylan. Anna and John loved little Dylan.
I hope you will visit Anna at the market – there’s a lot of good cooking going on in her kitchen.
And what does this have to do with tomato paste?
The morning I visited Anna in her commercial kitchen, she did just what you would expect. (And exactly what happens when you walk into my kitchen!) She offered tastes of this and tastes of that – spoonful after spoonful. Divine jams. Little biscuits. Tiny scones. Flaky, warm, inviting. Earl Gray tea at a small bistro table, in the sunny front of her space, surrounded by cookbooks.
The very first spoonful she offered me was tomato paste. She had found true paste tomatoes at the market (the photo looked like a San Marzano, but longer) and experimented with tomato paste.
An easy process with a shockingly small amount of end product.
But the taste – it haunted me. And when I saw Roma tomato seconds at the market, I had to give it a try. Oh, I’m so so glad I did.
A couple of notes. I lined the sheet pans with parchment which was a huge mistake and resulted in hours of scrubbing. Anna made hers on an unlined sheet pan, and stirred regularly. My second attempt (yes, I did this twice) worked perfectly on an unlined pan without terribly difficult clean up.
It’s not recommended that you process tomato paste for shelf stability, but you can freeze it, which is what I did, in 4oz jars.
12 lbs. paste tomatoes
1/2 tsp salt
Cut up half of the tomatoes and put them in a large 7 qt. stock pot. Add the salt.
Turn the burner on to medium low and continue to cut up and add tomatoes, stirring lazily.
Cover and cook for 10 minutes at a low simmer.
Remove from the heat and cool slightly.
Press the tomatoes through a food mill fitted with the finest disk.
Pour the puree into two sheet pans.
Place in a 185° oven for as long as six hours, or until the smell drives you crazy.
Stir regularly, especially into the corners of the pan.
Watch for the point at which your spatula leaves a trail in the tomato paste. Taste as you go. Let the color turn deep satisfying red.
Put up in small containers or freezer bags and freeze. I froze 4 oz jars.