Last year I read a great article in the Los Angeles Times about making tomato conserve, otherwise known as tomato paste. If you lived in Puglia in the south of Italy, you would be laying sheets of tomato puree out to dry in the sun in your backyard. Here we are using the oven and spending the greater part of the day checking to make sure that things aren’t burning up in there! I initially was going to buy a lug (a large box) of tomatoes at the farmers market but the vendor was reluctant to part with the entire box as it was early in the day and this would have diminished her supply for the rest of her customers. I settled for a half of a lug after finding out that the whole box was 24 pounds and I knew that this was probably more than I wanted to deal with! As it was, I wondered if I had too many as I carried a very heavy bag to my car. I thought I would attempt to make the conserve in a day or two, but once at home in my kitchen I decided to dive in and start chopping. Twelve pound is a lot of tomatoes!
I filled my largest dough bowl with the chopped tomatoes and then slid these into two large saute pans with a little olive oil and salt. After just a few minutes at a boil they go into a food mill to remove the seeds and the skin and then the puree goes onto an oiled sheet pan. It’s a little tricky moving the pans full of puree in to the oven, so I suggest filling them somewhere close by or even placing the pans in your oven and then pouring the puree on to them. Now all you have to do is wait around for most of the day as the liquid slowly evaporates from the tomatoes. Every now and then you need to move the puree around with a spatula as it will start to brown a little around the edges. After about 6 hours at 300 degrees the tomatoes will have shrunk down to a small pile of brick red paste. After cooling, this gets put into a few small jars and then covered in olive oil (the oil acts as a preserving agent) and tucked into your fridge to use a spoonful at a time during those long winter months without fresh tomatoes. You spoon it into your tomato sauce for a boost in flavor or stir it into a risotto or anywhere that you want to have a little taste of summer! After using it be sure to pour more olive oil over the top to keep air from the paste. This conserve will last for months in the fridge if kept covered with oil.
I’ve made this twice now-the first time by myself, the second time with my friend V. Since there were two of us we did buy an entire lug. I recommend having two ovens at your disposal if you want to use 24 pounds of tomatoes, otherwise it will take you about twelve hours to finish! I have used this in tomato sauce, chicken cacciatore, stews, risottos and soups. Definitely worth the effort!