Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Enticing Estratto

What to do when your towering tomato harvest has reached the stratosphere? Make estratto, that's what.  Plainly described, estratto is just tomato paste. A more florid handle is that it's ambrosia: a mere teaspoon is enough fuel to leave this tedious earth behind and enter a realm of gustatory pleasure that Dionysus would envy. Get out your biggest pot, chop up those toms, simmer for ten minutes, sieve them, and then slowly roast several hours for a paste that the tubes or cans found in supermarkets will never contain. Garlic, bay leaves, olive oil, and coarse salt added to the pot rounds out the flavour even further.

The scorched bits taste like delicious sticky toffee

Since the sixteen kilos/thirty-five pounds of tomatoes from our potager already processed into tomato-sausage sauce, stewed tomatoes, and tomato concentrate have filled up the freezer with no space to spare, preserving without freezing was necessary to handle the present batch of four kilos/nine pounds.

After several weeks of scorching heat, some tomatoes started to dry on the vine. They went into a makeshift sun-drying apparatus. A rectangular plant nursery plastic holder of small pots was scrubbed and placed on two bricks to allow air to flow under it. The toms were washed and quartered then placed uncut side down. Horticultural fleece was attached via clothespin to keep the flies out.

Each day they were turned.

Within a week they were completely dried but still supple.
Four humongous tomatoes shrunk down enough to fit inside a small spice jar.

In Italy, it is traditional to spread tomato puree on trays in the sun. Though my sun-dried tomato experiment worked out well enough, I nevertheless regarded the oven as a better way of making estratto. Wash and quarter four kilos/nine pounds of tomatoes. Place in a non-reactive pot along with two bay leaves, three peeled garlic cloves, two large pinches of coarse salt, and four tablespoons of olive oil. Simmer for ten minutes. Preheat oven to 15o degrees C/300 degrees F.

Puree via a food mill or press through a sieve with a wooden spoon. If the puree is fairly thin, it can be reduced in an open pan on the stove. In any case, pour the puree in a glass, steel, or ceramic dish and put in oven.

After two hours, turn-over and spread-out with a spatula. Roast for another hour, turn-over and spread-out again and roast for a remaining hour or till a thick paste forms.*

Closer to jam than paste, it can be gobbled up straight from the jar. I exercised restraint, so far that is. Hopefully it will still be around when I make enchilada sauce in a few days. 

Refrigerated and well-lidded, it will keep several months

In the potager, the pumpkins have stayed green much to my consternation, and then, whoosh, within a day, orange galore.

À la prochaine!

* Adapted from the recipe at The Italian Dish

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