Sunday, September 27, 2009

Remembering Pompeii with homemade tomato sauce

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I still had some mason jars left over after making jam with Squeaky, so I decided to try my hand at canning tomato sauce next. I adapted a delicious recipe given to me by Chef Hermann Jenny that uses canned tomatoes instead of fresh.

I used San Marzano tomatoes. You can get these at any Italian grocer (I got mine from La Bottega in Byward Market). They are grown and imported all the way from the fertile plains of Mount Vesuvius near Naples, shown in the map below. Pompeii, that famous ancient Roman city buried when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D., is also nearby. It's just a little southwest of where they still grow the tomatoes in San Marzano sul Sarno.

It's strange to think that the same volcanic ash that makes San Marzano tomatoes so special today was also responsible for burying entire cities over 2,000 years ago. That said, San Marzano tomatoes are not native to the region. Coincidentally, just 22 years after archeologists uncovered the remains of Pompeii in 1748, the Kingdom of Peru gave the first San Marzano seeds to the Kingdom of Naples.

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Tomato sauce

makes about 6 and a half cups

drop of olive oil
1/2 cup diced pancetta or bacon
1 onion
4 cloves garlic
2 crushed dried cayenne peppers (or 1 tsp dried)
1 cup olive oil
5 Tbsp tomato paste
2 800-g cans of San Marzano tomatoes
a 1" by 3"piece of parmesan rind or other hard cheese
small hunk of salt pork rind
1/2 Tbsp herbes de Provence
a couple of beef bouillon cubes
1 Tbsp oregano
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste

Saute the pancetta and the onions in the olive oil for about 10 minutes or until soft. Add the garlic and the dried cayenne pepper and saute another minute. Add the tomato paste and stir to make a paste with the other ingredients.

Then add the canned tomatoes and break them apart a bit with your wooden spoon. Add the rest of the ingredients and cover and cook in the oven for three hours at 125 C/250 F.

Discard the salt pork rind and bay leaves. The parmesan rind should easily break up and dissolve into the sauce.

Follow the canning directions that come with your preserving jars, and top each jar with a layer of hot olive oil, about 1/4 of an inch think to sterilize the top layer of sauce.

Alternatively, you can freeze the sauce if you'll be keeping it for more than a few weeks, but in that case, store it in a Tupperware instead of a glass jar.

This is lovely in pasta or pizza, and to spread on toast!


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