There is nothing, I repeat, nothing like Nonna’s passata.
Traditions are constantly evolving. But there are some that seem to capsules of time. And, they provide us with such an easy undoubtable comfort. Food traditions specifically appear to be this cornerstone; it brings people to the table, and even all the way into the kitchen.
Each year my grandparents make passata di pomodoro. No not pasta, passata (pah- ssah-tah.) I have to say – it really isn’t just nonna’s passata, it’s also nonno’s too.
The fresh bounty of summer plum tomatoes in the grand ole Garden State make early September the best time with attempts to preserve the last bits of summer. Or, in this case, the last tomatoes. Passata is simply ripe tomatoes that have been briefly cooked down then “passed” through a mill (get it passed = passata? Language is not all too different!) The remaining tomato pulp is then reduced for another hour in big stock pots. Once done, it is jarred. It keeps until the next year, if you do not run out of by then.
This process is something anyone can adopt. My grandparents brought this tradition from their small town in Southern Lazio, nestled among the colline. This process was necessary for families to have an essential condiment year-round, especially during the capricious times of and between the two World Wars. Today, in an aged garage in North Jersey, they still do it. Actually, their children continue to do it, along with THEIR children.
It is quite a sight. There is always alcohol supplied, whether it be gin or chardonnay. This goes to support the laborious teams. There are those gossiping while vigorously inspecting and slicing up raw tomatoes. Then, there’s a group managing the pots which briefly cook down chopped tomatoes. After this, there is another team who passes all the cooked tomatoes through the mill. Let us not forget the most important crowd who stands by, gets sloshed and eats mozzarella until they drop. This may be the most popular team, given that you can always come and go…
It is an amazing way to practice sustainability as well. My grandparents grew up not only in the countryside, but in the chaos of Fascist Italy during World War II. There was always a threat to their food security. For years, their family lived off the land, and any moment, that land could have been snatched away from them. This resulted in utilizing the most ripe tomatoes, before they went bad, and reusing glass jars. Today, it is a great way to refrain from constantly purchasing cans, cartons, and whatever packaging from the grocery store that may end up in a landfill. It is expected that you recycle your own glass bottles at my grandmas.
It is a blast. And, its a blast from the past. Just an age old practice done by the usual family suspects. This and my grandma’s delicious chicken cutlets make for spending a beautiful weekend getting messy.