Our New Italian Tomato Press!

I remember growing up and my step-mother Patricia clamping a meat grinder to the counter and grinding out sausage. I loved the simplicity of it. No electricity needed. Develops muscles as a bonus. So last year when my friend Elizabeth and I were planning to make applesauce, my mind immediately conjured up the grinder of my childhood as a perfect applesauce-making apparatus. But when I searched the local hardware store, I came up empty. I found a food mill but, after putting it together, it was lame in comparison. I did not use it and later returned it to the store. With no time to search further, we opted to use Elizabeth’s Vitamix that came close to burning up after hours of canning.

So, fast forward a year. I was knee deep in tomatoes from the community garden plot and my home garden. As luck would have it, my friend Teuta and I were waltzing through my favorite mall (Tyson’s Corner Mall in Virginia) and wandered into the Williams Sonoma kitchen store. Well, what did we see??? An Italian Tomato Press. Oh, it was sooo beautiful! It reminded me of the grinder of my childhood. Okay, so it wasn’t a sausage grinder. But it looked just like one, all metal and shiny. And it was based on the same premise: dump in product, turn handle and stuff squeezes out. I was hooked. But they were out. Big sigh.

But I was not deterred.This is the age of internet, you know. So I pulled out my computer and ordered one. It arrived. I was in heaven. And as they say, the rest is history. Here is how it went down:

I wanted to can tomato puree. I enlisted Calvin who worked with Patrick to put it together. After a few mis-steps, it was ready for action. (The instructions were made in Italy, and well…let’s just say they were less than accurate.  But hey, that is what I LOVE about Italy.)  I removed the skins from the tomatoes by boiling them for a few minutes, plunging them in ice water and the skins nearly slipped off, with a bit of help from me. Then I turned them over to Calvin and the Press.

My Able Tomato Presser, Calvin

Then we had Tomato Puree!

Tomato Puree!


How Do You Like Them Tomatoes?

So many tomatoes from the community garden plot and my patio pots, now what? So, I decided to whip up a few batches of tomato sauce to freeze and a batch to use for a tasty recipe I found for rigatoni that also called for eggplant and squash. Both of which I had on hand thanks to the recent Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) delivery.

The recipe went by ounces rather than tomato count.  So, the first challenge I had was to figure out just how many tomatoes equal a pound? Well, thanks to the following conversion chart, the mystery was solved.  Source: http://homecooking.about.com/od/foodequivalents/a/tomatoequiv.htm

Tomato Equivalents
• 3 medium globe tomatoes = 1 pound
• 8 small plum tomatoes = 1 pound
• 25 to 30 cherry tomatoes = 1 pound
• 2 cups chopped tomatoes = 1 pound
• 3/8 cup of tomato paste plus 1/2 cup water = 1 cup tomato sauce
• 1 cup canned tomatoes = 1-1/2 cups fresh, chopped, cooked tomatoes
• 1/2 pound or 1 tomato = 1 serving
• 1 cup firmly packed fresh tomato = 1/2 cup tomato sauce plus 1/2 cup water
• 1 pound fresh = 1-1/2 cups chopped
• 1 (16-ounce) can = 2 cups
• 1 (35-ounce) can = 4 cups undrained
• 1 (28-ounce) can = 3 cups undrained

Once I had the number of tomatoes needed sorted out, I could begin the chopping, dicing and cooking.  The result?  Ratings from Patrick, Calvin and me:  Five peas ••••• each (on a 1 to 5 scale)


Baked Rigatoni with Garden Eggplant and Zucchini


1 1/2-2 lbs combined of zucchini, eggplants or other squash, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
3/4 tsp sea saltSAUCE: 
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
28 oz. various medium sized, ripe tomatoes or (1 can 28 oz. plum tomatoes)
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1 chicken bouillon cube dissolved in 3/4 cup hot water
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basilPASTA: 
1 package (16 oz.) whole wheat rigatoni
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 Tbsp. chopped basil
Roasting Vegetables:
Preheat oven to 450˚. In large bowl, toss eggplant, 2 tablespoon olive oil, sea salt and zucchini. In a baking pan lined with a foil, layer the vegetables in an even layer. Roast the vegetables for about 30 minutes, switching racks midway for the vegetables to cook evenly. Avoid mixing them with a spoon because it bruises and mushes the vegetables. It also prevents the nice caramelization on the vegetables to happen evenly. I move them around only once, gently, when I switch racks from middle to top. Remove pans from oven, let cool and set aside.
Tomato Sauce:

Cleaning Fresh Tomatoes:
First, peel and deseed the tomatoes. Do this by making a small incision in the skin on each tomato. Mean while, boil a large pot of water. Bring to simmer, and dunk the tomatoes in the water and let sit for 5 minutes. You will see the skin begin to peel back. In a separate bowl, fill with ice water. Strain the tomatoes, and dunk them in the cold water. The coolness will help contract the fruit away from the skin and allow them to be cool enough to handle. Let them sit in the water for 5 minutes, adding more ice if needed. Strain again, and carefully peel the skin off the tomatoes. When done, it is time to deseed them. With your hands, puncture the middle and tear open the tomato, and empty the seeds in each “pod”. Put the empty tomato aside, and continue along for all the fruit. Now you have fresh tomatoes ready to use in recipes. (I ended up saving the seeds and pods and adding them to the tomato sauce that I made and then froze, see below.)
With the tomatoes, crush them with your hand until broken up and “mushed”. Now, in a 3 qt. saucepan,  heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and add garlic and onion and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.
Lower the heat and add in all the tomatoes and their juices, tomato paste, pepper, salt, breaking up the tomatoes with the back of your spoon as you stir.
Let simmer for 5 minutes, then add the bouillon, and stir. Heat to boiling than simmer for 20 minutes, or until sauce is thickened. Add basil for the last 10 minutes of cooking. Set aside.

Pasta and Assembly:

Preheat oven to 450˚. Cook pasta according to package directions, and drain. Return to the sauce pot. Add the roasted vegetables to the pasta and toss. Add the tomato sauce and half the Parmesan cheese and toss. Butter a 12 x 9 Pyrex pan and pour the pasta mixture evenly into the pan. In a small bowl, mix the ricotta with the rest of the Parmesan. Using a spoon and your fingers, add the dollops of cheese on top and nestled into the pasta. Sprinkle with the chopped basil, and cover with tin foil. Bake the pasta for 30 minutes until hot and cheese is melting and bubbly. Uncover for the last 5 minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes and serve with extra Parmesan.

With the rigatoni in the oven, I turned to making a batch of tomato sauce that I could freeze. I added green peppers, fresh oregano, fresh thyme and sugar to the recipe above, as well as the discarded seeds and pods. Thanks to canning jars that are freezer safe, I have three jars stored away in the freezer that I will see again come winter.