Passata di pomodoro (or passata for short) is the multi-purpose tomato purée that every aspiring Italian cook should learn how to make. Fortunately, it’s really quick and easy, but you do need one special piece of equipment: a food mill.
The method is simplicity itself: You take ripe tomatoes, simmer them just long enough so they’ve softened a bit, and sieve them though a food mill. You’re done! Passata has a million and one uses in Italian cooking, starting with homemade tomato sauce. The taste of tomato sauce made with freshly made passata is incomparable. But passata can be used in any recipe calling for tomatoes—the kind Italians refer to as in rosso—and as we all know, there are a whole lot of those in Italian cookery.
You can buy passata di pomodoro in jars at fancy supermarkets and Italian delis, but it’s so quick and simple to make at home, why spend the money? And with tomatoes at the height of their season, now’s the time to get started.
Makes enough for one mason jar
- 1 kilo (2 lbs) fresh tomatoes, preferably plum tomatoes
- A pinch of salt
- A basil leaf or two (optional)
Cut your tomatoes in half and put them all in a saucepan.
Sprinkle with a pinch of salt, cover the saucepan and let the tomatoes simmer over moderate heat, stirring from time to time. After about 5-10 minutes, they should have softened and just begun to melt, like so:
Pour the tomatoes into a food mill positioned over a large mixing bowl. Here’s my set up:
Let the tomatoes cool off for a couple of minutes. By this time, depending on your tomatoes, there will be either a little or quite a bit of liquid that will have drained into the bowl. Discard it before proceeding.
Re-position the food mill on top of the bowl and rotate the handle until all you have left in the food mill are skins and seeds:
You’ll want to throw this stuff away, of course. What you’ll have in the mixing bowl is your passata:
Transfer the purée into a mason jar or any other container you want. If you like, nestle a basil leaf or two in the passata. Let it cool off completely before closing the container. Passata is good for about a week in the fridge, and it freezes successfully. You can also put it up for out of season enjoyment (see Notes).
A food mill is essential for making passata di pomodoro and, in fact, it’s essential equipment for any Italian kitchen in general. Food mills are very affordable and you can buy them most anywhere that sells cookware or online. They may be a bit old-fashioned, but technology hasn’t managed to replace them yet. I love blenders and food processors, but they won’t do for some jobs. The beauty of a food mill is that it filters out the stuff you don’t want while it purées, like tomato skins and seeds. The alternative would be skinning and seeding the tomatoes before you purée and that’s tedious work. Food mills usually come with 2 or 3 disks that produce finer or rougher purée. I usually opt for the ‘medium’ disk, it lets a few of the seeds through but it produces a slightly rough texture that I like. The finest disk will produce a perfectly smooth, seedless passata, close to the kind you will usually find commercially. Avoid any disk with very large holes, as it will let all the seeds through and bits of skin as well.
The best tomatoes for making passata are the oval-shaped plum variety. These babies are meant for sauce—and indeed plum tomatoes are sometimes called ‘sauce tomatoes’ for that very reason. They tend to be less watery, with more flesh and fewer seeds, than other tomatoes. But, in a pinch, almost any type of tomato will do, so long as they are ripe and full of flavor. You may need to let the tomatoes drain a bit longer if you’re working with larger, more watery varieties.
If you want to put up your passata for enjoying out of season, you should proceed just as if you were putting up whole peeled tomatoes: sterilize your mason jars before filling them, seal them tight and then boil the jars for a good 45 minutes. (Perhaps one day soon I’ll do a post on that, too.)
The only slightly tricky part of making passata di pomodoro is the brief simmering step. You’ll be simmering your tomatoes ‘dry’, i.e. without any oil or other cooking medium, so you need to be a bit careful to avoid scorching. A few tips will help here: Add a pinch of salt to draw out the tomatoes’ own liquid, use moderate heat and stir from time to time. Oh, and make sure you don’t get distracted and walk away from your tomatoes. They will burn—trust me, I know from experience!
- 1 kilo (2 lbs) fresh tomatoes, preferably plum tomatoes
- A pinch of salt
- A basil leaf or two (optional)
- Cut your tomatoes in half and put them all in a saucepan.
- Sprinkle with a pinch of salt, cover the saucepan and let the tomatoes simmer over moderate heat, stirring from time to time. After about 5-10 minutes, they should have softened and just begun to melt.
- Pour the tomatoes into a food mill positioned over a large mixing bowl. Let the tomatoes cool off for a couple of minutes. By this time, depending on your tomatoes, there will be either a little or quite a bit of liquid that will have drained into the bowl. Discard it before proceeding.
- Re-position the food mill on top of the bowl and rotate the handle until all you have left in the food mill are skins and seeds. You'll want to throw this stuff away, of course. What you'll have in the mixing bowl is your passata.
- Transfer the purée into a mason jar or any other container you want. If you like, nestle a basil leaf or two in the passata. Let it cool off completely before closing the container.
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We used to do this with a food mill. Works great when we have up to 10 pounds. However, we’ve made a tradition of this in our family and we do 125 pounds at the end of every summer. After much experimentation, and side by side comparison, we cut up the Jersey plum tomatoes in quarters and process in the food processor until very well blended. Then put them in the pot and bring to boil…this lifts any remaining skin, which you then skim off the top. Reduce to simmer and cook till thick. And some fresh basil leaves while cooling. Won over the nonnas! And we divide them up and freeze them and have the taste of summer in our passata all year long.
125 lbs of tomatoes? Now that’s impressive! And thanks for sharing your method. If I ever get into really big production I’ll definitely give it a go!
Found this looking for tips and can offer one back… I use a Kenwood mixer and one of the attachments is a sieve. A godsend when doing Gooseberries for making Fool and Blackcurrants. It just takes the manual out of it but same job! Must be others with similar attachments.
Sounds like a great little device, Bridget! I have a KitchenAid, I wish it had an attachment like that…
The Spremy electric tomato strainer is a great appliance.
Interesting. Looks practical for puréeing large amounts without tiring out your arm. 🙂
That looks like a fascinating, but expensive, device. Next time I’m in Italy I’ll look around to see if I can get just the attachment to go on the front of my mincer. I would expect that you have to peel the tomatoes first as the holes would be easily blocked by the skins. Using a food mill in any case you can pass a kilo of microwaved tomatoes with skins in not much more than a couple of minutes and they’re very cheap (£15-£20, $20-$25, 17€ – 25€ for one in stainless steel/inox). I used one this weekend to make this recipe: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/aug/15/aubergine-tomato-and-ricotta-gratin-recipe-rachel-roddy-kitchen-in-rome.
Excellent work. Preparing passata makes cooking a ton of recipes much easier. We usually grate the August tomatoes on a classic box grater and store the pure in bags in the freezer for the fall/winter, but cooking them before, like you do, certainly must bring out more flavor. We’ll be trying it out as well. Thank you Frank!
Hmmm… I had never heard about grating and freezing tomatoes. Will have to try it out—next summer!
Made passata this morning from tomate les Andes (l live in SW France) it smells and tastes wonderful. Many thanks Frank for Memorie di Angelina the very best recipe site on the internet.
And thank you, Chris, for your kind words! So glad that you’re enjoying the site. Cheers, Frank
Perfection! I refuse to buy any sort of bottled or jarred tomato product!
Good for you! I can’t claim to say the same, but there’s no denying homemade is so much better—and better for you.
A ritual at my Zia Rose’s home each summer! As my tomatoes all seem to have come to maturity at the early, I need to get out my food mill and apron and get to work!
Al lavoro! 😉
I love this – bought an inexpensive food mill a few years ago and never looked back. And the last few years, the San Marzano plants have yielded tons of tomatoes. In fact, this is a good reminder to make this recipe tomorrow!
It is that time of year, Claudia! Enjoy. 🙂
I love my foodmill. I love how you put it – technology hasn’t improved on it yet! Several years ago, one of the farmers grew San Marzano tomatoes – I was in heaven. Wish I had some now for passato!
San Marzanos are the best. But I have to say, I’ve had great success with many different varieties of tomatoes, so long as they’re ripe and flavorful.
I have a confession, this is a bit of a terrible memory for me. I used to have to spend HOURS in the kitchen doing this with my mother as a teenager and remember it getting to the point of being like torture! I see a food mill and get a bit of PTSD! haha! Of course, I never complained when we had the good sugo to use all winter long! 😉 Perfect recipe- plain and simple!
Haha! I can imagine that putting up tomatoes would be just about the last thing a teenager would be interested in doing.
Excellent instructions. I bought a new food mill a few years back — would you believe I wore out my first one making sauces– tomato and apple. If we don’t get enough tomatoes out of our few plants I’ll go to the Farmers Market and purchase some. You are so right. Every Italian household should have a few jars of passata di pomodoro. Have a great weekend, Frank.
Wow, it takes a lot to wear out a food mill… you obviously put it to good use!
This post is beautiful in its simplicity and elegance. The photo is lovely, too. We also like the texture that results from the medium disc of our food mill.
Thanks so much, guys! So kind of you to say. 🙂
Seeing that I have been in a canning mood for the past two weeks, this is right up my alley. Our tomatoes have been fantastic this year and it’s a shame to see them gone so I will make a small batch of this. One thing though. Save that liquid instead of discarding it and use it instead of the water when cooking yellow rice.
Thanks! Your peaches do look lovely.
You are right, we should all own a food mill… I don’t, but luckily I can get good quality, cheap passata here in Italy pretty much everywhere… although I know many people here who still make their own
Nessun attrezzo moderno e tecnologico può sostituire il buon vecchio passa pomodoro, vero? Ne ho visti anche elettrici ma vuoi mettere il piacere di farla a mano, con calma, ha davvero un altro sapore ! Devo sbrigarmi a farne qualche bottiglia anche io prima che questa pazza estate finisca e con lei i pomodori, buona settimana Frank !
You are totally right, Frank. Technology has not replaced the food mill. Mine has been getting a workout these weeks. I freeze some of my passata in ziplock bags, so it takes less space in the freezer.
Lovely. One of the things that gets me about this particular process is that we all do it at this time of year. I am so touched, and not to sound too corny, but truly moved to think that we are all inour kitchnes and up to the same thing. And I am with you about the food mill. I have had mine for over forty years, and it has never failed me. Such a simple but versatile tool.
My two cents worth: I just hope novices don’t think they can then put the jar on the shelf and keep it indefinitely without processing it in boiling water. If someone did not read ALL of your post they might do that.
Also, I wonder how long one could keep it in the refrigerator before using it?
Perhaps I missed something but I like to err on the side of caution.
V useful post. Like you say, the flavour is always better than shopbought. I’ve been using a similar recipe from a Barbara Kafka book for a few years now, as you might expect with Kafka she says use a microwave for the softening process, mill, then back in the ‘wave to reduce. I found this tends to spatter the inside of the oven a lot so now I do the same as when I make stock: pressure cook for a few minutes on high, mill, then reduce slowly (just a simmer) on the stovetop in a wide skillet until it’s a puree like consistency. Freeze it in an icecube tray and keep the cubes in a bag in the freezer (takes a lot less space and is less likely to spoil than in a jar). Like you, I’ve found the medium plate is best. Reconsitutes easily with hot water for soup or tomato sauce for stuff ‘al pomodoro’ and a cube or two added to a tomato sauce made with tinned tomatoes improves the flavour significantly. Two kilos of tomatoes will give you about 400 ml (the size of a standard ice cube trayt) or 24 cubes of puree. I’m stocking up for winter so I’ve got a batch on the stove right now.
And the food mill is something every cook should have, far easier than sieving stuff.
Couldn’t agree more, Iain. And thanks for the freezing tips!
Thank you. This is exciting for one who is a senior and lives a bit far from the market besides and avoid an immediate need and run out. Thank you . I love your website and I pray you will be inspired always.
Thank you so much for mentioning that it’s acceptable to reduce. I just did my first batch, and it was far too watery. Valuable comments stand the test of time. Even 4 years later!
I’m waiting for it to cool. I don’t have ice cube trays to spare, but I plan to freeze in zip-lock bags.
And nice to meet a fellow pressure cooker user! I found my way to Frank’s website and newsletter from Laura Pazzaglia, and Hip Pressure Cooking.
Welcome, Madeline! Happy to hear you got here through Laura’s site. I’m a big fan of hers. Curious to know how, since as far as I know, Laura’s site doesn’t have a blog roll?
I’ve been lurking for years, and commenting once in a while (Osso Buco). Laura gave you a shout-out on Hip Pressure Cooking for Bollito Misto, and I’ve subscribed, enjoyed, and occasionally cooked from Memorie di Angelina ever since!
Great to hear it, Madeline. Thanks again for your readership!
Happy to be of help and thank you for the pointer to the Pressure cooking site. I have not one but two Instant Pots (one in the UK and the other at my home in France) so it looks like my kind of place. We’re having a barbecue party on August Bank Holiday (UK equivalent of Labour Day) so those ribs will make an appearance.
My tomatoes are in. My food mill is ready. Let the simmering begin. I will freeze some. Perfect!
Sounds like a plan, Claudia!
I really must get one of those food mills. I have had an abundance of tomatoes and would have loved having a storeroom full of passapomodoro.
Run, don’t walk, Linda! No kitchen should be without one.
I love your passapomodori Frank!
Thanks, Francesca! It does come in handy.
Utilissimo! Adesso so come comportarmi per fare una deliziosa passata di pomodoro! <3 Grazie mille!
E grazie a te, Ely, per il commento. Sei troppe gentile!
Great recipe Frank!The way I make it! It reminds me my childhood when I made it with my grandmother!
Well then, I know I’m on the right track… :=)