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Canning Tomatoes with Nonna and Shack's Favourite Rigatoni with Tomato and Sausage

It's tomato time! 

 2011  was the last time we spent the day with Nonna and the gang, washing, blanching, grinding, skinning, boiling and jarring bushels of juicy plum tomatoes. Looking at those pictures, I can't believe how much The Kid and his friend, Patricia have grown and wonder how it is possible that as everyone else gets older, Nonna keeps looking younger all the time!

Guardians of the future

If you have never done this before, you might wonder why anyone would work from the crack of dawn until suppertime just to come away with 20 litre bottles of tomato puree? At $20 a bushel for the tomatoes, approx $1 a jar for jars and lids, surely you can just buy cans of decent San Marzanos for a couple bucks and save your lower back and shoulders?

three teens, three adult women plus Nonna and one strong man to tighten the lids and it still takes over 7 hours to process a dozen bushels
As I have said many times, I didn't grow up with any sort of strong, cultural family traditions. We were kind of Irishish, my mom was very far removed from her French Canadian roots and we lived a pretty white bread, 70's existence. We certainly enjoyed a big turkey dinner at Christmas and Thanksgiving, baked ham at Easter and big, family Sunday dinners until I was a teen but nothing that even comes close to the yearly wine making extravaganza, tomato canning or the making of 4 million tamales that other families joined forces to undertake year after year.

Soon, it will be these kids who will take the reigns and grow up to share this family tradition with their own children.

Because our children are now teenagers, they have taken over the more laborious aspects of tomato preserving as they operate the machine that skins and grinds the tomatoes, bringing up the cases of clean jars from the basement and dragging around the heavy buckets of tomatoes in their various states of being. For them, it's time to laugh and gossip and tease and the time passes unnoticed. They are also starting to take turns stirring the bubbling, red mulch as Nonna walks back and forth, adjusting the flame of the propane burner, tidying this and that, bringing espresso, apple cake and cannelloni, gently barking "Sotto, sotto!" when the person wielding what looks like a giant canoe paddle starts to get lazy. You have to stir in a figure 8 or the tomato in the middle of the huge pot will stick and burn and it's the most stressful part of the entire operation.

By dinner time, shoulders are aching, lower backs are twitching and our dogs are barking, everyone is covered in splatters of pulp and the garage looks like a crime scene but our reward lies inside of those ten cases of jars, sitting upside down under heavy blankets where they will rest for the week until we get the call to come and claim our booty.

After it was all jarred,  was just enough sauce to fill 3/4 of a small jar and Nonna told us to take it home, along with another 750ml jar so that I could make Shack some pasta for supper because he must have really worked up an appetite with all of that strenuous lid tightening. You know, I used ot think that I was Nonna's favourite but there is no longer any doubt that it is Shack, our big, strong, jar putter onner, that has won her heart. 

should I be worried? They look pretty cosy together, don't they?

We will be forever grateful to the Altobello family for sharing their knowledge, traditions and, most importantly,  their wonderful Nonna with us.
Oh, and the tomatoes are pretty good too.

it's hungry work and Nonna makes sure that you never lose steam

Shack's Favourite Tomato Sausage Sauce

if I let him, this is what Shack would eat every night for dinner, 7 nights a week. It's important that the tomatoes are smoothly pureed so if you are using canned San Marzano tomatoes, puree them in the blender or with an immersion blender before adding them to the pot

serves approx 6 main course servings or 8 as a first course or 3 if one of your dinner guests is Shack


1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
3 sweet italian sausages
*1 tsp #5 umami paste (leave out if you can't find it but it really enhances the flavour so look for it)
5 cups tomato puree
2 tsp salt (if tomato puree is unsalted - otherwise start with 1 tsp and then to taste)
1 heaping tsp dried oregano
1 handful roughly chopped, fresh basil

Rigatoni, freshly grated romano cheese


Heat the olive oil in a heavy pot until shimmering and then add in the onion. Saute the onion, stirring from time to time, until softened but not browning at all, about 4 or 5 minutes.

While the onion is cooking, remove the sausage from the casings, discard the casings and set aside.

Add in the garlic, saute for another minute and then add in the sausage. You want to break the sausage up so you can keep smashing it down with a wooden spoon as you brown it or even use a potato masher to break it up as it cooks. When no more pink remains, stir in the umami paste, mix well and then pour in the tomatoes. Bring to a light simmer, add in the salt and the oregano and let it cook for about 45 minutes to an hour. Add the basil right at the end and take the pot off of the heat.

Cook a heavy pasta (we like rigatoni with meat sauce) until al dente, drain it and then return it to the empty pasta pot. Ladle in just enough sauce to coat the pasta as you toss it around in the sauce.

Divide the pasta between bowls, ladle more sauce on top and sprinkle with freshly grated cheese.

*Umami paste is a paste made of concentrated anchovy, porcinis and a bunch of other stuff. Loblaws sell PC #5 umami paste. You can order it online at Amazon, Dean and Deluca. It's called a flavour bomb and can be added to just about anything

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