August is tomato season in Sicily, and as a result, there is no time to waste! Once the tomatoes are ripe, it’s time to make “estratto” or what we call in English, “tomato paste.” Once made, estratto is jarred and preserved to be used in sauces and stock throughout the year. Making estratto is a serious undertaking, but well-worth the effort for the joy of having this ingredient to season your dishes.
In her book “Coming Home to Sicily,” Fabrizia Lanza details the age-old process of making estratto. It’s a multi-step operation that starts with cooking Roma tomatoes with garlic, red onion, fresh bay leaves, and salt. Once the mixture is a puree, its passed through a food mill to remove the skin and seeds. The mixture is then spread out onto table-length boards and set out in the sun; the idea being that the sun’s heat evaporates the moisture from the tomato mixture. But you can’t just leave it, you have to work it every few minutes, almost like dough: spreading and folding… for two days or more! It’s intensive.
My father talks about when he’d go through this process annually with my grandmother in their house in Brooklyn. They would make sauce and put it in big, glass Coca-Cola bottles. Once he was old enough, my dad even motorized the food mill because he got tired of turning it, and turning it, and turning it, all of those years. I loved running my hands over those smooth bottles in the dark, cool cupboard in her basement.
If you don’t know Fabrizia’s book, I recommend it. It’s beautiful! And, if you’re really intrigued, she runs a renowned cooking school in the center of Sicily, founded by her mother, Anna Tasca Lanza. You can take 1-day, 3-day, or 5-day courses… and more. And I imagine, that during this time of year, you’ll participate in the making of estratto! Buon lavoro!