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Making Tomato Conserva

September 19th, 2017

Many years ago, I purchased the book ‘Cooking by Hand’ by Paul Bertolli. This book is part cookbook, part biography, part cooking theory; recipes are interspersed with stories of how they came about and recommendations and theories for making food even more delicious. While reading through the section on tomatoes, I came across the recipe for Conserva and immediately knew I wanted to make it. It’s not a difficult recipe, but it does take some time. The final product makes it worth every single minute, you won’t find a better way to preserve tomatoes.

This rich, concentrated tomato paste (though calling it paste is a bit derogatory as it’s nothing like canned tomato paste), is like a ripe summer tomato intensified in a jar. Because it’s not cooked at a really high temperature, it has a completely different flavor than many cooked tomato sauces. The sugars seems to intensify and the fresh tomato flavor comes through quite clearly. Overall I’d say it’s much brighter than other cooked and canned tomato products, which almost end up with a heavy bitterness from the heat of cooking. Conserva is a bit of summer tomato heaven in the middle of our long Maine winters. It is such a versatile pantry staples; a small spoonful can be stirred into sauces to add a richness and depth of flavor, add it to canned tomato sauces to make it thicker, a spoonful in broth will add another layer of flavor to soup. We really enjoy it spread on sandwiches made of olive bread, eggs, arugula, bacon, and cheese (a bit of a BLT with conserva taking the place of fresh tomato).

In the book his recipe starts with 5 pounds of tomatoes, I find this size of a batch to be way to small. The final product is only about a cup of concentrate. I always double it, both because I want lots of it in my pantry, and because I like to maximize my time. If I have the oven on for 7 hours, I may as well have it full. Typically, my batches start with 10 pounds of tomatoes (though I make two 5 lb batches separately and put them in the oven together), from this amount I end up with a pint of conserva. Generally, I make 3-4 batches each summer. I also add a branch of a tomato plant in the pan, it adds a wonderfully deep tomato flavor to the final product. Contrary to popular belief, the stems and leaves of tomato plants are not poisonous.

Here’s the basics recipe:
Dice 5 pounds mixed tomatoes, some paste, some canning, into small pieces. Add a splash of good olive oil to a large pan, pour in tomatoes, add a small tomato branch with leaves, sprinkle with a teaspoon or so of sea salt. Bring them to a rapid boil and cook for 2 minutes. Put through smallest plate on a food mill, there should be no seeds in the final puree. (If you’ve been looking for a nice stainless steel food mill, I highly recommend this one from Matfer. I bought mine 7-8 years ago and LOVE it. Previously, I was using an old aluminum Squeez-O and wasn’t super keen on my food coming into contact with the aluminum. I use this one all the time, for making applesauce, pumpkin puree, tomato puree, and pureeing soups.)

Lightly oil a large casserole dish, I prefer to use glass since tomatoes are very acidic. (My favorite are these borosilicate glass pans from Marinex, I have several of them and use them constantly.) Pour puree into pan, place into a 300 degree oven, convection is best, but not necessary, but it will take longer in a regular oven. Cook for 3 hours, if not using convection add another hour or two to the time. Stir occasionally with a spatula, when you notice the surface start to darken, reduce heat to 250 and continue cooking for another 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or until it is thick, shiny, and brick-colored. Your final amount will be about 1/10 of what you started with, 1 cup of paste is about what you will end up with this batch (which is why I always double it).

Put conserva into a glass jar carefully pressing out any air pockets, cover with 1/2 inch of good olive oil. Paul recommends keeping the conserva in the pantry if you have a cool, dark space. As long as you maintain the 1/2 inch layer of olive oil on top it should keep. I keep mine in the fridge because my pantry isn’t always cool. Mine always lasts a year in the fridge if I am careful to maintain a layer of olive oil on top.

It seems a little complicated, but it’s not at all. In fact, most of the time is spent waiting and occasionally checking on the conserva in the oven. I make 3-4 double batches each year, it’s a staple in our pantry.

What’s your favorite way to preserve tomatoes for winter?

Drowning in Poblano Peppers

September 14th, 2017

I always love growing poblano peppers, they are one of my favorites to use in chili, salsa, and other Mexican inspired dishes. I like to have a gallon or two of cut up poblanos in the freezer ready to use all winter long. This year I planted four ‘Baron’ plants, expecting a semi-decent harvest (seed was purchased from Johnny’s Seeds). Little did I know that these peppers would do better than any other pepper in the garden and I’d be drowning in them.

We’ve been harvesting them and roasting them on the grill, which is working beautifully. At least half of them will be preserved this way. After grilling, they are peeled, seeded, cut in half, then frozen.

The rest will be processed in the usually fashion, just like green peppers. I’ll seed then, slice them, and freeze them on a cookie sheet then transfer them to bags. This way I can scoop out what I need each time, not premeasuring needed.


Since we also have quite a stockpile of ground venison in the freezer from last year, it looks like venison chili will be on the menu quite often this coming winter.

What vegetables seem extra productive in your garden this year?

Friday Favorite: Filling the Larder

September 8th, 2017

One of my favorite things time of of year is filling the freezer and the pantry with homegrown goodness. I’ve been making small batches of interesting things: pickled beans with garlic and basil, pickled garlic, pickled nasturtium pods, figs in brandy, minted onions, spiced peaches, and many more. The freezer is pretty much chocked full and the pantry shelves are starting to look lovely.


I have a few favorite canning books, most that provide small batch recipes, which are perfect for small amount of produce and small families. These books are constantly on my table, I leaf through them and read through recipes trying to decide what to make. A few recipes have become favorites and are used yearly, some are made every so often.

A few of my go-to books this time of year:
The River Cottage Preserves Handbook by Pam Corbin
Preserving the Taste by Edon Waycott
Well Preserved by Eugenia Bone

I don’t can much, but the things that I do are throughly enjoyed in the middle of our long winters here in Maine. Every time we crack open a jar of pickles or preserves we are reminded of the delicious bounty from the garden.

What are you preserving from the garden this year?

Squirreling Away for Winter

September 5th, 2017

It’s been a busy week and weekend. My evenings are filled with harvesting and preserving. The apples, tomatoes, beans, and peppers are coming in like mad. Green beans are blanched and frozen, peppers are chopped and frozen. Both things are frozen on cookie sheets and put into freezer bags to be scooped out in quantities needed.

The tomatoes are being put up in a few different ways. ‘Principe Borghese’ are dried in the sun dried tomato fashion. Some tomatoes are canned crushed for winter cooking, others are turned into conserve. Right now I’ve only finished up a batch of crushed tomatoes. Stay tuned for various posts this week about all the other things I’m making with all the garden bounty (including recipes for a few tried and true favorites). While this season seems a bit frantic, it will all be worth it in the dead of winter. When snow is deep on the garden, we can enjoy chili made with homegrown poblanos, tomatoes, and onions. There’s nothing better (and saves more money) than shopping in your freezer and pantry!

What are you preserving from your garden?

Pickling up a Storm (or at least lots of veggies)

August 10th, 2017

Over the past week or two I’ve been pickling all sorts of things from the garden. At the moment, I have six different things in various stages in the pickling process. So far all the recipes are from the book, The Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich. I’m making a few favorites and trying a few new and interesting things, like pickling nasturtium seeds and Iranian pickled onions with mint.


So far I’ve made:
Lower East Side Full Sour Dills (page 45)
Dutch Lunch Spears (page 91)
Cornichons a Cru (page 97)
Olive Oil Pickles (page 98)
Pickled Nasturtium Pods (page 165)
Sweet Gherkin Pickles (page 230)
Shallots or Onions Pickled with Mint (page 291)

Still on my list to make this summer:
Zucchini Relish (page 314)
Short Brined Pickled Peppers (page 136)
Pickled Fennel with Orange (page 274)
Pickled Jerusalem Artichoke (page 131)


This is a great book to have in your cookbook library if you have a garden and are interested in pickling/preserving. Pretty much anything you can think of pickling is in this book. I purchased this book years ago and it’s always on my kitchen table this time of year. I’ve made loads of recipes from it and have so many more I’d like to try.

What are you pickling this summer?

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.

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