Italian cooking with the passaverdura and schiacciapatate
The aroma of roasting tomatoes filling my kitchen is one of my favorite smells. I first learned to oven-roast cherry tomatoes. With them, I prepare a personal interpretation of the famous Caprese salad or special crostini recipe, to name just two dishes. I then moved on to larger tomatoes that I received as part of my community-supported agriculture (CSA) share.
When I take a baking sheet full of roasted halved tomatoes out of the oven my nose inhales the sunny smell that wafts from them. After the tomatoes are cool, I process them in my food mill. As I turn the crank, the softened tomatoes turn into a rich purée. A bit of elbow grease (olio di gomito) is needed, but the end product is worth the effort. I use it to make tomato sauce for pasta or as an ingredient in other dishes (like this one). I also freeze some, for enjoyment during the tomato-less winter months.
My use of a food mill (called passaverdura or passatutto in Italian) to strain tomatoes goes back many years. Before my mother bought an electric tomato strainer, all the passata di pomodoro (strained tomatoes) that she bottled was made using a food mill and I provided the labor for the process. Even after the electric tool made the task easier and faster, I used the food mill to process the discarded parts from the tomato strainer — the skins still had some pulp attached. Only dry skins and seeds were eventually discarded.
Now that I am in love with oven-roasted tomatoes, I have come to really appreciate the food mill. It is a powerful tool that extracts every ounce of pulp and flavor from the tomatoes. I make relatively small batches of tomatoes at a time, so I never feel overwhelmed. To me this is the secret; it keeps the process kind of fun.
My mother also used her food mill to process potatoes to make gnocchi and purè di patate (potato purée). When I started making gnocchi in my kitchen, I bought a potato ricer (schiacciapatate), which is as effective as a food mill and easier to clean.
The basic version of a potato ricer is a one-size-fits-all tool. I recently got another one with changeable disk, which includes a disk with holes the same size as my older potato ricer and one with larger holes.
The common theme of these two manual tools is that they are simple to use and maintain, and they do their job better than any electric one. As many expert food articles on potatoes explain, the food processor should not be used to mash potatoes because it turns them into a gluey mass and, as my mother showed me years ago, the electric tomato strainer leaves some good stuff behind. Long live human-powered kitchen tools!
Hear the pronunciation of the Italian cooking words in this article spoken by me: