August means: La Salsa!
'Sugo', 'Salsa', 'Passata'. It's probably one of the most defining ingredients of Italian cuisine. From pasta to pizza, 'La Salsa' is a key ingredient for many an Italian dish. Unfortunately however, many of the bottles of 'la salsa' that people might find in their local supermarkets, around the world, do not uphold the ancient traditions of salsa making. A quick glance at the ingredients list of many of the 'famous' brands out there ('Dolmio in the UK anyone?) will reveal a concoction of salt, preservatives and even (whisper it quietly when an Italian is near) - sugar!
Shocking! And so, so unnecessary!
Making 'salsa' has been a fixed part of the traditional culinary landscape for families in Italy for centuries now. Every August, families gather together in back gardens, farms and even garages to make their annual supply of this heavenly tomato sauce. It's an event in the calendar and an opportunity for families to come together, gossip and share in the creation of one of the most important things in life: FOOD.
It should come as no surprise that in untouched regions like Basilicata and Matera, the tradition of making this yearly supply of heavenly red sauce is alive and well. Whether people are growing their own tomatoes in backyards, on balconies, in gardens or on farms, the process by which these little red bundles of joy are turned into this staple ingredient for meals throughout the year is quite a thing to behold.
That's why this year we thought we would document it for you all and share our process here on our blog - with photos of course!
So it all begins, of course, by picking our fresh, organically grown tomatoes from our vegetable garden here at the agriturismo. During August, most of our tomatoes are starting to ripen nicely - which means it's time to make 'La Salsa!'.
Once picked, the first thing we need to do is sort through each and every one of them to make sure that we catch any of those tomatoes that have gone bad or been infested with insects etc. Once sorted, the tomatoes have to be washed thoroughly and then put into a large tub of boiling water, where they'll cook away for about 15-20 mins. As we have so many tomatoes to get through, we obviously do them all in batches and it can take us a good couple of days to get through the whole process!
Once gently boiled, it's time to have fun with the salsa machine and press the tomatoes into our lovely sauce. There's something so therapeutic and satisfying about this part...it's almost kind of addictive in fact!
Now it's time to put the sauce into our glass jars. We have two approaches to this. The first involves filling the jars with fresh 'pomodorini' (small tomatoes) and then filling the jar with our salsa. The idea with this version is that the sauce will include fresh tomatoes that will still taste as good in January (for example) as they do now in August. It creates a slightly lighter sauce that is great for light pasta dishes, like spaghetti and tomatoes. The second involves simply filling the jars without the fresh tomatoes - only with the salsa. This will give a more traditional sauce that is slightly richer and great for 'ragú'.
Remember, absolutely nothing else goes into a traditional jar of salsa - at least not for us here in Basilicata. No salt. No preservatives. Absolutely NO sugar. How, therefore, can we keep these sauces good for even a year later? Well the secret to that is all in the process of 'imbottigliare' or 'bottling' or 'canning'. Once the jars are filled, the lids are tightly fixed on making sure to leave a centimetre or two of space (air) between the sauce and the bottom of the lid. Once sealed, the jars are then wrapped in towels and taken outside, where we've set up the next part of the salsa making process.
As you can see, we use these huge copper pans (these particular ones have been in the family for many, many years) and we place our wrapped jars of salsa carefully into these pans, which are filled with water. Then we start the fires beneath the pans, using the old wood from our olive trees of course, and let the water come up to boiling temperature. We have to leave the jars to boil for around an hour or so and then we take them off the fire and let them cool down by themselves for the rest of the day and into the evening. This process essentially seals the jars and creates an environment within them that will maintain our precious salsa for the rest of the year! It's yet another example of the simplicity found in the culinary traditions of this land and it's something we do very passionately every year.
Who knows? Maybe if you find yourself experiencing a La Lucana Tour with us one August, you might be able to join us in the process and make some for yourself! One thing's for sure though, whenever you come and experience Basilicata and Southern Italy with us, you'll definitely be eating our salsa at some point and letting those juicy tomatoes transport your taste buds right back into the heart and the heat of the summer.
To find out more about the other types of experiences you can have with us here in Basilicata and the South, please be sure to check out: https://www.lalucana.com/experiences
Remember, you can read all about all the other wonderful food and culinary traditions we have across our blog: https://www.lalucana.com/blog/categories/food-and-drink