Lurking in the Cupboard: Wooden Pestle, No VesselOctober 8, 2013
I found my mother’s wooden pestle for making tomato passata just after I heard Marcella Hazan died last month.
No longer used since my mother graduated to tinned Romas long ago, it had remained in her cupboard looking for a purpose. That trusty pestle had crushed thousands of cooked tomatoes through a sieve since my father had crafted it in the early 1960s. I wondered if it had ever doubled as something you slipped a sock over just before you were about to darn* it.
Tributes continue to flow for the 89-year-old revered author of six Italian cookbooks, including my favourite The Classic Italian Cookbook (1973). Marcella is credited with introducing the public in the U.S. and Britain to the techniques of traditional Italian cooking.
With an incredible repertoire to her name, it was a recipe for her simple Tomato Sauce 111 (sugo di pomodoro) that made her fans swoon. Maybe it was the unusual addition of butter rather than olive oil. Or that it’s so easy to make and the onion doesn’t require chopping and weeping.
I flicked through all my vintage and contemporary Italian cookbooks and none of the tomato sauces take butter during the cooking, just olive oil, so I’m curious to know how Marcella came to include it. And as I hadn’t made this sugo di pomodoro for a while I was interested to see if it was as buttery as I remembered.
I rarely make my own tomato passata these days but felt I had to make a batch for the sauce in honour of Marcella’s passing. And anyway, the wooden pestle was winking at me.
Four ingredients and three-quarters of an hour later we sat down to a satisfying – and buttery – penne al pomodoro. But I confess I added some torn basil leaves to the finished product.
I’m looking forward to next February’s Tomato Festival at the Botanic Gardens in Sydney as I hear they’ll be running a Tomato Sauce Challenge. Have pestle will crush!
[* In case any young folk are reading this, the Oxford Dictionary defines ‘darn’ as a verb meaning to mend (a hole in knitted material) by interweaving yarn with a needle.]
Related post: ‘As the Tomato said to the Actress’
You might also like this tomato sauce recipe on the Italian Language Blog