Every year from around mid-feb to mid-march tomatoes come into season. It’s a beautiful time when Melbourne fruit shops are overflowing with ripe, blushing tomatoes. Depending on your postcode, you might see Nonnas buying the fruit by the crate-full and lugging it back to their cars. It’s during this small window of tomato-time that Italians in Melbourne are making sauce or ‘sugo’. The sauce is enjoyed year-round on every sort of pasta dish you can imagine.
Basically, the process involves cutting up tomatoes and squashing them through a hand-cranked machine to puree (or a motorised machine if you have an enterprising Nonno like I did). The gorgeous, fragrant tomato puree is then funneled into bottles filled with fresh basil. Once the bottles are sealed, they are boiled in a barrel almost as tall as I am and then stored for use in an array of delicious dishes over the coming year.
Sauce day is an annual event in my family. One day a year we meet in my Nonna’s garage, don our hair nets and form a sauce-making production line. It is a beautiful way to spend a day together but it serves an important purpose too. The sauce we make in February or March forms the base of our family meals together for the rest of the year. Nonna’s ricotta gnocchi fade without a good tumble in our homemade sugo. I absolutely will not make a lasagna using anything else.
The sauce is squeezed out through tiny holes in the sauce machine. The skins and seeds are too thick to go through the holes so they are pushed out the other side.
Once the pot is filled with tomato puree the sauce is transferred to a bucket which has a tiny funnel at the bottom for filling the bottles.
My brother puts the lids on the bottles, making sure they are sealed properly. If the bottle tops are slightly loose they will pop off during the boiling process and the sauce will be lost.
I know this isn’t like my usual Melbourne restaurant posts but I wanted to share some photos I took while making the sauce last week. We spent a wonderful day almost drunk on the aroma of the sweet, fleshy tomatoes. I feel so lucky to have such rich family traditions. I hope you enjoyed the photos!