The abundance of tomatoes at our local Farmers’ Market is ridiculous, but delightfully so. Tempted by their bright and smooth red, orange, yellow and maroon skins, I can’t seem to stop myself from evaluating one plump tomato after another, sneaking “just one more” into the grocery bag. Realistically, we’re only a household of two, so unless we’re going on a strict tomato-only diet for the week, I had to find some way to use up all these nuggets of vitamins and antioxidants out of respect for the farmers that grew them.
Enter the Ketchup. Growing up with Del Monte and Heinz, I can never eat fried chicken/french fries/omelettes without this bottle of joy. Unlike my better half, M, who doesn’t seem to have any affinity for this thick, goopy sauce, french fries without ketchup is a real tragedy in my book. It’s one of the puzzles of our relationship that I have yet to solve, but am taking my time at it because it means more ketchup for me!
For a long time, ketchup was one of those kitchen projects I’ve always wanted to give a go, but procrastinated on for whatever reason. I’d make a confit out of any excess tomatoes we had, an effort requiring much more time and planning, but it never occurred to me to take the ketchup route, until now. Those jars currently sitting in our refrigerator are a reminder of what I’ve been missing all this time.
Ketchup is quite likely the most comforting and easiest way to preserve the sweet flavors of summer tomatoes right to your liking. Stirring the pot, I was part-chemist, part-Italian-nonna, constantly tasting, analyzing and tweaking the spice-sweetness ratio until I realized that I was simply eating ketchup right out of the pot. Oops.
So, while Heinz practically has the ketchup-loving world under its thumb, it still can’t quite beat the satisfaction of home-made ketchup, fully customized to your liking. Sorry Heinz, you met my needs through my youth, now it’s time for me to go for it on my own.
Homemade Ketchup (adapted from White On Rice Couple)
Makes 2½ pints
I used a blend of spices found in my pantry and added dried chilies, which gives this version a slightly spicy aftertaste. If this is not to your liking, substitute with a seeded jalapeno pepper or a teaspoon of chili powder.
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 dried chili, thinly sliced
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
4 lbs/ about 2 kgs fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped
½ teaspoon whole allspice berries
½ teaspoon dried mustard seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
4 whole cloves
½ cup white wine vinegar
5 tablespoons packed brown sugar
Cook onion and garlic in oil in a medium-sized cast iron pot until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the cayenne pepper, bay leaves and cinnamon stick, stir to mix. Add chopped tomatoes and turn the heat to high, stirring to distribute the spices among the tomato cubes.
Wrap the allspice berries, mustard seeds, black pepper and cloves in a cheesecloth or place in a tea filter bag. When the tomato/onion mixture starts to boil and bubble, add the bag of spices to the pot and reduce the heat to medium low, letting the tomatoes soften, about 45 minutes.
Take the pot off the heat, remove the bag of spices, bay leaves and cinnamon stick. Using an immersion blender, purée the mixture until you get a thick red pulp.
Strain the purée through a fine-mesh sieve into a separate bowl, discarding any solids that remain. Return the strained mixture to the pot, add the vinegar and sugar, bring to a boil, then immediately reduce to a simmer. Let the mixture cook for 45 to 60 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the bottom of the pot from caramelizing. At this stage, let the mixture reduce until it reaches your desired ketchup consistency, even if it takes more than 60 minutes. Season with salt to taste.
Ladle into glass jars and let cool before sealing. Ketchup will keep for 3 weeks to a month in the refrigerator.