Sugo day is the Christmas of the edible gardening calendar and, like Christmas, it is something that builds well before the actual event. The key to enjoying the day to the fullest is in the preparation – drinking beer to vacate the bottles, knowing the best source of saucing tomatoes and when to time your run, and of course, having a Nonna on hand to set the scene and the mood.
Years ago "we" (ahem "they") started the day well before the crack of dawn – more out of habit than necessity – however these days we make a full day of it starting at a leisurely hour.Not only does this give the youngsters a chance of seeing the process but it also pulls drinking hour closer to the action, which in turn calms the nerves.
The key to good Sugo is good saucing tomatoes and when the time is right the wise guys move in on street corners flogging ripe Romas by the polystyrere box load (please return these :)). Any self respecting saucer should pay no more than $1-$1.50 per kilo and the trick is to look with your nose. The tomatoes should right on the edge of ripeness, bringing the sugars to the fore that in the end will create the best sauce.
Roma tomatoes are renown for their pulp content and if all goes to plan you will achieve a 70-75% yield, meaning that one kilo will produce one Australian longneck bottle of red nectar. This should give you an idea of what kind of drinking habit is required leading into the event.
When it comes down to the crunch, someone will need to stand up and take leadership throughout the day. Bottles need to be sterile, pots coordinated, gas bottles filled and eyebrow singeing burners set alight - it takes a fearless leader. One year when we all had a little too much Rose we didn't boil properly after bottling and over the coming months Sugo could be heard exploding throughout the cellar. So before you begin, look around the room, nominate a leader of people and stick to the strategy.
Otherwise keep it simple – your sauce should be a true representation of the produce. Other than a tickle of salt and basil (or maybe the addition of our secret ingredient, red capsicum) the flavouring of a Sunday night Ragu happens on that day, not this one. There is nothing worse than an overcomplicated Sugo, so keep your sauce pure, cap the amount of rose Nonna can consume and confusion will be kept to a minimum.
As good children of blind obedience, we have steadfastly followed the recipe (below) set by our Nonna, and her Nonna before, and her Nonna before that...so on, so forth. It continues to do our Sunday night ragu proud.
1. Drink beer, sterilise bottles. If you don't drink, or fast enough, you can salvage from a local bar, or last option (and don't tell anyone) buy new from a produce store.
2. Get your ripe Roma tomatoes and if they aren't fully ripened, leave out in sun for a day or two.
3. Hose down the tomatoes - because it feels really good - and then rinse in big basin (which feels kinda good too).
4. To prep the tomatoes, cut in half, ensuring that you remove any blemishes that can spoil the sauce.
5. Boil in produce sacks - they're really glorified pillow cases - or just nude, in the water, for 20-30 mins
6. Process twice through machine, making sure to intermittently add the boiled capsicum that you prepared early....er, sorry if we forgot to mention it (we add capsicum at a ratio of approximately 1:10)
7. Salt the sauce to taste. Well, to clarify, it's a little bit to taste and little bit to preserve and.....eh, a little bit more for Nonna!
8. Get your little ones to pop 2-3 large leaves of basil in the base of the empty, sterilised bottles.
9. Time for the red nectar! Fill to within an inch of the top.
10. Securely cap the filled bottles and then - IMPORTANT - boil them in water for at least 30 mins. This means wait for the water to come back to the boil and then 30 minutes! Can’t overdo it but can definitely under do it. If you under do it bottles will start exploding with erratic regularity. It's terrifying.
11. Finally, remember to be good, Nonna will be watching!