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U strattu, a tomato concentrate

Small jar of strattu

U strattu is a tomato concentrate and is a product of the Sicilian gastronomic tradition. A tradition that fortunately remains.

We prepare strattu in summer because the heat of the sun’s rays is needed to allow the tomato sauce to get dried. But let’s go step by step.

How to prepare u strattu

First phase

Tradition has it that Sicilian families gather in the summer, generally in July, to prepare the tomato sauce to be put in bottles, u strattu, and dried tomatoes. My family is one of those who respect tradition, so last July we set the alarm for dawn and went to my sister Alessandra’s house in the countryside to get to work.

When I arrived, they had already cleaned the ripe tomato contained in four plastic crates (the 40-liter ones). To obtain 1 kg of strattu, you need about 30 kilos of tomatoes. Anyway, I arrived, put on an apron and a pair of gloves (cleaning all that tomato makes my hands yellow) and started checking it. Check it? Yes, it means that you have to remove the piricuddu, or the peduncle of the plant, check that the tomato is in good condition and that there are no “guests” (worms), eliminate any parts that have gone bad. Of course, depending on the amount of tomato to check, I recommend you to get a chair. 🪑 

Around 9:00 am, we were already hungry, but luckily my father came with a bag full of sandwiches. I doubt this is common, but we like the sandwich with mortadella and pickled green peppers. How tasty!! And with these not exactly light sandwiches we had breakfast 😀

Second phase

About half an hour later, we finished selecting the tomato, so we moved on to the second phase: washing with plenty of water.

Third phase

The third phase is the one that whets your appetite because we split tomatoes in two or four and we cook them. What fragrance! As the sauce reduces, we pass it through a vegetable mill. We remove the part destined for the bottles, and we add the salt to the one destined for the extract, more salt than we would put to cook the sauce because u strattu is a preserve. When we had almost finished, Emanuele arrived, rested and ready to have lunch 🙂

U strattu is ready!

My brother-in-law puts the sauce on the trays
My brother-in-law filling the trays with the sauce

Then we go up to the terrace, distribute it on wooden tables or maidde (large rectangular, made of wood containers with low sides) or ceramic plates or anything else. Finally, we cover it with long pieces of light fabric; in this way, the heat of the sun reaches the tomato and makes it dry, but at the same time, we protect it from insects. Making u strattu is a rather lengthy process; it lasts three to four days. And it’s not enough to cover it up and leave it in the sun. You must mix it with a spoon more or less every two hours so that it dries evenly. I recommend you to protect the tomato extract from humidity in the evening, so it is better to put it indoors.

U strattu is ready when it has turned dark red and peels off the surface without leaving any stains. At this point, we let it rest for a couple of days in a cool place and then store it in glass bowls and cover it with some basil leaves and olive oil so that it keeps better. We keep it in the fridge (but it’s okay in the freezer, too) and consume it in winter.

The trays are covered to avoid contact with insects
The trays are ready to get dry. Let’s not forget the spoon! 🙂

Advice

Warning! Every time you use it, remember to cover it with oil and basil to prevent mold from forming. You can add strattu when cooking the sauce or meat sauce, or you can dilute it. Another alternative is to spread it on a slice of bread as my mom does. It’s delicious.

And you, have you ever tasted it? Do you know someone who can prepare it? Finally, have you ever heard the saying “essiri assittatu a pignata i strattu”? It means “being seated comfortably with no intention of getting up” 😀

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