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Food and wine

Sicily

Sicilian cuisine: u strattu tomato paste

05 July 2022

Tomato paste, u strattu, is an essential ingredient in many traditional Sicilian recipes, particularly for cooking meat or sauces, which generally take a long time.
It is added directly to the preparation of dishes while cooking or can be diluted with water. 

1. A feminine story

This ingredient tells a fascinating Sicilian story. Legend has it that at the end of every summer, women would gather in groups to prepare u strattua symbol of their femininity and the cycles of the moon. Decades ago, it was common, passing through the streets of Sicilian villages, to see wooden boards strewn with tomatoes being dried.
The tomatoes were placed on the walls near the houses or on the terraces of the houses, laid on maidde, typical wooden boards, or in fanguotti, the ceramic plates of the local handicrafts. A context in which it is difficult to imagine running into today: although it is not impossible. 

2. What you need before you start

First of all, you have to know that the process will take at least a week and that the tomatoes used must be of the best quality and very ripe. For this reason, the tomato paste is prepared in summer. The sun will do the rest, making itself an accomplice in the drying process.

To make 1 kilo of strattu you will need about 30 kilos of tomatoes, 30 grams of salt and enough olive oil, plus a few bay leaves for preservation. 

3. How to proceed

Choose the tomatoes, wash them, cut them into four and cook them in boiling water adding salt. After about one hour, take the tomatoes out of the water and sieve them to create a tomato sauce. While the sauce is resting, prepare wooden boards on which you will then lay it in the sun and let it dry.

Here, a curious process will take place: the wood will absorb the tomato liquid, which will become much drier, making the extract grainy.
As the tomato dries, you will notice that it will also reduce in quantity.

The strattu must be left in the sun for at least three days, preferably a week, until it reaches a dense consistency and a dark red colour.

When it is ready, mix it with your hands by adding a drop of oil and make small sausages which you will leave to rest at home in a cool place, ideally a cellar.

Once ready, place it in well-cleaned and dry glass jars, taking care that no air bubbles remain in between, and before sealing the jars hermetically place a few bay leaves on the surface.

You can keep u strattu also in the freezer. Either way, whether you decide to leave it in the cellar or put it in the freezer, it will keep for several months.
When you want to use it, simply take the necessary amount and add salt or oil to the contents of the jar. This will enable you to avoid the formation of mould.