--- Season 3 of Cook like and Italian with Silvia Colloca premieres at 8:00pm on Tuesday 17 May 2022 on SBS Food, or stream it free via SBS on Demand ---
If you’re ever get the chance to use homemade passata in a pasta dish, soup or stew, take a moment to pay homage to the red Italian icon and its incredible ability to draw people together in its honour.
Every year, passionate Italian families from all over Australia answer the call of the tomato and unite as a community to make a year’s supply of la passata – uncooked tomato sauce in its most raw form.
“When it comes to Italian family food rituals nothing brings the generations together quite like making a year supply of glorious red passata,” says Silvia Colloca, host of Cook Like An Italian.
Making passata in the summer months is a task that requires a fair amount of communal elbow grease. But as Colloca explains in the premiere episode of the new Cook Like an Italian series, the rewards are sweet.
“There is no doubt that the ritual of making passata from scratch is labour-intensive. But once these bottles of elemental flavour are prepared they keep for years in the pantry, like jars of bliss.”
“When it comes to Italian family food rituals nothing brings the generations together quite like making a year supply of glorious red passata."
Maria Ciavarella from Donvale Victoria is a first-generation Italian-Australian who has been involved in passata day every year since she was a young child - including this year.
“We use three bottles of passata sauce weekly in our household,” says Ciavarella, owner of the sustainable household education business My Green Garden. “That means we need to make about 150 bottles of sauce annually on passata day.
“This year, my aim was to make enough to last until next passata day, next year. My kids get a bit panicked when they see that we're down to about only 20 bottles in storage!”
Ciavarella uses passata in a lot of meals but, by far, the favourite is the weekly (sometimes bi-weekly) 'ragu'. “Meat is simmered in passata and then it’s served with pasta or made into lasagna. The sauce can also be used on pizzas or wherever other recipe calls for a bit of sauce.”
The immediate drawcard for passata day is that you leave the event with a batch supply of sauce. But speak to any Italian and they’ll tell you the event is about more than that. The real attraction is the gathering of loved ones.
“Passata day is is important not just because we are making food to sustain us throughout the year, but because it is a valued tradition.
“Since all of the nonni [Italian grandparents who first immigrated to Australia] have now passed, it feels like the family continue the tradition of passata day to preserve the memories of making passata with them. It is a fabulous day now and we all look forward to it, young and old alike.”
Embassy of Ideas Community Passata Day - 6th March 2022
Posted by Embassy of Ideas on Monday, 7 March 2022
Open to people of all cultures
Although passata making is an Italian tradition, you certainly don’t have to belong to a long-line of sauce makers to participate.
Lucy Collins, a volunteer at Embassy Of Ideas in Alexandra Victoria, helped to organise her community’s first ever passata making day earlier this year for people of all cultural backgrounds.
She tells SBS the idea started as a COVID lockdown project to encourage people to grow their own tomatoes from the seeds provided. Once the tomatoes were ready to pick in early 2022, lockdown had lifted so the 50-strong community of tomato growers met to make passata.
"It’s clear that the passion for passata that we discovered on the day still continues to grow.”
“It was so beautiful to have people of all ages peeling tomatoes in the sunshine together, enjoying life and all things gardening and cooking,” says Collins. “Everyone was surprised at how much was made from the tomatoes and how simple the process was. There were no secret ingredients in the sauce: simply fresh, home-grown tomatoes.”
The event also sparked a fascination in making passata day a long-running community tradition – for people of all cultures. Collins tells SBS that, just like they do in Italy, the seeds from this year’s tomatoes will be planted to produce next year’s tomato crop: the foundation of passata day in 2023.
“We're already talking about all the things we could do next year that are bigger and better than this year. It’s clear that the passion for passata that we discovered on the day still continues to grow.”
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Cooking pasta in a bag gently steams the accompanying seafood. Besides a convenient presentation, this dish has an element of fun to it that makes up for the extra steps.
Every Italian family has a version of this homestyle dish. Some are more soupy, some vegetarian, but this one is Silvia's.