One of my favourite things in the world to eat is instant ramen. There was a time when that guilty pleasure was known only to a select group of people, but now that cultural diversity is becoming the norm, you can find some pretty good quality instant ramen at your local grocery store!
Now before you start thinking that you are reading the wrong blogpost for the topic at hand, I can assure you that in a round about way this will all connect, promise.
But one of the things that I want to experience in my life is to have some real ramen made by a true ramen chef. There is a gentle art in making ramen, and those who know will tell you that the secret to ramen is in the broth. It is the "soul" of the ramen. The broth is the unifying principle that ties everything together. It is the chi of the meal.
A bowl of ramen is a universe onto itself. Every ingredient existing in perfect harmony with each other. Actually if you want to see a great non cerebral, yet still intelligent movie about a great bowl of ramen, watch the 2008 movie "The Ramen Girl"
The key to making the broth is that you need to put your soul into it. It is not just about throwing a bunch of ingredients together and simmering it for an hour or two. You have to stir a bit of yourself into it. No I don't mean literally stirring yourself into the broth...that would be unsanitary! But there is a relationship that develops between you and the broth that is in a way indescribable.
So where do the tomatoes come in???????
One of the family traditions that we are starting to develop is the yearly making of the sauce....tomato sauce that is. Actually, our family makes passata di pomodoro.
In cost cutting terms, making your own sauce is VERY labour intensive and it requires quite a bit of upfront expense. So generally speaking you have to commit yourself to years of making sauce to really break even.
HOWEVER, one does not necessarily choose to make tomatoes for the cost savings.....it is the experience that making tomatoes creates. Talk to anyone of Italian descent and they can tell you all sorts of stories about making sauce. All the stuff that happens around the sauce gives it a bit of life....our kids love to watch the puree as it passes through the machine as it separates the skins. They come up with all sorts of stories and imaginative uses for the skins...laughing as they try to lift a bushels worth of tomato skins in the little green bin. I have NOT introduced them to Tomatina.
This year each of the older kids assigned themselves a "station" where they all took part in the process, which involves stewing the tomatoes, then passing them through a tomato machine and simmering the puree for a few hours. It is in the simmering that the magic happens. While simmering the mixture with a spoon the size of a small canoe paddle, what looks like a vat of red water will slowly thicken into a puree with the consistency of chinese congee. It is in this moment where ramen meets risotto.
Here is the math:
5 bushels of plum tomatoes @$15.99 = $79.95
Tank of propane $12 (Costco has the best price for propane btw)
7 boxes Jar lids @1.99 = $14
Propane burner: $79.00
Huge pot...like really huge...I think ours holds 65 litres: $80
Tomato machine: this one depends. We bought a hand crank one years ago for about $100 or so, but you can get motorized machines for $499. A lot of people make their own motorized machine for a lot less, we have been able to use a home made motorized machine the last couple of years....what a difference!
Out of this batch of tomatoes, we processed 4 bushels worth and jarred 59 litres of sauce....we would have had 60 litres, but you can't go through a day of making sauce without having spaghetti for dinner!!!!
So if you have been working it out in your head, that comes to about $105.88 which is about $1.76/L. If you buy tomato sauce on sale you can get it for about $0.88/ 680ml.
Which is not that big of a cost savings if you consider that that price does not factor in the initial costs of the machine, the burner and the mamma honkin' pot that you simmer the tomatoes in (We also process the jars, but I have had many Italian friends tell me that it is not necessary if you do it right)
What you do get is a year's worth of pure, tomato sauce that has no additives, no preservatives, no salt, all natural tomato sauce. Not to mention memories to last a lifetime.
I suddenly feel a craving for meatballs.