|Chi mangia bene, vive bene
Who eats well, lives well
Canned and Preserved Tomatoes
Many people consider San Marzano tomatoes to be the best in the world for making sauce.
They get their name from the small town in which they are grown in Campania, Italy near Naples,
where it is said that the climate and volcanic soil create their unique qualities. Only tomatoes grown
in this region from seeds dating back to the original cultivar and according to strict standards may
receive the Denominazione d’ Origine Protetta (DOP) label. But not all brands labeled ‘San Marzano’
are DOP certified. San Marzano tomatoes are grown world-wide from San Marzano seeds.
Compared to Roma or plum tomatoes, San Marzano tomatoes are thinner and pointier in shape.
They are prized for their tart flavor, firm pulp, red color, low-seed count, and easily removed skin.
San Marzano Tomatoes
Whole, Chopped or Diced, Crushed Tomatoes, and Tomato Puree
Canned peeled plum tomatoes come whole, chopped or diced, crushed, and pureed.
Deciding which type to use depends on what you are making and how much tomato texture you
want in the dish. For soups, you may like to have bits of tomato in the broth, so you would use a
diced or chopped tomato. If you like a chunky sauce for your pasta, use whole tomatoes that you
crush yourself; if you prefer a smoother sauce, choose the tomato puree.
Some people prefer to buy whole preserved tomatoes and
crush them themselves; they feel that the whole tomatoes
have more flavor, but that is a matter of personal opinion.
When using whole tomatoes to make a sauce, place them in a
bowl and break them up well with your hands. Remove any
tough bits from around the core. Unless the recipe tells you
otherwise, use the entire contents of the can – the tomatoes
and the juices or puree surrounding them.
Crushed and Pureed Tomatoes
Crushed tomatoes are a bit chunkier than pureed; they contain
actual tomato pieces and a fair amount of liquid tomato juice.
Crushed tomatoes are real time-savers when it comes to
making sauce because they take all the hard work out of
peeling, seeding, and chopping the tomatoes. Crushed
tomatoes have been mechanically peeled and crushed, and
then sieved to remove the seeds. Tomato puree has a
smoother almost sauce-like consistency. Different brands
have different textures, so find a brand that you like.
Tomato sauce is a very smooth puree of tomatoes, usually with added salt. The texture of tomato
sauce is similar to a thick tomato juice. In the US, tomato sauce is made to be used as an ingredient
in a dish; herbs, spices, meats, cheese, or other seasonings must be cooked with tomato sauce to
develop its flavor. Tomato sauce alone is not a sauce to be served with pasta. In countries such as
Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the United Kingdom, the term "tomato sauce" is used to
describe a condiment similar to that known in the United States as 'ketchup'
Sun-drying tomatoes intensifies the sweet flavor of tomatoes.
Sun-dried tomatoes are brick red in color and have a chewy
texture. They are sold in two different forms – either dried or
preserved in oil. Dried tomatoes are sold in packages and
have a chewier texture than those packed in oil. Dried
tomatoes can be chopped and added to long-cooking pasta
sauces to intensify the tomato flavor. They can also be eaten
as a snack. For cooking, the dried tomatoes should be
softened in hot water before use.
Sun-dried tomatoes in oil are usually sold in jars. They are soft and juicy and can be used as is, either
sliced or chopped in sauces, soups, or salads. They make an excellent antipasto combined with fresh
tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil or with other preserved or pickled vegetables. Sun-dried tomatoes in
oil go well with fresh vegetables like, fennel, eggplant, and zucchini, and also add a special flavor to egg
dishes, such as frittata. Use the oil in which the tomatoes are preserved for salad dressing or for
sweating vegetables for soups or sauces.
Tomato paste or concentrate is a very thick paste made
from tomatoes, salt, and citric acid. Tomato paste,
concentrato di pomodoro, comes in various concentrations
and is used to enhance the flavor of many dishes. You can
buy it in cans, tubes, or jars. Only use tomato paste in
small quantities as the flavor is intense and may make a
dish too acidic. It is best used in long-simmering dishes
where its strong flavor can soften and mellow with the other
Sun-dried tomatoes are also made into a paste which usually also includes olive oil. Although thick in
texture, sun-dried tomato paste is sweet and mild compared to regular tomato paste. Use it in small
quantities for sauces and soups or combined with a little butter as a dressing for pasta. Only in Sicily do
they produce Estratto di Pomodoro, which is 4 to 6 times more concentrated than ordinary tomato paste.
The taste is more sweet than sharp. Many Sicilians even use it as a spread on a slice of bread. Similar
sun-dried tomato concentrates are also made in Puglia.
Spaghetti Sauce or Pasta Sauce
American supermarkets commonly carry a variety of prepared tomato sauces described as "spaghetti
sauce" or "pasta sauce." These products are flavored and may contain herbs and spices, cheese, meat,
or chopped vegetables, and added sugar. Common variations include sausage or meat sauce,
marinara sauce, and sauces with mushrooms or sweet red peppers. These are convenience products
that simply need to be heated and served with pasta. Do not substitute spaghetti or pasta sauce in a
recipe calling for tomato sauce or tomato puree; they are not the same.
In summer, when fresh Italian plum tomatoes are ripe and full of flavor, it is wonderful to
use them for sauces. But there are plenty of excellent preserved tomato products to
choose from year-round. The brand of preserved tomatoes that you choose, as well as
the consistency (whole, chopped, pureed), is a matter of taste. Test a variety of different
brands to find the one that you like the best. Most people seem to become loyal to a
particular brand of tomatoes for their sauce-making once they find a favorite.
Commercially canned tomatoes usually have a "best by' date marked on the can. Most
canned tomatoes have a shelf life of about 2 years. Once the can has been opened, do
not store any leftover tomatoes in the can. Transfer the tomatoes to a glass or plastic
container and refrigerate them for no more than 7 to 10 days.