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March 7, 2019

You Say Tomatoes. We Say Canned Tomatoes

By Kendra Bailey Morris

Tomato_soupWhy wait until summer for your guests to enjoy fresh-tasting, creative recipes featuring vine-ripened tomatoes when there’s a secret weapon you might already have in your kitchen—canned tomatoes.

When winter is at its peak, fresh picked tomatoes are not only difficult to find, but are often no match to the plump, juicy, acidic fruit harvested during the summer. As a result, many kitchens tend to relegate tomato-focused dishes to the back burner while impatiently waiting for the summer growing season to begin.

But you don’t need to give up on tomatoes just yet. Canned tomatoes can be an excellent substitute in many recipes (and even the star of the show in some cases). With a little imagination and a few tricks of the trade, you can create exciting dishes that showcase the versatility of canned tomatoes and go beyond the standard pasta sauces and chilis.

From hearty seafood stews to piquant tomato-based curries, canned tomatoes can be incorporated into your menu in a variety of ways that are both creative and crowd-pleasing. And the best part? Canned tomatoes are not only an economical option, but they also have a long shelf life so it’s easy to keep plenty of cans on hand.

When it comes to choosing canned tomatoes there are several types to pick from: whole peeled tomatoes, diced tomatoes, stewed tomatoes, crushed tomatoes in purée and puréed tomatoes. Whole tomatoes tend to be the most versatile as chefs can dice, crush or purée them in order to achieve a specific desired consistency based on their recipe requirements.

So, now that you’ve got your cans, what to do with all those tomatoes?

Roasted

One great way to maximize the natural sweetness of tomatoes is to roast them, and believe it or not, roasting canned tomatoes is an excellent option. Begin by draining a can of whole tomatoes and then gently crushing and spreading them out on a baking sheet. Then roast on medium heat as you would fresh tomatoes.

Use roasted tomatoes as a base for tomato crostini. Toss roasted tomatoes with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and fresh basil and spoon over toasted baguette slices topped with goat cheese or ricotta.

Make roasted tomato jam. Use roasted tomatoes in your favorite savory tomato jam recipe. Add some cooked bacon into the mix for extra flavor. Serve the jam with roasted pork, chicken, or as an alternate topping for crostini.

Make roasted tomato soup. Nothing tastes like home more than bowl of tomato soup (along with a grilled cheese sandwich, of course). Roasting the tomatoes lends a natural sweetness to the soup. Make soup with or without cream, or substitute almond or coconut milk for the heavy cream to make a vegan option. Add texture and flavor to soups by either puréeing or keeping it chunky and topping with buttery croutons, shaved Parmesan, pine nuts or flavored oils.

BurschettaCrushed

Crushed tomatoes can be used in many ways, whether you’re crushing them by hand or using canned crushed tomatoes in purée.

Cook up a batch of Indian Butter Chicken, a bold, rich tomato and cream based-curry, or try your hand at making Middle Eastern Shakshuka, a spiced tomato stew topped with soft baked eggs (an excellent brunch option).

Give your guests a taste of Mardi Gras with a classic, tomato-based Shrimp Creole. Serve over creamy stone ground grits or Louisiana long grain rice.

Take your condiment game up a notch and make homemade ketchup. Add Sriracha for a spicy ketchup or rice vinegar, brown sugar and red chili flakes for a Thai chili-style ketchup. Spike homemade ketchup with a little bourbon for extra punch. Serve with fries, homemade potato chips or use ketchup to top meatloaf.

Stewed

Canned tomatoes are simply made for cooking in long and slow stews, braises and sauces. Most commonly, classic ragus (made with pork, beef or vegetables) as well as the Italian staple, Ragù alla Bolognese, almost always incorporate some type of canned tomatoes. Chicken Cacciatore, a stew consisting of slow-simmered pieces of chicken in a rustic tomato sauce is also a hearty winter menu option.

Lastly, don’t forget the seafood. A San Francisco-inspired Cioppino brimming with fish, clams, crab shrimp and mussels in a light tomato broth is a delicious soul warming alternative that’s simply made to go with a couple of slices of crusty bread while a Greek-inspired braised fish with tomatoes and white wine gets a pungent kick from a pinch of cinnamon.

Whether you want to have tomatoes be the feature of your dish or merely a secondary player, there’s no need to wait until summer to showcase this versatile fruit on your menus. Just pop open a can.

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