How to Make the Most of Canned Tomatoes

by | Feb 17, 2010 09:00 AM ET

For a couple of weeks last summer, I practically lived off homegrown tomatoes . My sister gave me a bag of heirloom, Roma and beef boy tomatoes from her garden, and I couldn't devour them fast enough. Now that it's winter and prime carb-laden comfort food season, I'm missing that seasonal produce – especially the flavorful pasta sauce I made from it.

Enter the canned tomato. For flavor, cooking with canned tomatoes handily beats the fresh off-season offerings. But in case you haven't strolled down the canned veggie aisle recently, there are a variety of tomato options to choose from. TLC Cooking offers a run-down of the most common:

•    Tomato Sauce - For a basic, wholesome product that's as at home in a nice marinara sauce as it is in meatloaf, tomato sauce is at the top of the list. It has a relatively thin consistency, but can still be considered a tomato puree.
•    Tomato Purée - Usually thicker than tomato sauce, tomato puree has more tomato pulp and less water than plain tomato sauce.
•    Tomato Paste - Thickest of all, tomato paste is a concentrated tomato product that's often combined with a liquid, like broth or water, when used in recipes.
•    Canned Tomatoes - From whole to diced varieties, the name is pretty self-explanatory. These tomatoes are peeled, sometimes seeded, and occasionally contain seasoning ingredients, like cumin or oregano.
•   Stewed Tomatoes - Although this term can refer to a simple canned tomato in light juice, it often means that other ingredients have been added, like onions, celery and peppers.

For those concerned about the can tainting the flavor, Food Network suggests a squeeze of lemon juice to eliminate any metallic tang.

If you're going for a knockout spaghetti or marina sauce like I am, San Marzano variety canned tomatoes are probably a good place to start. Chow. com also gave high marks to Progresso Italian-style and Muir Glen whole tomatoes. The Chow post also notes that canned tomato products listing “tomato purée” first won't be as savory as those with “tomatoes” at the top. From there, you're just a drizzle of olive oil and a garlic clove away from a tasty, homemade sauce.

Next up: the perfect pasta to pair with that mouthwatering marina – or whichever noodle topper you prefer.

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