Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Versatile Canned Tomato

I have always loved tomatoes. My parents have always had a garden and I can remember eating lots of fresh tomatoes. We would have them sliced as a side dish, we would feature them on BLT sandwiches, we would have them on our Hamburgers, and more. Still today, one of my favorite sandwiches is a fresh from the garden, sliced tomato layered between two pieces of toast with a bit of mayo and a dash of salt (I guess you could say my BLT lost it's B&L). There is something so satisfying about that sandwich to me.

My husband is Italian. He eats a lot of tomato based products - ketchup (not Italian food, but one of his favorite condiments) and of course, Spaghetti Sauce (gravy if you ask him, but if you ask me gravy is brown).

With both of us liking tomatoes and tomato products, it was inevitable that tomatoes would be a part of many meals. In fact, over time, canned tomatoes have become a staple in my house. At any given time, you can find in my pantry many forms of canned tomatoes - diced tomatoes (prefer petite diced), canned whole tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce and probably more varieties. When there are sales and the occasional coupon, I stock up.

I had never really thought about how versatile a can of tomatoes can be nor how it can help stretch a recipe on a budget, but with a lot of experimentation to enhance flavor and with some recipes that I found and tried - we have created some real winners when it comes to making dishes using canned tomatoes.

As a high school and college student, I started to experiment with cooking. Most of what I made were the dishes I had grown up on. But, I liked to try new things too. I tried dishes like Sweet and Sour Chicken with large tomato wedges (they were fresh tomatoes, but it reinforced my love of the flavor of a warmed tomato) and even tried my hand at a homemade spaghetti sauce.

When my husband and I were still newlyweds, one night, we were planning to have macaroni and cheese for dinner. It sounded sort of boring, so we decided to perk it up. I added a can of diced tomatoes and some cumin to the macaroni and cheese. We loved it and made it a "recipe" that we included on our list of options for dinner.

I had grown up on a chili that was very flavorful, but was a thinner soup variety. Wanting to make it thicker or chunkier, I added a can of diced tomatoes the next time I made it. It was wonderful. It gave it more flavor and texture. (you can find my chili recipe here)

When we had kids, I started to learn that a can of diced tomatoes could enhance flavor and extend the number of servings for dishes. Adding a can of tomatoes to sloppy joes increases the number of servings that I can get from the ground beef or turkey and in my opinion, enhance their flavor. I have also added them to jarred pasta sauce to give it more flavor and texture and it also helps make a jar of sauce and ground beef or turkey go further. Essentially, it lets me save about 1/4# of ground meat for the same servings or gives me a full leftover meal without reducing the ground meat.

In the winter, for recipes like Sonora Chicken Pasta, that uses fresh, diced tomatoes, I have found that I can substitute drained, canned, diced tomatoes. Not quite as good as fresh tomatoes, but still a great substitute.

I have found that for recipes that need a little more pop, or need a little more fresh flavor, that adding a can of tomatoes can make a difference. Some examples are Nacho Mac'n Cheese and Cheeseburger Pasta - both were good meals on their own following the recipe, but adding the tomatoes just improved their flavor.

I have even found recipes whose base is canned tomatoes, like my Roasted Shrimp with Tomatoes. I use canned tomatoes to make my Spaghetti and Meatballs too. We like the flavor of this homemade sauce made with the canned tomatoes, that we are almost disappointed when we just have a jar of sauce.

Using canned tomatoes works for me! They are an inexpensive and easy way to add more servings and flavor to home cooked meals as well.

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Theresa said...

I've tried really hard over the past year to use less canned products, but tomatoes is one I will NEVER give up. That and green beans!