We all know that the best sauces come from homegrown, vine ripe tomatoes. Sadly, that season has passed and we’re left to make do with canned varieties. In many cases, they’re more flavorful than those grown in hot houses this time of year.
But which canned tomatoes are best for sauces? According to the writer of The Food Lab column for Serious Eats and cookbook author J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, there are five types of canned tomatoes to choose from at the supermarket. Ahh . . . but all are not equal when it comes to delivering robust tomato flavor. Here’s how Chef Kenji explains it:
Whole Peeled Tomatoes come packed in tomato juice or tomato puree. The ones in juice are less processed, while the ones in puree will have more of a “cooked flavor.” Look for those without the added firming agent, calcium chloride.
Diced Tomatoes are machine chopped and wind up with so much exposed surface that the calcium chloride added to prevent mushiness makes them too firm and difficult to break down in cooking.
Crushed Tomatoes vary in their degree of crushed-ness. Some brands are almost sauce, while other are chunkier.
Tomato Puree comes from cooked and strained tomatoes, but the factory processing will lessen the complexity that comes with slowly reducing whole tomatoes in your kitchen.
Tomato Paste, a concentrated tomato juice, is good for adding strength and thickening to stews and soups.
Chef Kenji Recommends
“Diced tomatoes are too firm, crushed tomatoes are too inconsistent, and tomato puree is too cooked—which is why in my pantry, you’ll only see whole, peeled tomatoes packed in juice (I prefer Muir Glen and Centro brands) and tomato paste.” ~J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, author, The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking through Science
An Old Tomato Recipe Recalled
As I read Chef Kenji’s blog posts and new cookbook, (a Christmas gift from one of my kids), one recipe sparked a bit of nostalgia. My mother used to make a dish she called Breaded Tomatoes, which was tomatoes (canned or fresh) squished up with stale bread, onions and a little sugar, salt and pepper added.
I learned from Kenji, that the Italians have a more sophisticated version called Tuscan Pappa al Pomodoro, a tomato-bread soup with garlic, basil, oil and chicken stock. It’s a simple dish and yet the softened bread gives it a custard quality.
What fun it is to rediscover familiar dishes. This one brings back memories of living in a row house on “S” Street and sitting with my parents around a small kitchen table covered with a floral oil cloth. Foods can trigger fond memories. This one does it for me.