One of the most unassuming and versatile ingredients in our cupboards, tinned tomatoes are the base for so many delicious meals – from curries to lasagnes and loads in between.
But does it matter which type you buy? What’s the difference between chopped and whole tomatoes, and when should you buy passata instead of purée? Here, we’ll show you the best uses for different types of tomato and share our favourite tomato-based recipes.
WHICH TIN SHOULD I BUY?
Ranging in price from 31p to £1.29, there’s often a lot of choice in the tinned tomato aisle. In general, it’s safe to say that you get what you pay for. The better quality your tomatoes, the richer and more flavourful your sauce. When you taste premium and budget varieties side by side, you can definitely notice the difference in flavour. You can improve the quality of your sauce 10 times over by choosing a good brand of tinned toms!
PLUM VS CHOPPED TOMATOES
Where possible, we would always go for plum tomatoes. Whole tomatoes tend to be less processed than chopped ones – which means they have a fresher flavour and keep more of their natural sweetness. Chopped tomatoes also release more water (or can even have water added, if they are very cheap) – so we think that plum tomatoes give you more flesh and far more flavour for your money.
You can break up plum tomatoes in the pan, using the back of a wooden spoon, to achieve a similar texture to chopped if that’s what the recipe calls for. Trade up to organic and Italian varieties when you can, for really top-notch quality. Plus, it’s good to remember that you can freeze tinned tomatoes (and passata) in a bag if you don’t use the whole tin at once.
After we’ve tipped the tomatoes into our recipe, we often use a little water to rinse the tin, then add this to the recipe as well. That way, you get everything out of the can, and you can let the water reduce a bit in your sauce, which will add even more flavour.
Passata is a smooth, sieved tomato sauce. It’s useful for getting rich flavour into recipes, quickly. It also works brilliantly on pizza bases, as well as in sauces. The tomatoes used in passata are usually fresh, and are sieved to remove seeds and skin, although you can also buy chunkier versions. If the seeds are left in it can make the passata taste sharper, and not so full in flavour.
Although passata is often made from broken tomatoes, the high-quality brands should still have lots of sweetness. If you want to achieve a really authentic Italian result, make your own passata by pressing, sieving and bottling fresh plum tomatoes yourself.
Tomato purée is made from cooked and reduced tomatoes – which makes it far thicker and more dry than passata. Its taste is also much more intense than passata, so use it as a flavour enhancer, rather than a base ingredient for a sauce.
Purée is particularly good for making curry bases – once you’ve toasted your spices it’s a great way to bind them all together into a paste before adding the other ingredients. Gennaro likes to use a spoonful of tomato purée and stock, rather than a tin of tomatoes, in his Bolognese ragù, so that the recipe isn’t too sweet. Find his recipe in Jamie’s Food Tube: The Pasta Book.
SEVEN TOP TOMATO RECIPES
Celebrate the versatility of tinned tomatoes with these super-vibrant and delicious recipes.
Pack in the flavour with olives, basil, capers and a couple of garlic cloves. This is such a simple sauce – perfectly crowned with a piece of soft flaky white fish.
A classic peasant recipe from Tuscany, this soup elevates stale bread and tinned tomatoes to something wonderful!
Simmered tinned tomatoes go brilliantly with the flavours of bacon, fennel, garlic and basil in this hearty soup.
Tomato sugo (sauce) is a brilliant base for mini meatballs. The rich base soaks up masses of flavour – mop it up with chunks of fresh bread.
Sweet and sour curry packed with a rainbow of veg, fresh chilli, coriander and ginger. Mix things up with whichever veg you prefer.
Meatloaf baked in tomato sauce retains its juiciness and adds incredible depth to the whole pot. Simply pop in a casserole dish and let the oven work it’s magic.
Jam-packed with nutritious veg, this sauce has to be one of the easiest ways to get extra veg into our diet, as well as all sorts of brilliant micronutrients.
For more family-friendly recipes using healthy store-cupboard ingredients, check out our Family Food hub. You can also learn all about tomatoes, including how to store them and what their nutritional benefits are, at the Vegepedia.