How to use canned tomatoes? We cannot count the ways!

From simple sauce to shaksuka, there are endless possibilities in every can.

From simple sauce to shaksuka, there are endless possibilities in every can

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images )

Canned tomatoes are a pantry all-star — and they're better than fresh tomatoes for cooking outside of peak summer. There, I've said it, and for those who disagree, we Canadians can mull over our many experiences of being lured by bright, shiny vine-ripe tomatoes mid-winter, only to discover that mealy disappointment upon biting in. 

Whether you're making a simple sauce, stew or soup, one ingredient should be your foundation to build the flavours, brick-by-brick. Enter canned tomatoes. Super versatile and affordable, they pack the nutritional equivalent to the sun-drenched variety, with a large can equal to about two pounds of seasonal tomatoes or 10-12 peeled! Here are some simple tips, ideas and recipes for making the most of canned tomatoes.

The case for whole tomatoes

Depending on where you shop, you can be met with a dizzying number of choices of canned tomatoes: whole, peeled, stewed, diced, crushed, pureed, and fire-roasted. You can simply choose whole peeled tomatoes; they're the most versatile, picked at their peak ripeness, with skin removed before processing which helps them break down quickly during the cooking process. The short ingredient list is also a good indication of purity and quality. The other types, like diced tomatoes, may seem more manageable and mess-free but often have added ingredients to help them keep their shape that doesn't allow them to break down during cooking and can lead to a watery finish. When you start with whole tomatoes, you choose your adventure; you can separate the entire fruit from the juice, chop them for stews, crush or puree them for quick sauces, giving you all the options. 

Tips for working with canned tomatoes

Don't want to squash tomatoes with your hands? Use kitchen scissors to chop them up in the can, snip away until you have the desired size. The rest will break down during cooking. 

Use an immersion blender to puree (over a blender or a food processor), and blend cooked, softened tomatoes using short spurts until pureed right in the pot. Or transfer uncooked canned tomatoes and juices to a bowl and blend before using. 

Store any uncooked, leftover canned tomatoes and juices in a sealed container, refrigerated, for up to one week, or freeze for one month. Only using the whole tomato? Don't throw out the juice! Save and refrigerate it for a refreshing tomato juice at breakfast, or use later as the base of an easy cocktail.

Cooking with canned tomatoes — go-to recipes and ideas

Canned tomatoes are both versatile and packed with flavour that you don't even need to do much to them to turn them into a meal.

Did you know you can achieve the most addictive and ridiculously delicious tomato sauce with only four ingredients? Combine a large can of whole tomatoes chopped, half an onion chopped, four tablespoons of butter or good olive oil and one teaspoon of salt in a medium saucepan and simmer until reduced (about 30 to 45 minutes). Toss in cooked pasta and fall in love.

Tomato soup can be made in much the same way (just puree to your desired consistency). Customized your soup with hearty additions of other staples like chickpeas, bacon or small pasta shapes and you can add leftover vegetables to the pot like fennel, carrot, celery or potato. 

You might be surprised to know you can roast canned tomatoes too. Drain the tomatoes and roast them on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, drizzled with good olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper in a 300F degree oven until most of the liquid has evaporated and the edges are slightly browned, (60 to up to 80 minutes). Chop them up and add them to short pasta, with cheese or beans for a salad, or add them to an antipasto platter kind of dinner. 

There are an infinite number of ways you can make this tinned wonder work for any meal of the day. Here are some recipes to inspire you.


Roasted tomatoes beside fried eggs are not the only way canned tomatoes need appear on your breakfast plate!

Smoky Veggie Chili With Sweet Gem & Cheesy Jacket Spuds

(Credit: Jamie Oliver)

Chili, is an all-around crowd pleaser, you can toggle between the classic to a  veggie-forward iteration. Think of chili as a topper for nachos, baked potatoes, burgers and hotdogs or combine with pasta or rice. 

Shrimp Creole

(Credit: Jackson Roy)

Canned tomatoes and seafood could not be a better or more simple pairing.Think mussels in tomato sauce, seafood paella, seared fish with tomatoes and olives, seafood stew like cioppino, and of course a luxurious seafood pasta.

Skillet Lasagna

(Photo: David Bagosy, Styling: Melissa Direnzo)

Quick and easy skillet lasagna is achievable any day of the week and you don't have to slave over a stove for this masterpiece. Swap out passata for whole canned tomatoes to deliver the intense and depth of flavour. 

Red Lentil Ragu Skillets

Think of this lentil ragu as a plant-based bolognese — a just-as-good vegan version that is deliciously rich and healthy too. For a gluten-free version, toss with zucchini noodles. 

Vegetarian Pizza With Fennel, Sundried Tomatoes And Olives

(Photo: David Bagosy, Styling: Melissa Direnzo)

If a recipe calls for passata, like this pizza recipe does, you can easily substitute it with whole tomatoes: puree whole canned tomatoes with a hand blender with three tablespoons of olive oil and ½ teaspoon each of fresh, minced garlic and salt.                                                                           

Soo Kim is a Toronto-based professional cook and baker, writer, stylist and recovering food editor. Hungry for more? Follow her delicious stories on Instagram @soocookie.

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