Not every can of tomato, however, is alike, so be sure to double check the label.
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What Type of Canned Tomatoes to Buy
The contents will likely fall under one of these varieties:
In a 28-ounce can, you’re generally going to get about 10 to 12 plum tomatoes that have been previously cooked and peeled. Whole tomatoes offer a lot of versatility—you can convert them into diced tomatoes (if your recipe calls for that) easily with a knife or crush them with your (washed with soap for 20 seconds, please!) hands. You’re also able to better control the thickness and consistency of your dish by adding as much or as little of the juices from the can as you wish.
Some recipes will specify San Marzano canned tomatoes. Though plenty of farmers worldwide grow the variety, real deal San Marzano tomatoes are grown in the region near Mt. Vesuvius and have protected status due to the unique volcanic terroir of the soil there. We’re not saying it’s not worth the premium price if you can splurge (they are sweeter and have lower acidity than your standard plums), but there isn’t a drastic dropoff in quality if you can’t.
No surprises here, these are simply whole tomatoes that have been chopped into small pieces. For chilis, barbecue sauces, and many Latin American dishes, you may want to seek out cans labeled “fire-roasted.” These contain tomatoes that have been (you guessed it) roasted over a fire, which gives them a tantalizing smoky flavor.
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Equal parts chunky and pulpy, crushed tomatoes are the backbone of pasta sauces, chilis, stews, and so much more. It’s convenient to not have to cut or process whole tomatoes yourself, so it’s worth having a few cans or more of these on hand. The standard size is 28 ounces and will generally contribute to a dish that feeds 6-8 people at a minimum.
Canned tomato puree has been skinned, strained, and removed of all seeds, then blended to create a thick, velvety texture. Other than salt, that’s generally all that’s in the container. It’s great to have on hand if you want a suggestion of tomato in a large batch dish, but don’t need it to be front and center. If you don’t have any at home, you can blitz any of the other types of canned tomatoes above in a blender and strain to make your own puree.
As the name would suggest, this is the thickest of all canned tomatoes, made from fruit cooked down for a lengthy period of time and then dehydrated. A little dab’ll do ya, which can be frustrating if you have a 6-ounce can and your recipe only calls for a tablespoon. The good news is, it’s incredibly easy to freeze the remainder. This saves you lots of time down the road since you can separate it into individual tablespoon portions:
Whether fresh from the can or frozen, be sure to confirm on the label that your paste is not double concentrated since that will have a major impact on the end result.
Tomato sauce is the least pure of commonly sold canned tomatoes. By and large, it contains added ingredients (usually herbs and spices) making it less adaptable for any old use, though it could make for a welcome shortcut depending on the meal you’re preparing. The label should clearly state what’s in it to help you decide if it’s the right choice for your recipe.
Now that you know what you’re working with, check out some of our favorite canned tomato recipes below.
How to Use Canned Tomatoes
Here are 13 of our favorite ways to use all kinds of canned tomatoes:
A comfort food hall-of-famer, tomato soup is even better when you make it yourself. It’s tempting to substitute the heavy cream in this classic comfort dish with milk, but adding milk to very hot tomato soup will curdle it. (One workaround is to combine the milk and soup when they’re both at room temperature and then reheat at a very low simmer.) Don’t forget grilled cheese for dipping. Get our Classic Tomato Soup recipe.
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This sinful combo of eggs and a buttery tomato sauce will add some heat to a balanced breakfast. It’s essentially a spicier, barebones version of the classic poached egg in tomato sauce dish Shakshuka enormously popular around the Mediterranean from Northern Africa to the Middle East. Get our Eggs in Purgatory recipe.
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While a traditional Bolognese recipe contains some amount of ground beef, this one is pure pork. Italian sausage is accented with fennel, which complements the tomato nicely and gives the dish an added boost of flavor that will have you saying grazie. Get our Quick Italian Sausage Bolognese recipe.
This multi-meat and rice dish can be made with crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce as well as tomato paste. The Cajun classic does insist on some hard-to-find ingredients (at least beyond Louisiana) so make sure your local stores have everything in stock. Get our Chicken and Andouille Jambalaya recipe here.
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These cheesy, tortilla-wrapped Mexican favorites are sure to keep your belly full. Be sure to use fire-roasted diced tomatoes for added kick, and if you don’t have dried ancho chili, try substituting extra chili powder. Get our Beef Enchiladas recipe.
If you are absolutely exhausted by the idea of cooking every night, rip the Band-Aid off and prepare a large batch of thick, hearty, tomato-based chili. Don’t feel like you need to eat it for four days straight, either—it freezes exceptionally well. Get our Crock Pot Chili recipe.
Beyond the spicy sausage topping, this pizza cousin is basically pantry-based. No need to even make a sauce; the diced tomatoes more than suffice. Make it as a snack for a group or cut the recipe in half for an entree for two. Get our Chorizo and Olive Flatbread recipe.
If you went to public school, the phrase Sloppy Joes may send a shiver down your spine. This homemade version, however, should change your mind with a potent spice blend and a thick, sweet and savory, tomato-based gravy. Get our Sloppy Joes recipe.
No meat? No problem. While you will have to track down mozzarella and ricotta to make this dish complete, the rest is a cinch. You can also finally make use of that frozen spinach that’s been collecting frost in your freezer. Get our Easy Spinach Lasagna recipe.
Considered to be the national dish of England (by way of India), chicken tikka masala consists of grilled breast meat simmered in a spiced, creamy tomato sauce. Invest in a jar of garam masala—it will pay dividends down the road when you want to try your hand at other Indian recipes. Get our Chicken Tikka Masala recipe.
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Make this comforting classic dish a weekly ritual in your household. Extra sauce can be refrigerated or frozen for a multitude of other uses. Freeze the meatballs for a space-saving, high protein, no brainer, no hassle meal down the road. Get our Italian Meatballs recipe.
Translated to English, ropa vieja means old clothes which reflects the shredded texture of the beef when it’s ready to serve. While tattered rags may not be the most appetizing descriptor for your dinner meal plan, this Latin staple tastes infinitely better than it sounds and is incredibly simple to make. Get the Slow Cooker Ropa Vieja recipe.
Though it’s tempting to go store-bought, making marinara at home will result in a better sauce without any preservatives and other unwanted additives. It’s sure to get plenty of use, topping pasta, chicken parm, pizza, and so much more. Get our Marinara Sauce recipe.