Tinned tomatoes recipes that will grow on you

Tinned tomatoes come to the rescue when aiming for easy, tasty, affordable fare.

Tinned tomatoes are endlessly versatile and super budget-friendly, writes Samuel Goldsmith in his The Tinned Tomatoes Cookbook.

Why use tinned tomatoes?

The process of canning has been around for over 200 years, with Frenchman Nicolas Appert first hermetically sealing food for Napoleon’s army and navy to help preserve the tomato for the journey. Initially, preservation was in bottles and jars, but Englishman Peter Durand moved to tins for the Royal Navy a few years later, finding tins lighter and easier to transport. Processed foods are often thought of negatively and, while this may be true for some, the canning of tomatoes is actually considered to have a positive effect. The champion tomato nutrient is lycopene, a carotenoid which gives the tomato its colour. When heated, the concentration of lycopene — a powerful antioxidant — actually increases, so the canning process has a beneficial effect on the tomato.

When tomatoes are canned, they’re often processed while very ripe and still fresh, so the flavour is at its best. For the user, this means the intensity of the tomato flavour is a very pleasurable experience.

Not all tinned tomatoes are equal, however. My main rules when purchasing tinned tomatoes are firstly, pick the right type for what you’re cooking and secondly, buy the best you can afford. If you can, buy the ones with the fewest ingredients and additives — usually just peeled tomatoes and tomato juice. When cooking dishes with very few ingredients where the tomato is the star of the show, it’s more important to buy higher-quality tins; when it’s more of a base to a more complex or slow-cooked sauce, for example, you can get away with a cheaper tin as the deep flavours will mask any acidity.


The varieties of tomatoes we eat fresh are very different to those used for canning. When we buy tomatoes for eating raw in salads or as a snack we look for juicy, thin-skinned tomatoes that slice easily or can be burst with a bite. Most tomatoes that are processed are plum tomatoes, ideal because they have thick skins, plump flesh and are less juicy inside. Thankfully they’re also intense in flavour, which is even further concentrated when put through the canning process. It’s no surprise many Mediterranean countries use tinned tomatoes for their sauces even when the fresh varietals are in season because eating fresh tomatoes just doesn’t bring the same intensity of flavour.


Sometimes called finely chopped tomatoes, polpa are just that: tomatoes chopped so finely they are like pulp. They’re great for smoother sauces and hold up well to slow cooking. I find they are great for quick cooking, too, because they tend not to release lots of liquid so stay thick without the need to reduce them for a long time.

Chopped tomatoes

Great for stews, soups, sauces and even fresh in dishes like Pan con Tomate. As they’re already pre-chopped they save time when cooking. They can also be found with additional ingredients such as garlic, chilli or dried mixed herbs already in the tin. Whole peeled tomatoes are chopped and processed.

Cherry tomatoes

As the name suggests, they’re the tinned version of the bite-size cherry tomato. Texture-wise, they tend to resemble their fresh selves more than other tinned varieties. Once a premium commodity, they’re now available in budget supermarkets too so more accessible than they once were.

Whole peeled plum tomatoes

The original tinned tomato. They’re peeled while fresh then combined with tomato juice before being tinned. Though chopped tomatoes tend to replace them these days in sauces they’re equally good and, if you’re making a slow-cooked sauce, they’ll break down during cooking and can be helped along by gently crushing them. Some people believe they have a better flavour than chopped so prefer to chop the whole version themselves. Great in stews, sauces or whole as part of a traditional English breakfast.

San Marzano tomatoes

The emperor of the tinned tomato, which has European protected designation of origin certification (P.D.P or D.O.P), meaning to get their certificate they must be grown in the Sarno valley and follow strict rules. Because of their natural flavour, texture and low seed count, they’re ideal for canning. Interestingly they are an heirloom variety, something that’s become increasingly popular.

Tomato paste (concentrated purée)

Much more concentrated than your average tin of tomatoes, tomato paste has an intense flavour and is usually only used in small quantities (usually a tablespoon or two). It’s often added to sauces to boost the tomato flavour just that little bit.

Tomato passata (puréed tomatoes)

Great in sauces and bakes, passata is a thick tomato juice made by crushing fresh tomatoes. The skins and seeds are usually removed by passing the tomatoes through a sieve (strainer) — passata comes from the Italian word “passare”, meaning to go through — but some brands finely blend the skins and seeds before mixing them back in and heating to over 90°C/195°F. This gives the more concentrated passata a vibrant colour and great texture. It can be used as a sauce on pizza bases. Passata is also known as tomato purée.

Recipes to try

Cheat's chicken pomodoro is an efficient option for a quick dinner. Photo / Mowie Kay
Cheat's chicken pomodoro is an efficient option for a quick dinner. Photo / Mowie Kay

Serves 4

Traditionally made with fresh cherry tomatoes, this dish makes a great speedy dinner. If you’re cooking for two, this recipe is easily halved or leftovers can be frozen to enjoy on another day. Try serving with brown rice, potatoes or polenta.

4 skinless chicken breasts

2 tsp dried Italian herbs

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 onion, chopped

4 garlic cloves, crushed or finely grated

125ml white wine

250ml chicken stock

1 Tbsp red wine vinegar

1 × 400-g tin chopped tomatoes or cherry tomatoes

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

To serve

Handful of torn basil leaves

25g parmesan cheese, shaved or grated

  1. Season the chicken with salt, pepper and 1 teaspoon dried herbs. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large frying pan (skillet) and fry the chicken on each side for 2-3 minutes until lightly golden but not cooked through. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  2. Drizzle the remaining oil into the same frying pan and fry the onion for 6-8 minutes over a medium-low heat to soften and allow to golden a little. Stir in the garlic and cook for 1 minute, ensuring it doesn’t burn. Pour in the wine, stock and vinegar, then cook for 5 minutes before adding the tinned tomatoes, remaining dried herbs and a good pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  3. Return the chicken to the pan. Cook for 10-15 minutes until the sauce has thickened (it should be quite thick, rather than a really thin sauce) and the chicken is cooked through.
  4. Scatter over the torn basil leaves and serve with parmesan, if you like.
Pasta alla vodka is enjoying a rennaissance. Photo / Mowie Kay
Pasta alla vodka is enjoying a rennaissance. Photo / Mowie Kay

Serves 2

I’ve no idea who came up with the idea of adding vodka to a tomato sauce served with pasta, but this sauce really is delicious. I read somewhere that pasta alla vodka peaked in the 1980s after being served in nightclubs across America. I really hope this is true because I love the thought of clubbers dressed in their finest fashion trying to stay clean while battling with this vibrant orange sauce.

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 shallot, very finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

¼-½ tsp chilli flakes (depending on how spicy you like it)

1 × 227g tin chopped tomatoes

2 Tbsp tomato paste

50ml vodka

75ml double cream

25g parmesan or vegetarian Italian hard cheese, grated, plus extra to serve

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

To serve

100g dried pasta per person (penne rigate or rigatoni work well)

Handful of torn basil leaves

  1. Heat the oil in a pan over a medium-low heat. Add the shallot and fry for 6-8 minutes or until softened. Add the garlic and chilli and fry for 1 minute before stirring in the tinned tomatoes, tomato paste and vodka. Fry for 5 minutes before blitzing until smooth with a handheld stick (immersion) blender or in a blender and returning to the pan. Set aside.
  2. Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions, usually around 8-10 minutes. Drain the pasta, reserving a mugful of the pasta cooking water.
  3. Reheat the tomato sauce, pour in the cream and scatter in the parmesan. Heat, stirring to melt the cheese, for 1 minute before adding in the cooked pasta, a good seasoning of salt and pepper and some of the reserved pasta water (usually around ½ cup) to form a glossy sauce. Stir for 1 minute.
  4. Serve with extra parmesan and the torn basil leaves.
Sloppy joes are classic comfort food. Photo / Mowie Kay
Sloppy joes are classic comfort food. Photo / Mowie Kay

Serves 4 or 8

These meat sandwiches are an American classic. Featuring that well-known barbecue flavour, which is characteristic of many staple dishes from the US, Sloppy Joes are a great crowd pleaser. They’re perfect for when you want to get everyone involved around the dinner table.

1 Tbsp oil

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped

1 red pepper, chopped

1 yellow pepper, chopped

500g minced beef

1 × 400-gram tin chopped tomatoes

90ml barbecue sauce

A few splashes of Worcestershire sauce

2 Tbsp tomato paste (concentrated purée)

½-1 tsp chilli powder (optional)

2 Tbsp brown sugar

1 beef stock cube

To serve

8 burger buns, halved and toasted

Cheddar cheese, grated (shredded)

  1. Over a medium heat, drizzle the oil into a large frying pan (skillet) or saucepan and fry the onion until soft, around 6–8 minutes. Tip in the garlic and both red and yellow peppers and cook for a further 5 minutes until the peppers have softened. Mix in the beef and cook for a few minutes until browned.
  2. Pour in the tinned tomatoes and stir in the barbecue sauce, Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, chilli power, if using, brown sugar and stock cube. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes until the sauce has thickened and is not at all watery. Serve the mixture in the burger buns with grated cheddar.

Make it smoky: If you prefer a smokier barbecue flavour, try adding 2 teaspoons smoked paprika to the beef mixture when you add the chilli powder.

Edited extract from The Tinned Tomatoes Cookbook by Samuel Goldsmith, $45, published by Murdoch Books, available now.

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