Saturday 20 April 2019

Rozanne Stevens 'Don't turn your nose up at delicious tinned tomatoes'

Tomatoes for ketchup.
Rozanne Stevens

Rozanne Stevens

Stock up on this versatile and antioxidant-rich pantry staple to add some sweetness to your snacks, writes Rozanne Stevens.

Fresh tomatoes are one of my daily must haves, especially in summer with the bounty of beautiful juicy red varieties and all the funky green, yellow, orange, stripey, purple and misshapen heirloom tomatoes. Of course you can get greenhouse tomatoes all year round, but they're not quite the same.

But equally tinned, canned and bottled tomatoes are one of my most often used pantry pals. Don't turn your nose up at them! Tinned tomatoes are rich, sweet and delicious in their own special way. Plus, they make the basis of many a quick week-night meal.

Tomatoes are full of a huge variety of vitamins and antioxidants, most notably cancer-fighting lycopene which also fights heart disease and macular degeneration, especially in older people. The great news is that cooking tomatoes actually makes the lycopene easier to absorb, so cooked tomatoes are a great immune-boosting and cancer-busting food. And with a little olive oil, the lycopene is even easier to absorb.

So another reason to embrace the Mediterranean diet with its abundance of tomatoes and olive oil. Tinned tomatoes are a wonderful source of nutrients. Low in calories and packed with fibre, iron, and vitamin B6 and vitamin C, so stock up!

When you do your supermarket shop, you'll notice a much larger variety of tinned tomatoes, tubes and jars than a few years ago. When available, I buy my tomatoes in tetra packs or glass bottles.

Tinned whole peeled tomatoes

The Italians would probably argue that these are the best tinned tomatoes to buy. Especially the San Marzano tomatoes. This is both a variety and a geographical area in Italy. This variety is grown and canned all over the world, but only San Marzano tomatoes grown and packed in San Marzano in Italy can get the DOP stamp, which stands for 'Denomination of Protected Origin'. Having cooked with these myself, I can say that they do have a wonderful rich flavour and sauce that is almost more tomatoey than a fresh tomato. They can be a bit pricey, but if you really like cooking with them, compromise with a budget pantry pal somewhere else.

Tinned chopped tomatoes

These, and passata, are the two types of tinned tomatoes I buy most often. I have zero snobbery here about varieties and brands. I will find the cheapest one, try it and see. There are two very important things that I look out for though. The first is that there is no added salt to the tomatoes. As I am using them to cook with, I will be adding my own salt anyway. Secondly, I check that there aren't many tomatoes with cores present. You would remove these in a fresh tomato as they are not pleasant to eat. No matter how long you simmer a soup or sauce for, the white core still remains. I also opt for plain varieties with no added flavours.


If you haven't already tried passata, let me introduce you to my favourite type of tinned or bottled tomato. Often sold in tall glass bottles as a 'luxury' ingredient, passata is quite simply sieved tomatoes which gets rid of all the tomato skin, lumps and seeds. This means you get all the flavour of tomatoes but in a smooth sauce. You can get versions with added garlic and herbs but I buy the plain passata. This way I can add my own flavours and use it in any cuisine. I often use passata instead of tinned tomatoes in a recipe when I want a smooth sauce such as my home made baked beans and as a pizza-base tomato sauce.

Tomato purée

Tomato purée in Ireland usually comes in glass jars. It is also a type of sieved tomato sauce. But it has a thicker consistency than passata but is not as concentrated as tomato paste. It can be a bit confusing as sometimes passata and tomato purée in Italy are referred to as the same thing. Tomato purée has been cooked down so that is has a deeper texture, colour and flavour. Buy the brands with no added flavours. The recipes I use most often are in my home made low sugar ketchup and Greek moussaka, both beef and vegetarian recipes. As it comes in glass bottles you can store it in the fridge if you don't use it all.

Tomato paste

I always have a tube or two of tomato paste in the kitchen. I prefer buying the tubes instead of the tiny tins, as you won't always use the whole tin. Tomato paste is the most concentrated of all the tinned tomato products. It's marvellous for adding depth of flavour to sauces, soups, casseroles and gravies. If I make a fresh tomato sauce or soup, I always add a good squirt of tomato paste for extra richness. For every tin of tomatoes I use in a recipe, I add roughly one tablespoon of tomato paste. I tend to buy the cheapest one that I like the taste of. I don't see a big difference between brands and wouldn't bother with the double concentrated ones.

Basic tomato sauce

The most famous basic tomato sauce probably belongs to Marcella Hazan from her cookbook Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. It includes onion and a wallop of butter. It is absolutely delicious, decadent and silky rich. But with the rate that I use tomato sauce I would have a heart disease in no time if I used this recipe all the time! So my basic tomato sauce is a far more low calorie affair but with plenty of flavour and versatility. I would make it up in bulk and freeze it in portions. You'll have a pasta sauce, soup or Mexican sauce sauce in minutes.


2 tablespoons ordinary olive oil (not extra virgin)

1 medium onion, finely diced - I like red onions for this

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

2 tins of chopped or whole tomatoes

2 tablespoons of tomato paste

2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar

A pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper


Gently heat the olive oil in a saucepan and add the onions. Sauté over a medium heat for 10 minutes until soft and translucent. You can make a parchment lid to help the onions cook faster, this is called a cartouche

Add the garlic and sauté over a medium heat until fragrant. Do not overcook the garlic, it can burn quite easily

Pour in the tinned tomatoes, tomato paste, balsamic vinegar and season with a little salt and pepper

Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer, partially covered with the pot lid, for 30 minutes

If you are using the sauce immediately, taste and adjust the seasoning. If not, portion into freezer containers, allow to cool, refrigerate until completely cool then freeze

You now have a home made tomato sauce that can be used in a myriad different ways. This will cut down dramatically on the amount of salt and sugar you consume with jars of prepared sauces. They seem very convenient but when you read the label, it's just not worth it.

Top ways to use your home made tomato sauce:

For pasta Arrabiata: Sauté up some pancetta until crispy, add a little dried chilli flakes and a portion of your defrosted tomato sauce. Simmer for 15 minutes and toss with penne pasta and parmesan cheese

For tomato basil soup: Add stock and simmer for 15 minutes with a bunch of basil stalks and blitz to a smooth consistency. Serve with torn fresh basil leaves

For beans soup: add stock and a tin of mixed beans or beans of your choice, a teaspoon of Italian herbs and a bay leaf. Simmer for 15 minutes

Enchilada sauce: Sauté a finely chopped red chilli in a little olive oil until very soft. Add a teaspoon each of ground cumin and coriander. Add a bunch of fresh coriander stalks, the tomato sauce and simmer for 15 minutes. Blitz down to smooth consistency.

Make a double quantity and use in a home made lasagne with roasted red onion, peppers, aubergine, courgettes, basil pesto and mozzarella.

÷Recipes taken from Delish and Relish cookbooks by Rozanne Stevens. For cookbooks and healthy cookery courses, please log onto


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