Fresh tomato paste can add large amounts of depth and flavor to many dishes, even when used in small amounts. From stews and dips, to sandwiches and sauces, just a teaspoon or two of good tomato paste can elevate a “meh…” meal to a “yeah!” one. But the canned tomato pastes purchased at the grocery store have a tinny or metallic taste to them, and lack real flavor. This is probably why so many cans of tomato paste languish, opened and barely used, in the home refrigerator until they are tossed. To solve this culinary crime, do yourself a favor and make your own homemade tomato paste using farmers’ market tomatoes! It’s easy to make and wonderful to have in your refrigerator to enhance many meals, from morning to evening.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
- 5 pounds tomatoes (ask your farmer about buying “seconds” tomatoes at a lower price)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp dried herbs, such as oregano or thyme (optional for extra depth of flavor, but don’t overpower the tomato taste with more)
- Heat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Wash tomatoes and cut them in half. Squeeze each half gently over your sink or compost bin to remove excess juice and seeds.
- Chop squeezed tomatoes into coarse pieces.
- Heat olive oil in a deep skillet over medium heat, and add chopped tomatoes, salt, and any additional herbs or spices.
- Bring tomatoes to a boil, then lower your heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the tomatoes are soft.
- Place simmered tomatoes into a high speed blender (or a regular blender) and blend at high speed until fully pureed (including the skins and any seeds that didn’t get squeeze out).
- Rub a deep, rimmed baking sheet with a bit of olive oil and pour the tomato puree into it. Five pounds of tomatoes should just fit into a deep, 13″ x 18″ rimmed baking sheet.
- Bake the puree slowly, using a spatula to turn and mix the puree periodically during cooking. As the water evaporates, you’ll notice that the edges of the puree will start to darken; look for this darkening as a sign that it’s time to mix the puree and spread it out evenly over the baking sheet again as it thickens.
- It can take anywhere from 3 to 4 hours for tomato paste to cook fully (oven temperatures can vary). Look to the edges of your paste as a sign; if the edges seem to be burning instead of browning, turn your oven down by 50 degrees. (NOTE: Using a smaller baking pan will result in a deeper layer of tomato with less surface area available for evaporation; your cooking time will increase significantly!)
- After 3 or 4 hours of baking, the tomato paste will be thick and a rich, red color.
- Store your tomato paste in the refrigerator for a month or more in a sealed container; cover your tomato paste with a layer of olive oil to increase its keeping qualities. You can also freeze tomato paste in individual small containers for six months (take out what you need and let thaw in your refrigerator).
Fresh tomato paste is fantastic spread on sandwiches with cheese, added to pizza, and added to sauces and stews. The homemade variety is so delicious you’ll find it creeping its way into your daily use along with staples such as peanut butter.