Canned tomatoes are good for a quick soup, marinara sauce, or blender salsa, but they're also capable of a whole lot more. On their own, canned tomatoes are a simple and inexpensive ingredient, but when put to work, they can help you pull together some impressive and incredible dishes.
I grew up in a house where certain staple foods had a permanent place in our pantry. Among the mix there were always at least a few cans of diced tomatoes. It certainly made an impression on me, because when I eventually moved into my own apartment, it was one of the items I was sure to always have handy — and I still do.
For me, canned tomatoes, particularly diced tomatoes, are right up there with staples like stock, beans, rice, and frozen veggies. And for good reason — they're all hugely versatile and come in handy way more often than you'd ever expect.
Read More: A Visual Guide to the 7 Major Types of Canned Tomatoes
5 Incredible Ways to Put a Can of Tomatoes to Work
Canned, diced tomatoes are one of the workhorses of your pantry. Their sweetness and acidity prove a quick and easy way to brighten flavors and make your dishes pop. Use the liquid, strain out the diced pieces, or purée it all together to work as a thickener.
Of course there are all the standard uses for canned tomatoes — soup, sauce, salsa, chili, and curry — but this pantry staple has a rap sheet that goes way beyond that.
All of these recipes start with some or all of a 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes, and then take some surprising twists and turns throughout the kitchen.
1. Braised Vegetables
Serves 2 to 4
Whether it's kale, collards, chard, or beans, change things up by using a can of diced tomatoes to braise your veggies. Not only will it add more flavor, but the acidity will also help break down tough leafy greens and stems.
Read More: The Best Vegetables for Braising
Purée about half of a 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large sauté pan, add 1 pound of chopped kale or other veggies and stir to coat, then add 1 clove of minced garlic, and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the diced tomatoes and purée, season with salt and fresh-ground black pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened, six to 10 minutes.
2. Mix a Bloody Mary
Makes 1 drink
No tomato juice, no problem. It's not exactly the same thing, but a can of diced tomatoes will get the job done when you're ready to mix up a Bloody Mary on the fly.
Pour one 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes into a large sieve, with a bowl underneath. Then use a spoon to press the liquid into the bowl. Add a few ice cubes to a cocktail shaker, pour in the tomato juice, 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 tablespoon horseradish, 1 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper, and 1 1/2 ounces vodka. Stir, strain into a glass, and garnish with a celery stick and lemon wedge.
Without fail, I almost always decide to make risotto only to realize I don't have nearly enough stock. My quick fix is a can or two of diced tomatoes — either as is straight from the can, or puréed. Replace all or some of the stock in your favorite risotto recipe with canned tomatoes. The added bonus is the extra punch of color and flavor.
Get a Recipe: How To Make Risotto at Home
4. Savory Tomato Basil Muffins
Makes 12 muffins
Crisp on the outside, and soft and eggy on the inside, these savory tomato-basil muffins make for a satisfying breakfast on the go, a nice addition to your bowl of soup, and a nourishing afternoon snack.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a muffin pan with paper baking cups and spray them lightly with baking spray.
In a large bowl, whisk together 1 cup cottage cheese, 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 4 eggs, and 1/4 cup puréed canned tomato. Add 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and stir until no lumps remain. Fold in 1/2 cup of chopped fresh basil.
Divide the batter between the muffin cups and bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until puffed and golden-brown. Store in the fridge.
Makes about 1/2 cup
There's a lot to love about the convenience of bottled ketchup, but I have to say that this quick homemade version won me over big time. It's something truly special; it's surprisingly easy to make, and delivers the requisite slightly sweet flavor with a little bit of tang and a touch of spice.
Purée one 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large saucepan. Stir in half of a medium onion (diced), and cook until soft and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the puréed tomatoes, 1/2 tablespoon tomato paste, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup cider vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger, a pinch of allspice, and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, for one hour. Purée until smooth, and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
(Image credits: Kelli Foster)