Homemade tomato paste is an entirely different — and utterly more delicious — beast than the kind you can buy at the supermarket. It takes about a day to make (happily, much of that work is hands off), and in the end, you'll have enough tomato paste to last you through several cooking projects. In my book, homemade is worth the effort, every time.
Homemade vs. Store-Bought Tomato Paste
Most of us know tomato paste as a pantry staple, bought in either small tin cans or (more expensively) in imported tubes for easier dispensing. The grocery versions are rarely anything special — just containers of dense, smooth tomato concentrate.
When you make it yourself, you get to choose the tomatoes you use, and thus the flavor of the finished concentrate. Slow-cooking also gives the paste a hearty, rich flavor unlike the store-bought counterpart.
Choosing the Right Tomatoes for Tomato Paste
There is one thing you should keep in mind: while any tomato can be used to make paste, the kind of tomato you pick will make a difference in your final yield. The times when I’ve made it with heirloom slicing tomatoes, my finished yield filled just three tiny jars; the times when I’ve used meaty paste tomatoes, I got almost twice that. So bear that in mind before diving in with those precious heirlooms.
Homemade tomato paste works beautifully in all the traditional places, like soups, stews, and chili. However, the long oven roasting gives it the kind of intense tomato-y flavor that also makes it delicious scraped on toasted baguette rounds and topped with fresh ricotta cheese or painted into a spinach omelet.
What's Tomato Preserving 2.0?
When it comes to tomatoes, perhaps you've got the basics covered. You've made fresh tomato sauce, or roasted them, or thrown a bag in the freezer for easy peeling and sauce-making later. So what's next?
This week Marisa McClellan of Food in Jars is guiding us through Tomato Preserving 2.0 — cooking lessons and good ideas for when you're ready to move on to the next level of preserving tomatoes.
10 pounds tomatoes (See Recipe Note)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoon citric acid
Food mill, sieve, or chinois
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Chop tomatoes into quarters.
Simmer the tomatoes with the olive oil: Combine the chopped tomatoes and olive oil in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Cook until the tomatoes are soft and the peels begin to detach from the tomato flesh.
Pass the tomatoes through a food mill: Push the warm tomatoes through a food mill, sieve or chinois to separate the tomato pulp from the seeds and skins. Stir the sea salt and citric acid into the pulp. Discard or compost the seeds and skins.
Divide the tomato pulp between two large, rimmed baking sheets. You can also use a large roasting pan, but it will take longer to cook down that way.
Bake the tomato pulp until reduced to a paste: Place the baking sheets in the oven. Check the tomatoes every half hour, stirring the paste and switching the position of the baking sheets so that they reduce evenly. Over time, the paste will start to reduce to the point where it doesn’t fill the baking sheet any more. At this point, combine the contents of the two pans into and continue to bake.
The paste is done when shiny and brick-colored, and it has reduced by more than half (3 to 4 hours). There shouldn’t be any remaining water or moisture separating from the paste at this point. This will take 3 to 4 hours, though exact baking times will depend on the juiciness of your tomatoes.
Divide finished paste into 4-ounce jars, leaving 3/4 inch headspace.
Preserving Option 1 — Process the tomato paste in a hot water bath: Apply lids and rings and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.
Preserving Option 2 - Refrigerate or Freeze: If you don’t want to process the paste, you can refrigerate or freeze it instead. Scrape finished paste into clean half or quarter pint jars. Top each jar with a layer of olive oil and place in either the refrigerator or the freezer. As long as you keep it well-covered with olive oil and ensure that you only use a very clean spoon to remove it from the jar, it will keep in the fridge for 3 to 4 weeks. Frozen, it will keep for up to nine months.
Use paste tomatoes, like Romas and San Marzanos, for the greatest yield. Juicy heirloom tomatoes can also be used, but will have a smaller yield.