In many of the British cooking programs I follow and British cookbooks I use, I've often run across an ingredient that is unfamiliar to me. It's called tomato passata (or "strained tomatoes") and it appears to be a liquid tomato puree that comes in tall, carafe-like glass jars or a carton. What is it exactly and why would I use it instead of tomato sauce or tomato paste?
What Is Tomato Passata?
Passata is an uncooked tomato purée that has been strained of seeds and skins. It originated in Italy but is used throughout Europe. Some passatas are chunkier and some are smoother, depending on the brand. Some people claim that passata can also be cooked, but most agree that it is uncooked. You will also see it spelled passato and passata di pomodoro, and it can also simply be called "strained tomatoes."
How Is It Different from Other Tomato Products?
Tomato sauce and tomato paste are cooked products, which instantly makes them different from passata. In addition, tomato sauce often has other ingredients such as carrots, onions, and garlic, while tomato paste is cooked down to be extra concentrated and thick. You would not want to substitute either product if passata is called for in your recipe. If you cannot find it in your store, the best substitution is tomato purée or take plain canned tomatoes and run them through a sieve or a food mill.
How to Use It
Tomato passata can be used in any recipe that calls for tomatoes where it is not important that there be pieces of tomato, such as sauce, soup, and stew. It's especially nice in dishes where you really want to a fresher tomato flavor to come through rather than a cooked down version — I love it as a simple pizza sauce.
While passata used to be difficult to find, it's becoming more common in grocery stores, especially the Pomi brand, which comes in a carton and is labeled "strained tomatoes".
Do you use tomato passata? What's your favorite way to use it?