Pantry Treasure

Canned tomatoes bring flavor to comfort food


Late on a March evening — Friday the 13th — I went shopping at a Louisville supermarket for some necessities to make it through the virus shutdown. As a part-time culinary anthropologist, I found it fascinating and disturbing which shelves had been emptied, and those left full. I was surprised that the bags of dry beans had been ransacked while the shelves were still full of canned tomato products. 

Anybody who has tried to cook dry beans knows what a challenging task it can be. Meanwhile, canned tomatoes in their myriad forms (from crushed, diced and paste to sauce and juice) are the not-so-secret ingredient in a world of favorite dishes. 

Canned tomatoes often have a more intense flavor because they are picked and processed when ripe. Low in fat and high in vitamins and other nutrients, canned tomatoes are also exceptionally affordable. Even imported Italian San Marzano tomatoes are relatively inexpensive. What’s not to love? 

Given the current situation, you may need to live without fresh tomatoes for a couple of months. Think of it as eating seasonally. Imagine how tasty those locally grown tomatoes will taste in July. I know that your pantry shelves may be home to a can or three of the following tomato variations. Here are some ways that they can add flavor to your menus.  

Diced Tomatoes: Drain a can (use the juice in a soup) and spread on a cookie sheet and roast at 400 degrees until singed. Add to chili, soups or pizza or make a spread for tomato toast. Simmer diced tomatoes with navy beans to make chili. 

Sliced Tomatoes: Roast pork shanks, beef short ribs or other slow-cooking meat cuts in oil. Add sliced onions and canned tomatoes and finish roasting. Puree vegetables and dilute with broth to make a rich sauce or soup. 

Tomato Puree: Make chicken cacciatore by simmering boneless, skinless chicken thighs in tomato puree with sliced mushrooms, garlic, onions, sage and red wine. Serve with creamy, cheesy polenta or grits. 

Crushed Tomatoes: Blend cilantro, crushed tomatoes, red onion, peeled garlic, canned jalapeños, salt and lime juice to make smooth salsa. Season to taste.

Tomato Paste: Make a thick pizza sauce by adding paste gradually to hot broth with some tomato puree plus olive oil, basil, oregano and garlic. Spread thinly on dough (below). 

Fire-Roasted Diced Tomatoes: Varieties are seasoned with chilies, basil or garlic. Cook ground beef, pork, turkey or bison in olive oil, add tomatoes and simmer. Then cook prepared ravioli or tortellini in it. 

Tomato Juice: Use juice instead of water or broth to cook rice and grains. It can also be used to make gazpacho (cold tomato soup), shrimp cocktails and bloody marys. 

Tomato Sauce: Bring to a simmer, add sautéed peppers and poach eggs in it, serve over spaghetti. 

To make smooth tomato soup, heat two quarts of tomato juice with a half cup of white rice until soft. Puree in blender. Heat in saucepan and add milk or alternative milk to make it creamy, and season to taste. Serve with grilled cheese. 

Other tomato variations include sundried tomatoes (also available marinated in oil) for salads, tomato jam to enjoy with cheese, and smoked tomatoes perfect for red kidney bean chili. 

Summer Will Come Again

Start thinking about starting some seeds and growing tomatoes in your garden or on your patio. Find heirloom tomato seeds at local garden centers and through local seed companies including: BBB Seed in Boulder (, Botanical Interests in Broomfield (, Amkha Seed in Westminster, and High Ground Gardens in Crestone (,

Make an Artisan Pizza

This recipe is a variation on the pizza dough recipe used at Boulder’s Pizzeria Locale. 

3 1/2 cups flour

1 1/2 cups cold water

2 1/4 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon dry active yeast

Olive oil to coat bowl

Mix yeast and water in a bowl. Add flour and combine until dough starts to form. Sprinkle salt over the dough and fold the dough several times until clumps are gone. On a floured board, fold the dough in half, turn and fold in half again and repeat. Do this several times and place in plastic-covered bowl to rest for 15 minutes in a warm room. Repeat two more times as the dough gets smoother. Refrigerate covered dough ball for about 18 hours. Cut the dough in quarters, roll them into balls and let rise in covered bowl for about five hours. After that you are ready to stretch out the dough, top with tomatoes and other goodies and bake at 400-plus degrees for about 30 minutes. This recipe should make four 10-inch pizzas. 

Words to Chew On

“On Sunday mornings I clearly remember the aroma of a rich ragu cooking slowly to be eaten later that day with pasta (rigatoni or ziti), and delicate meatballs, which were always served separately, never on the same plate, and falling off the bone beef or pork ribs that had been stewing in that same ragu for hours.” — Stanley Tucci    

John Lehndorff will now host his Radio Nibbles show 8:25 a.m. Thursday on KGNU (88.5 FM, 1390 AM, and streaming at from his home kitchen. Direct cooking questions to: [email protected]


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here