Don't overlook this inexpensive and versatile pantry staple.

By Kelly Vaughan
July 03, 2020
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Jen Causey

Whether or not you cook with tomato paste regularly, there's likely a small can sitting in the back of your pantry. A couple of tablespoons of tomato paste can add intense tomato flavor to a recipe, enhancing homemade marinara sauce, barbecue sauce, chili, beef stew, curries, and pasta. Here, we're explaining exactly what tomato paste is, how to store it, and how to cook with it in a few knock-your-socks-off recipes.

What Is Tomato Paste?

An uncomplicated and simply magical ingredient, tomato paste is essentially cooked-down tomatoes that have been strained of their seeds and juices. As the tomatoes are heated and cooked, they lose all their liquid and form a thick paste that has highly concentrated levels of acidity and umami flavor. You can make tomato paste at home with just three ingredients—chopped tomatoes, extra-virgin olive oil, and salt—or purchase it in the store. When choosing store-bought tomato paste, stock up on tubes rather than cans; the tubes are much easier to store, last longer, and make measuring the proper amount of tomato paste a breeze. Tubed tomato paste lasts in the refrigerator for six to eight weeks once opened and most will come with a printed expiration date.

However, if you have canned tomato paste on hand, transfer it to an airtight container once opened and it will keep in the refrigerator for five to seven days. Better yet, measure the tomato paste into individual tablespoons on a sheet of parchment paper and freeze, so that you have perfectly portioned paste available at the ready. Store them in a plastic bag once they're completely frozen for easy organization.

How to Cook with Tomato Paste

When cooking with tomato paste, generally only one to two tablespoons are needed because the flavor is highly concentrated. One of our favorite ways to use tomato paste is in all kinds of stew recipes. In our vegan West African Peanut Stew, tomato paste is sautéed with a mixture of onion, garlic, and aromatics, which allows the paste to caramelize and brings out its savory flavor. A similar process is used in our recipe for Spiced Beef Stew with Carrots and Chickpeas; tomato paste cooks with onions, bell peppers, and berbere seasoning before red wine and beef are added to braise. A tablespoon of tomato paste is also a genius addition for taco Tuesday. Sautéed ground chicken is mixed with tomato paste, chopped chipotle in adobo, and water for the filling of Crispy Baked Chicken Flautas.

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