Updated 2009-02-27 17:23:10 ID=325:0

© 2009 The Romantic Table
©2008 The Romantic Table, Susan McGourty's Table Talk, a California Central Coast Lifestyle blog. 2011-06-09 16:33:16:80
©2008 The Romantic Table

Susan McGourty's Table Talk

Tomatoes! Tomatoes! Canned Tomatoes?

I love fresh tomatoes! But what if it's Winter with no decent fresh tomatoes available? Here are some of my alternatives that you can use in place of your summer's favorites.

I love tomatoes! I could eat them daily in sauces and antipastos. But it's late winter so I'll have to wait several more months before I can count on summer's best fresh vegetable as a resource. But wait! There are some canned tomato options that we can use to make a pretty good substitute.

Tomatoes are so wonderful and now acknowledged by the AMA and the Nutrition Council that tomatoes are as healthy for you as they are delicious. I don't know about you, but my body works best on a regular diet of tomatoes at least one or two times a week. Around the Holidays when we have a lot of more traditional food of meat and potatoes, my body only gets by with the help of some of my favorite "purge meals" such as a Fettuccine with Tomato and Prosciutto Ribbons or Basic Marinara Sauce.

Now as you may know, I take my meal-cooking seriously. I put a lot of thought, planning and love into it. I don't like surprises! Normally when we have "knock-your-socks-off" summer tomatoes available, I puree them down and freeze them in individual containers. (This process takes a lot of time, expense and mess in the kitchen, so I only do the primo tomatoes this way, otherwise it's a waste of time and money.) The last couple of years though, at least here on the California Central Coast, the weather hasn't cooperated with the farmers, producing just "O.K." tomatoes. And then another time, when I did have "primo tomatoes" and had frozen over fifty containers of them, my freezer died and I lost the whole crop. After that little fiasco, I started hunting for really good-tasting canned tomatoes to use in the non-summer months.

In my search I found several good brands. The number one fact that all these tomatoes have in common, be they imported or domestic: they're not loaded and ruined with a lot of salt! Think about it. Fresh tomatoes don't contain salt.-Why should the canned version of a tomato be loaded with it! This is very important, as I've stated in some of my other articles, the cook should "control the salt" NOT the manufacturer of the can! The cook should control ALL the seasonings so that they're in balance and complement each other. If you want to use whole canned tomatoes to make a nice light textured sauce, first you should look on the canned whole tomatoes can's label. If the sodium content is about 20mg. per half cup serving, you've got a possible candidate there.

Now for my findings.

The local small grocery chain, "Food 4 Less" has a type Best that's one of their house brand . For fifty-eight cents for a fourteen and a half ounce can with 20 mg of sodium per half cup, these are an economical option. I've used these canned tomatoes in my Chili - Sue's Own Hardy Mediterranean Style recipe and several others. Last night I tried them out in my recipe Fettuccine with Tomato and Prosciutto Ribbons. I made half a pound Fettuccine, for the two of us, tossing it with the sauce that had been made with two cans tomatoes, drained and coarsely chopped tomatoes. The sauce was very good and was equivalent to summer primo tomatoes that had been frozen, thawed and made into a light tomato sauce. These are one option.

If you want to make a "thicker sauce", such as Spaghetti alla Puttanesca, a great choice comes again from "Food 4 Less, Cento brand of Crushed Tomatoes. Again, it only has 20 mg.of sodium per half cup serving. This makes a wonderful sauce and I also use this brand for making my kitchen staple Basic Homemade Tomato Sauce. But be careful, Cento makes several other types of canned tomatoes that ARE loaded with salt. Be sure to read the label.

For making my much loved and versatile Basic Marinara Sauce I love to use the Von's-Safeway house brand of Puree'. That too has only 20 mg. sodium per half cup.

Now the "creme de la creme" of canned tomatoes --if you can find them, are the imported Bella Terra Whole Organic Tomatoes in the twenty-eight ounce can with 35 mg of sodium. These "tomato jewels" can range in price from $2.67 per can up to four or five dollars! They're more commonly carried in the bigger metropolitan grocery stores of the Bay Area to the north, and Los Angeles area to the south.

If you cannot find them locally, the company that imports them is in New Jersey and will ship directly for $2.67 a can or a case of twelve cans for $32.04. This is quite comparable to Farmers Markets price of tomatoes, when you figure what you pay for Farmers Market tomatoes usually $2.00 to $2.50 per pound in season, the labor you have to process them for winter (peel, seed, chop then freeze in containers), then add on the cost of electricity to store them.

If fresh tomatoes are not available when you're doing a lot of tomato sauces and want spectacular taste, this is a good option. Each can will make enough for a pound of pasta.

The above selections are my personal favorites, but I'm sure there are other brands available that will fit the bill. Have fun with your own "taste-tests!"

You can find good alternative canned options to fresh tomatoes. So to sum up, my best advice to you is, read the nutrition content on the labels, and buy wisely. When you start with good canned tomatoes that haven't been ruined with a lot of salt and additives, even in Winter you can economically make your favorite tomato creations seasoned to your personal taste.

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A tip from Sue!

Get a Black Pepper Mill

There's nothing that substitutes for freshly cracked black pepper. You can find pepper mills in all price ranges. Just get one that looks like it will hold up well over continual use. Freshly cracked black pepper can really enhance the smell and final taste of a recipe!