Let’s face it: canned tomato paste is not a food to write home about. It’s tinny, it’s bland and it’s best used in recipes that mask its underwhelming flavor. Homemade tomato paste, however, is a different, and more flavorful thing entirely. So release your taste buds from the shackles of the canned variety and learn how to make tomato paste at home.
Photos via CakeSpy
Making tomato paste is a simple process, but it will require a few hours of your time. While much of the process is not active, you’ll need to stir the mixture every 20-30 minutes while it cooks, so make sure that you have several hours during which you won’t need to leave the house. It’s a great project for a rainy weekend day. At the end of this cooking journey, you’ll have flavor-filled tomato paste that can be used to impart a rich flavor in any recipe that calls for tomato paste. Or, use the paste more simply, spread on bread and paired with cheese for a truly memorable and delicious grilled cheese sandwich.
A few things to consider before getting started…
Why would I want to make homemade tomato paste?
To be 100% honest, buying canned tomato paste is more economical than making your own. To get a respectable yield of tomato paste, you’ll need about 5 pounds’ worth of tomatoes, and the amount of paste you’ll get will be equivalent to about 16 ounces. While the cost output (and time spent) far exceeds buying a can, the flavor is leaps and bounds above the packaged stuff. Flavor-wise, making your own tomato paste is absolutely worthwhile.
What type of tomatoes should I use?
Technically, you can use any type of tomato you’d like. However, you’ll get the most bang for your buck if you use dense, firmer-textured tomatoes, such as roma tomatoes. As wonderful as your home-grown (or expensively purchased) heirloom tomatoes are, they will reduce a ton in this recipe, and your yield will be minimal. The decision is yours, but this may not be the place to use your most prized heirloom tomatoes.
Can I use the entire tomatoes?
Author’s note: I despise kitchen waste, and I got curious about what would happen if I tried this recipe using the entire tomato rather than straining the tomatoes to remove seeds and skin, as every recipe ever written seems to require. So I tried a second batch of this recipe using the entire, unstrained tomatoes, skipping the straining called for in Step 2 of the recipe. The resulting mixture was not a paste, the texture was more like that of babaganoush or an artichoke dip (but with tomato flavor, of course). So if you prefer a more textured tomato paste, go for it!
Homemade tomato paste recipe
Makes about 16 ounces of tomato paste
- 5 pounds tomatoes
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2-3 teaspoons sea salt
- Other spices, to taste (optional)
Place the oil in a large skillet. Add the tomatoes and 2 teaspoons of salt. Cook until the tomatoes begin to bubble, release liquid, and become soft. This can take up to 10 minutes, but probably not longer.
Note: Don’t overcrowd your pan. If your tomatoes don’t fit all at once, you can either divide the mixture between two pans, or work in two batches.
Remove from heat. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve to remove seeds, so that you have a sort of tomato pulp. (Don’t want to strain? See recipe note above.)
Heat the oven to 300 F; position a rack in the middle position of the oven.
While the oven preheats, grease the bottom and sides of a baking sheet. Place a silicone baking mat on top of the tray, and grease the top of that, too. Spread the tomato pulp on top of the sheet. It will look funny, like you’ve poured tomato soup on top of a baking sheet.
By now the oven is probably preheated; place the pan in the oven, taking care so that the mixture doesn’t slosh over the sides. Cook for 2 hours, using a spatula to mix the mixture around every 20-30 minutes. The mixture will thicken as it cooks.
After 2 hours, reduce the heat to 250 F, because the mixture may begin to toast and slightly burn at the edges of the pan at the higher temperature. Keep monitoring the mixture, using a spatula to turn the mixture every 20 minutes or so, until the mixture has reached a thick, paste-like consistency. For my batch, this was an additional 1 hour and 30 minutes after I reduced the temperature (so, a total of 3.5 hours — 2 hours at 300 F, and 1.5 hours and 250 F).
Note: If you’d like, you can stir some other spices (or more salt) in the mixture as it cooks.
Remove from the oven, and let cool to room temperature. If there are any crispy bits in the mixture you can either remove them, or just leave them in the paste (they add a nice, toasty flavor). Transfer to an airtight container, and keep in the freezer for up to 6 months.