Tomato paste is most commonly used to make tomato sauces (and in turn, pasta and pizza), but many recipes don’t use up an entire can of tomato paste. And the concentrated tomato goodness can add a little burst of umami to just about anything. So instead of letting this stellar ingredient go to waste, try some of these ideas to use up every last ounce.
FYI: Buying tomato paste in a tube instead of in a can allows it to last longer and will be your new main squeeze in the fridge. Leftover canned paste can also be frozen in ice cube trays or flat in a freezer bag for later use (for up to three months before freezer burn sets in). With these fun, tasty ideas, you may not have any left over at all!
Pizza Toast with the Most
Like French bread pizza… but even easier! In a small bowl, whisk together a few teaspoons of tomato paste with garlic powder, dried oregano, and dried basil. Add salt and pepper to taste and thin with a splash of hot water to make it spreadable. Rub a piece of lightly toasted bread — a slice of rustic bread like sourdough is my go-to — with a clove of raw garlic and then add a thin layer of the tomato paste mixture. Grate on fresh Parmesan and/or mozzarella and broil for 1 minute, or until cheese is melty and bubbly. You can add as many toppings as your heart desires.
The pizza toast method can also apply to pizza popcorn. But for this, melt 2 teaspoons of tomato paste into 2 tablespoons of salted butter and season with dried basil, oregano, and garlic powder. If you have anchovies around, melt a few into the butter for added umami richness. Sprinkle with shredded or grated Parmesan cheese at the end so it kinda melts, but also maintains some texture. Mix into popcorn.
Souper-Size Umami in Your Soups and Stews
Add a good dollop of tomato paste into soup or stew to add umami, a hint of acidity, and depth of flavor. It’s especially good when paired with other umami-rich ingredients, like mushrooms, beef, and Parmesan cheese.
Zesty Tomato Vinaigrette
Add a little or a lot of tomato paste to a classic vinaigrette (3 parts olive oil and 1 part red wine vinegar with a little Dijon is my go-to). It works well with an Italian antipasto salad or chopped salad: Up the ante with add dried or fresh oregano and basil, grated Parmesan, and lots of black pepper.
Simple Vodka Sauce for One
This is easily scaled up, but when I just want enough vodka sauce for one (or maybe two) portions, I first boil a few handfuls of penne (you know how much pasta you can eat in one sitting) in heavily salted water. Then I lightly brown half a small yellow onion and a few garlic cloves in a slick of olive oil over medium heat, then add a few tablespoons of tomato paste to caramelize for about 5 minutes. Salt and pepper go in, and then a shot of vodka.
Once the alcohol evaporates (aka you don’t smell it anymore), add ¼ cup of heavy cream and a few tablespoons of pasta water, then lower the heat to simmer. Once it’s thickened slightly (a minute or two), add a tablespoon of butter, and as much grated Parmesan cheese as you want — usually about ¼ cup for me. Mix with your cooked pasta — it should be saucy and glossy.
Combine with Something Spicy
Tomato and spice — whether red pepper flakes, cayenne, hot sauce, or gochujang — pair beautifully. There is a slight sweetness to tomato paste that counterbalances heat, and the savoriness of the concentrated tomato enhances the flavor of the peppers (so you can taste more than just their spice). Add a teaspoon to a buffalo wing sauce or a bowl of spicy ramen to experience the magic.
Photographer: Paul Quitoriano
Food Stylist: Cesar Aldrete
Art Direction: Sarah Ceniceros Gomez