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How to Cook Canned Tomatoes - Preparing Fresh Peeled Tomatoes for Sauces, Soups, and Salads

Updated on July 17, 2015
Yum! Come here you, we're gonna make some sauce today!
Yum! Come here you, we're gonna make some sauce today! | Source

This is my second post in a series about how to cook fresh stuff into its canned component. I can see this series being renewed for years to come.

To make sure you're in the right place, allow me to preface with this: this post is not about canning tomatoes, nor how to cook tomatoes from a can. This post is about how to prepare fresh tomatoes to use like you would use canned tomatoes from the store. Because we all gotta start somewhere...

As a child of the '80's, I grew up on boxed mac-n-cheese and canned tomato soup. These were "ingredients", and that's how I learned to cook. Step one usually involved a can-opener.

It was my hunter husband that turned me on to preparing food straight from the Earth. We had similar life philosophies but opposite backgrounds - I did not grow up in a hunting family, and he took deer from the woods to the table all by himself. That grossed me out, but I wanted, NEEDED, to learn how to do that - how to feed myself without going to the store. And as he needed me to help him throughout the deer processing process, like hanging the deer to drain, and running the meat through the hand-cranked grinder, I learned to get down and dirty in order to feed my family ... though sometimes when I'm cleaning knives I still make the "eww" face.

The first time we baked bread as a young couple, I was hooked. The aroma that filled our home, the delicious flavor that filled our mouths, and the satisfaction that filled our stomachs...there was no going back to less nutritious, less delicious food. The first pizza crust I ever made was like a meal in itself! I didn't KNOW the crust of the pizza could be as delicious and filling as the rest of the pie - it was like home-baked bread all by itself.

With my frozen pizza days behind me, I wanted to know more. What else tasted better homemade? What else permeated our house with appetizing smells, vivid colors and truly satisfying meals that magically seemed to transform our small house into a loving home for our new family?

When learning something new, you can take your cues from surrounding events, and when it comes to food, freshness (and the impending lack thereof) is its own little natural timer. Within a few days of searching for new dishes to prepare fresh in our kitchen, our friend Lou delivered a 5 gallon bucket full of tomatoes to our home. Now, I can only eat so much salad and caprese, so chopping up dozens of tomatoes for fresh consumption wasn't going to "cut" it. It was time to learn how to take these tomatoes from the bucket to the saucepan, and then on to the freezer to wait with the deer meat for use in future meals.

The kind of tomatoes Lou dropped off look like the preschool flashcard version of "T is for Tomato". They're called beefsteak, globe, or slicing tomatoes and are your typical big, red, round tomato. Of course there are other types of tomatoes, and the sizable ones like heirloom and roma you could prepare for sauces the same way as the beefsteak.

Watch closely - they split quick! See my "x"s?
Watch closely - they split quick! See my "x"s? | Source
The hot tomatoes melted most of my ice cubes instantly. Should have more at the ready next time.
The hot tomatoes melted most of my ice cubes instantly. Should have more at the ready next time. | Source
Peels right off!
Peels right off! | Source
Seeded and sufficiently, chopped. Think it's time to sharpen my knives...
Seeded and sufficiently, chopped. Think it's time to sharpen my knives... | Source

The process of turning the garden tomato into the ready-to-use uncooked skinless version is called "blanching". Blanching removes the skin from the rest of the vegetable (er, fruit?) and leaves you with a wet plump of a tomato you can leave whole, or seed and dice. It does not cook the tomato - it just prepares it to be a fresh, skinless ingredient at the ready for sauces, soups, salads and sandwiches.

To prep the tomatoes, rinse them off in cold water. Cut off the stem and cut out the hard "stemmy part" (or just slice through the top part of the tomato to remove them both in one fell swoop) and any imperfections that go into the tomato. You don't have to worry about marks that are just on the skin's surface because the blanching process will easily remove the skin. Then cut a small "X" shape into the bottom of the tomato.

Once your tomatoes are prepped, prepare an ice bath in a large bowl. Just put a bunch of ice cubes in enough water to cover the tomatoes. I like to use a metal bowl for this, because it tends to keeps the water cooler for longer. Then in a large pot, boil enough water to also cover the tomatoes.

Drop just a few tomatoes into the boiling water at a time. In 20-60 seconds time, their skin will split.

Watch closely - they split quick! See my "x"s?

At this point, immediately remove the tomatoes with a slotted spoon and put them in the ice bath. After about one minute, they should be cool enough to handle.

The hot tomatoes melted most of my ice cubes instantly.

Pick up the tomato and easily slide the skin off with your fingers (or use a knife in places where the skin seems to be stuck).

Peels right off!

What you're left with is a whole tomato, like if you were to buy a can of "whole tomatoes" at the store. I like to cut mine in half and squeeze the seeds out, then use the seedless halves as a base for spaghetti sauce, chili, and (American) goulash. From this point you can "chop" them, or "dice" them, and have what you'd buy from the store, minus the water or puree they're packed in.

Seeded and sufficiently, chopped. Think it's time to sharpen my knives...

This is my go-to recipe for fresh spaghetti sauce, using my tomatoes in place of the "1 (28 ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes" listed in the ingredients: . Right off the bat this recipe has you sauteing onions and garlic in olive oil, filling your home with an appetizing and drool-inducing aroma. Then you add your tomatoes, herbs and spices and simmer for a few hours. The whole process of making this sauce in your own home as you spend the afternoon stirring, smelling, and tasting the sauce is calming, delicious and rewarding.

Another place to substitute your fresh tomatoes for canned ones is in this venison lasagna recipe, which calls for diced tomatoes. It's labor intensive and definitely an impressive presentation piece:

Mmmmm - YES!

And here's a tasty and crowd-pleasing American-style goulash that uses fresh tomatoes, venison, and a crock pot. A fresh dinner hot and ready anytime!

*tummy grumble*...great for game day!

Taking tomatoes from the garden to the plate is a nutritious and rewarding experience. Use your tomatoes now, or refrigerate them to use within a few days. Preserve them for later use by canning them, or cooking up a big pot of sauce and freezing the leftovers. You can do it!! So grow a pair (or more ;)), man up, and make your own food from scratch. Your good health, pleasing home, and happy tummy will thank you.


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