(photo: Michael Hawkins, Wicked Ideas)
It’s not me, it’s you, canned tomatoes.
We had a good run. I used to buy canned tomatoes by the crate. I watched for sales and when they got down to a buck a can, I nearly broke my back hauling an eight-can flat of tomatoes into my shopping cart. We had it good for a while. Chili, pasta sauce, pizza, casseroles and soups. Loved all of it.
We had some problems along the way though. I always thought canned tomatoes were just tomatoes in a can but one day I discovered they were packing a Dead Sea worth of sodium in a 28 ounce can, a hefty 400 mg per cup of tomato for some brands. I tried to work things out for a while with a low sodium compromise but now we’ve just grown apart.
After a summer of fresh tomatoes in 2013, I did my usual return to canned tomatoes in the late fall, only to realize I didn’t want them around any more. Compared to the summer tomatoes, they were just too synthetic-tasting, watered down.
Hot house tomatoes would prove to be a great replacement, with a little help. Winter tomatoes that we get here in Canada are either hot house (grown indoors in a greenhouse type environment) or from fields a few hours south of the snow line in the U.S or Mexico. Either way, they’re not that great off the shelf but with time, in the form of a few days on your kitchen counter, they significantly improve. Still not as good as a fresh local tomato we’ll enjoy here in July, but I think the long haul tomatoes improve to a point that’s a cut above any standard grocery canned tomato.
Which brings me to a cool little tip that’ll save you some money and get you better fresh tomatoes. Since tomatoes improve after they’ve been left at room temperature for a couple of days, the ones that are being sold as clearance for half price are often better than the freshest ones. The store has already taken care of the time the tomatoes need to ripen up a bit and for that they’re giving them to you at half price or less. They may have a soft spot or two, but those are the ones you want, not the pinkish, white-cored ones that are $3 to $4 a pound.
Over time I found I simply preferred the taste of a fresh tomato over any canned variety, and now I’m off the canned variety completely. This is especially important in more simple tomato dishes such as the eggs in tomato sauce below.
As is the case with abandoning any form of processed food, that means doing away with extra sodium and any of the other chemicals and preservatives that come with it. All in all, a good deal.
Sorry canned tomatoes, we’re done.
(photo: Michael Hawkins, Wicked Ideas)
Basic tomato sauce
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and very roughly chopped
8 to 10 fresh tomatoes, rough-chopped
salt and pepper to taste
Heat olive oil in a fry pan that has a lid (yes, you want the surface area of a fry pan over a sauce or soup pot, but those will also work, they’ll just take longer) over medium heat for a few minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for a minute. Add the chopped tomatoes and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and cover the pan. Reduce heat to low and let simmer for 5 minutes, covered. This will evenly soften the tomatoes and release a lot of liquid. Simmer uncovered on medium-low heat for 15 minutes or so to reduce the liquid. Pass the tomatoes through a food mill to remove seeds and skins and your sauce is ready. I like to add a little liquid smoke, fresh basil and dried oregano to use the sauce as a pizza sauce.
Eggs in Tomato Sauce
1.5 cups prepared tomato sauce
Fresh grated parmesan cheese to cover each egg
Fresh chopped basil to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Red chili flakes (optional)
Bring the tomato sauce to a simmer in a fry pan that has a lid. Reduce heat to medium low once the sauce is bubbling. Crack the four eggs into the pan, trying to keep them from touching each other. Season each egg with a scant pinch of salt and pepper, then top each with a tablespoon or so of fresh-grated parmesan cheese. Sprinkle in the chopped basil and red chili flakes (if using). Put the lid on the pan and let simmer for about three to four minutes until the egg white is just set and the cheese is melted. I like a runny yolk but cook to your preference. Carefully plate the eggs and serve surrounded by the tomato sauce and with toast for dipping.