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Best tomatos for making pasta sauce?

I know this is a matter of taste, but I can't seem to find any good tomatoes in stores during winter, let alone the kind one would use to make a sauce. For a simple but authentic Italian tomato sauce for pasta and pizza, what do experts use?

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  1. San Marzano, or Muir Glen (fire roasted, esp), depends on whether I want to pay $6 a can or $1 a can.

    5 Replies
    1. re: chowser

      Can? I was talking fresh tomatoes. Are fresh tomatoes not as noticeably better when making sauces?

      1. re: foodsmith

        It's winter where I am. Iin the summer, I'll do a quick "sauce" where I add chopped fresh tomatoes to olive oil, basil, garlic and barely cook; or something along the lines of a caprese. But, if it's a longer simmer, canned works better as others have pointed out. I have, in the summer, made roasted tomato sauce which I really like, esp. for pizza topping.

        1. re: foodsmith

          It's the wrong time of year in the US for fresh tomatoes, and even in the summer, most supermarket tomatoes are garbage. If you want sauce right now, use canned whole or crushed tomatoes (Glen Muir is really good, also Trader Joe's if there's a store in your area). I grow my own tomatoes in the summer, but use canned when home grown or farmer's market are not an option. Don't think I've bought a supermarket tomato in 5 years. With canned tomatoes the manufacturer doesn't need to worry about how the tomatoes look, so taste takes a higher priority compared to store bought.

          Bottom line: If it's not locally grown, "fresh" is not likely to mean "tastes better".

          When you can find fresh, local tomatoes, look for a Roma or other "paste" tomato. They tend to be more oblong rather than round and if you cut them in cross section have just 2 chambers rather than 6 or more for regular tomatoes. Talk to your green grocer for more info.

          1. re: foodsmith

            No, fresh tomatoes are NOT noticeably better when making sauces unless you grow them yourself OR you have a good buddy that doesn't mind giving away his/her gold.

            Muir Glen canned tomatoes all the way - they are fantastic. I use the crushed tomatoes. Crushed tomatoes with basil are a good choice.

          2. re: chowser

            Plum or Roma tomatoes are the best for making great sauce. Unfortunately, unless you know a grower or grow your own, it is hard to find great fresh tomatoes for making sauces. Certainly not in the supermarket. You are much better going with a high quality canned tomatoes. Some of the best canned tomatoes I've ever used are the Muir Glenn brand. However, they are not the most consistent and vary year to year and season to season. I would still recommend trying them. If you find a batch that are good, buy a whole bunch of cans. The best canned tomato based on quality and consistency are the San Marzano variety from Italy. They come in a variety of brands, Cento is the most popular and most available. Just make sure they are the real deal from Italy. Get either of these tomatoes whole in a can and then crush them by hand

          3. Experts don't use fresh tomatoes for sauce. They use canned ones. That's your biggest problem. You don't really need all the fancy D.O.P San Marzano regional tomatoes, just look for whole peeled canned tomatoes in your grocery store.

            People here will tout their favorite brands but the ones you use are the ones YOU like best. The biggest key is just using canned tomatoes rather than fresh.

            29 Replies
            1. re: HaagenDazs

              Bingo. Fresh tomatoes actually don't make good sauce. Buy some canned whole, or crushed (if you like a thicker sauce or are lazy) tomatoes and go from there.

              Tomato sauce is actually very easy to make. Here's a simple recipe:

              1 28 oz can of tomatoes, crushed or whole
              2-3 cloves garlic, minced
              1/4c olive oil
              1tbsp red wine vinegar
              Salt to taste

              Place the olive oil and garlic in a cold pan and heat over medium heat until you can smell the garlic. Add in the tomatoes, lightly crushing the whole tomatoes with your hands or a potato masher if you used whole tomatoes. Simmer for 15 minutes, then add salt to taste. Remove from heat, then add vinegar to bring some "pop" to the sauce.

              You can tweak from there--adding herbs (go easy and add at the end if they are fresh), sauteing an onion first, or adding a pinch of chile flakes in with the garlic (a personal favorite).

              1. re: aravenel

                But in the film Goodfellas, it took all day to make the sauce, remember? He had to have his brother constantly stir the pot. Was that BS? I really don't know which is why I'm asking. Thx.

                1. re: foodsmith

                  my friend grows tomatoes aplenty in the summer and only uses fresh if she is making a quick tomato basil sauce. She peels the tomatos and chops them and cooks the sauce very quickly. The remaining tomatoes go through the machine and she freezes the puree before she uses it. Otherwise, the sauce is very watery

                  1. re: foodsmith

                    Personally I think the longer you simmer the sauce the better it comes out, but even quickie sauce comes out fine.

                    1. re: foodsmith

                      Simmering longer certainly won't hurt, but it's still excellent even after 15 minutes. Keep in mind that canned foods are already cooked beyond well done.

                    2. re: aravenel

                      I've been enjoying progresso this time of year.

                    3. re: HaagenDazs

                      This is very intriguing. I had not known that. Well is it always been this way? Back 100 years ago, what did the moms in Italy make their sauces from? Canned tomatoes that they canned the year before? Seriously would love to know the history on this.

                      1. re: foodsmith

                        Canning has been around since Napoleon (prize to inventor for inventing way to feed troops), preserving food, primarily with fermentation (wine, cheese, bread starter), drying & smoking, etc.

                        If you're making tomato sauce from scratch, first skin (drop in boiling water, pull out, poke hole and pull skin off), then remove the "caviar" (gel and seeds), and you are left with the pulp, used to make the sauce. Lemon/citric acid added if too sweet, sugar if too sour.

                        And the reason for constantly stirring the pot is to keep the sauce from burning, the flavour of which is likely to seep through the entire batch very quickly.

                        1. re: foodsmith

                          Well think of it this way and I mean this in the nicest way possible:

                          You and everyone else who purchase standard grocery store tomatoes in January are not doing yourselves, or anyone else for that matter, a favor. Tomatoes are grown in the summer. January does not equal tomato season. The only reason you can walk into a grocery store now and see tomatoes in the produce bin is because of out of country and out of state shipping. Fresh, uncooked, summer, in season tomatoes are not the best for tomato sauce. Fresh, seasonal tomatoes should be enjoyed with maybe a little salt, pepper, oil and vinegar. Tomatoes found in the grocery store in January (and most of the rest of the year more often than not) are good for... well mostly nothing.

                          The best cooking tomatoes are what are referred to as paste tomatoes. The most common is the Roma tomato. (See: San Marzano tomatoes).

                          And for future reference, I would look for recipes from people like Mario Batali rather than a Hollywood movie script.


                          1. re: HaagenDazs

                            I figure that recipe books are geared mostly to make people's lives easy and they don't tell you the real secrets. That's why the cultural reference in the film held some curiosity to me.

                            Thanks for all the other info!

                            1. re: foodsmith

                              I have to disagree with that. Cookbooks are not 2nd best replacements for anything. They are informative, thought out reference guides and they are quite useful!

                              Go buy Thomas Keller's The French Laundry Cookbook and tell me that it was written "to make people's lives easy."

                              1. re: HaagenDazs

                                HD, I think that the FL cookbook is a bit of an exception, but I do love reading the annual dinner another CHer does by the book.

                                For easy and friendly cooking--technique, history, and methodology, look to the tomes by Pepin.

                                1. re: Caralien

                                  Well sure I'm exaggerating, but to say that cook books are basically a tool to make people's lives easy is just as silly, if not more so.

                                  As for Pepin books that are very useful try "Complete Techniques." One of the best books covering French technique and recipes that was ever written in my opinion.

                                2. re: HaagenDazs

                                  This is true, there are some great books. Don't get me wrong, I just meant more with guys like Mario B., I don't really know of those TV chef cookbooks (no matter how legit they are in real life) usually give you the actual recipes they would use to cook in their top restaurants, usually they are tailored to be more doable at home.

                                  That said I rely heavily on several books these days from Michel Roux (Sauces, Eggs and one on desserts). I also have a book from le cordon bleu, so yeah I'm with you.

                                  But I'm not so knowledgeable about the best Italian books and even Michel Roux's book on sauces tends to gear towards making things in less time than a professional chef.

                                  1. re: foodsmith

                                    I love Batali's book Molto Mario. Everything I've ever made in it has been a success, and there's a good range of easy-->hard recipes in there from which to choose from.

                                    (That said, just because it's easy doesn't mean it won't be delicious.)

                                    Oh, and as for tomatoes: I look for a nice can of San Marzanos. Here in Brooklyn, they're everywhere and pretty cheap.

                                    1. re: ScienceMike

                                      Just moved from Bay Ridge to Princeton, and I miss the variety and quality of canned tomatoes (and food). Found a new favourite in NJ Fresh, which is a lot sweeter than what we were used to in Brooklyn.

                                      (fyi--I don't work for the farm boards, just food hungry person)

                                3. re: foodsmith

                                  I think it was Mary Ann Esposito's show, "Ciao Italia", that explained that the American idea of cooking spaghetti sauce all day came from poor Italian immigrants. Since they had to scrimp, they used cheap, tough cuts of meat in their sauce, and had to cook it for many hours until it fell apart.

                                  When I first began cooking, I just assumed that the longer the sauce cooked, the better. In recent years, I've shortened the time considerably. My non-authentic sauce contains ground beef, Italian sausage, bell pepper, basil, canned crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, mushrooms, garlic and LOTS of onion. I judge when it's done based on how sweet and tender the onion has become. In summer, after a trip to the farmers' market, I sometimes make a quick sauce with diced pancetta, fresh tomato, bell pepper, onion/scallion, and garlic. One of the best, and definitely the prettiest, was yellow cherry tomatoes, red bell pepper strips, shallots, and garlic scapes. It cooked in about 15 minutes.

                                  All these styles have different flavor profiles, but they are all good.

                                4. re: HaagenDazs

                                  HD, here in central Florida we get 2 tomato crops annually - the winter harvest is actually righ now; I'm paying 99 cents a pound. I don't know what portion leaves the state for grocery markets. A lot of it is contract growing for processed food makers. The bad news is that when either harvest is ripe and abundant, the good prices only last a couple weeks.

                                  1. re: Veggo

                                    Yeah, you're right. I know Florida has tomatoes this time of year but lots of people... I'd be willing to bet most people don't have access to the kinds of produce you can get there. Florida is a different animal. I can walk into an IHOP and get fresh squeezed OJ that is local and super fresh. Unheard of here in Atlanta. Unfortunately that kind of freshness is just not the case in the majority of stores in the US. People buy their produce at the regular grocery store and no matter what time of year the tomatoes can be pretty dismal even in Georgia which isn't far off. People just get so used to the crap that is put on the shelves in the produce section and they don't know any better. The result is dry, pinkish-white, mealy tomatoes.

                                    True farmer's markets and home grown vines- that's a different story!

                                    1. re: HaagenDazs

                                      HD, we in Florida are fortunate to have a lot of fresh local produce a lot of the time. But there are still weird anomalies. Last week I needed a perfect, ready to eat tomato, but my 99 cent Florida ones needed a few more days on the sill. So I bought one perfect one for $2.89/ lb...from Canada!
                                      Also, Florida is said to be the second largest mango growing state, but nearly all the mangoes I buy here are from South America. Go figure.

                                  2. re: HaagenDazs

                                    Have you tried Marcella Hazan's recipe using only fresh tomatoes, onion, butter & salt? There's nothing like it and I wouldn't dream of making it with canned tomatoes (actually I did this once and was disappointed). It's only for late summer vine-ripened tomatoes. I was skeptical when I read the recipe but am now a convert. My first meal on my first visit to Italy was a giant bowl of fresh fettucine with a simple tomato sauce and a ton of grated parm (enough to raise an eyebrow at). I thought I was in heaven but was never able to duplicate that meal either in a restaurant or in my own kitchen. Until I made Hazan's recipe. You really should try it. It's a whole other breed of tomato sauce and it's simply genius. Not at all like the deep, rich, garlicky tomato sauce you would put on spaghetti w/ meatballs, which has its merits too, but as I said, this is a whole other breed.

                                    1. re: soniabegonia

                                      Yes, but it is important to use meaty plum tomatoes, not watery round tomatoes, in that recipe. Canned plums are better than fresh round in it. And you must use the food mill for it. I still have 2 containers of it from September....

                                      1. re: Karl S

                                        I've used both and found them equally good. Actually, I think I actually prefer the round ones by a slight margin. They are naturally sweeter and more tender. And I don't use (or own) a food mill. Also, I don't even peel the tomatoes like it says in the recipe. I just cut the tomatoes in half along the equator & squeeze out the seeds. After a few minutes of cooking, the skins just slip right off. It just saves me that extra step of parboiling & chopping or milling the tomatoes. Once soft enough, I just mash the tomatoes with a potato masher and it comes out just fine. Yes, I've taken liberties with the recipe, but all l I know is, it tastes exactly like the stuff I had in Italy and I am transported to that moment.

                                      2. re: soniabegonia

                                        I love love love that recipe! I used it with a can of Cento san marzano tomatoes. After all, what's easier than dumping half a stick of butter and a whole onion in a pot with a can of tomatoes. Never made it with fresh ones, but it was great and SO easy with canned. I do think the canned tomatoes have to be really good to begin with, though.

                                        1. re: knitterbetty

                                          I "third" Marcella's tomato sauce recipe, but, just FYI, the recipe actually calls for fresh OR canned tomatoes. I always use San Marzano's since there are so few ingredients in it anyway.

                                          For the OP - I highly recommend Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking as a great intro to Italian cooking.

                                          1. re: LizATL

                                            Hazan's books are more than an intro. jfood still learns from them decades later.

                                    2. re: foodsmith

                                      Yes, traditionally, as the tomatoes are harvested in late summer and early fall, there are entirely too many to eat fresh. Most are canned and preserved for use throughout the year.

                                      Also keep in mind that the stereotype of Italians living on red sauces is generally not true. There are parts of Italy that eat lots of tomatoes, but there are more parts that don't. The red sauce thing is primarily Italian-American.

                                    3. re: HaagenDazs

                                      An interesting side note - there was a taste test of whole canned tomatoes on America's Test Kitchen. They found that the US produced tomatoes tasted better than the Italian imports, because the US tomatoes were packed in juice, and the imports were packed in "sauce".

                                      Apparently this difference is due to import classifications. It's cheaper, duty-wise, for the Italian companies to get tomato "sauce" into the US than it is to get tomatoes in juice. The taste testers liked the juice-packed tomatoes best, saying that the cooked sauce the imports were packed in negatively affected the flavor. Unfortunately I can't remember which brand they ultimately deemed the best.

                                      1. re: egusto

                                        This is not comparing apples to apples. If you tasted US tomatoes in juice, and Italian tomatoes in juice, I greatly prefer the Italian brands.

                                      1. I think Progresso work really well.

                                        1. If you can get it, I would highly recommend NJ Fresh crushed tomatoes--$2-4/28oz can.

                                          We picked them up on a lark and they're the sweetest, most like ripe summer tomato off the vine tasting canned tomato I've ever had. Before these, Sclafani was our favourite (cheaper in Bay Ridge than Princeton, however)

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Caralien

                                            Caralien, I live in the Princeton area and I have never seen the NJ Fresh canned tomatoes. Where are they available?

                                          2. First, plum tomatoes make for the best cooking tomatoes that are used for thick sauces, because they have more meat and less juice - by the same token, they tend to be lackluster when eaten uncooked as compared to round tomatoes.

                                            Second, except during the height of summer when you can get fresh in-season field-ripened plum tomatoes, you would do much better with canned or boxed tomatoes. I too recommend the Pomi boxed tomatoes (the strained tomatoes are particularly lovely). Be aware that tomatoes packed in puree have a different flavor than those that do (the Pomi tomatoes are pure 100% tomato, no salt, no puree), and that US import laws actually incentivize foreign canners to include puree, so those tend to be the cheap ones. Cooks Illustrated had an illuminating article in recent years about the effect of different processing techniques on flavor and texture of canned tomatoes, and it's been discussed in other posts.

                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: Karl S

                                              Personally I prefer the San Marzano when I use can. Perhaps it's in my area, I find the choices for canned tomatoes aren't as good as the SM ones. When I do use the SM, I use less seasonings and sugar to adjust the taste.

                                              1. re: gourmet wife

                                                I use Pomi primarily as a base for a sauce, to which I add other ingredients. The San Marzano tomatoes have the best flavor among canned tomatoes. As for trying to replicate something you saw in GoodFellas, it's a movie, not a cooking video. I'm betting that even Mama Scorcese doesn't cook her sauce for an entire day. Mine takes perhaps an hour, and maybe two if I'm after something particularly thick.

                                                I agree with everyone else that fresh tomatoes at this time of the year are horrible. Some of the heirlooms taste okay, but it's better to just wait it out. Last summer, I roasted tomatoes (with an "e", by the way) that I froze and am now using up in sauce .

                                                1. re: brendastarlet

                                                  this thread is really making me look forward to springtime, and more tidbits to try at the Farmer's Market!

                                                  1. re: brendastarlet

                                                    Great idea to freeze roasted tomatoes from the summer. Do you do anything special before freezing (like freeze them in a single layer first, like on a cookie sheet--does it matter)?

                                              2. As anyone who has been to a resturant knows not all "experts" are good cooks.
                                                Try this............
                                                Take 4 pints of fresh small tomatoes (anything but cherry) put them in a shallow pyrex baking dish, cover with 1/4 cup of EVOO, and 4 cloves of garlic (more if you like more)
                                                add fresh ground pepper but don't salt until sauce is done.
                                                Cook at 350 until everything is very soft but not brown.
                                                Transfer to a deep sauce pan and use stick blender to get the sauce to the consistency you desire. Use sea salt to taste and snip very thin ribbons of fresh basil into pot.
                                                Mix with spoon and serve with a good fresh block of parmesan.
                                                I'm no expert, just a good home cook!

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: holldoll

                                                  That sounds quite tasty--roasted tomato sauce. Yum! I am filing your idea for another day. Thanks!

                                                2. My Sicilian grandmother only made fresh sauce in the summer, and then only for special meals. She put up (canned) most of the tomatoes from her garden.

                                                  My parents never used fresh tomatoes for sauce.

                                                  I look for whichever brand has the lease added ingredients.

                                                  I like Cento, whole peeled tomatoes. If the Italian market around the corner didn't carry them, I'd use Hunt's.

                                                  1. Agree you need to use San Marzano or plum tomatoes. Usually, true vine ripened are not available for long and almost never in the average supermarket (yes, I know they have some that claim to be vine ripened.) If you can find good vine ripened, Marcella Hazan's recipe is simple and delicious, it has been discussed earlier. So, generally, you are left with canned plums tomatoes, I am surprised to hear the defense of American canned tomatoes, few of which are plum tomatoes, well maybe some of the very expensive ones. I like the Italian imports, usually 28 oz for $2 or less at the Italian deli or ethnic markets, last ones I bought were "Marconi" and "Racconto" . I like the white lined cans, thats porcelain enamel right? I don't think the long cook times are necessary, just cook till the tomaotes melt down and lose some of the liquid, seasoning to taste. I frequently buy the crushed ones to simplify dealing with squirting tomatoes I am trying to break down anyway.

                                                    5 Replies
                                                    1. re: dijon

                                                      The cans are usually line in plastic, not enamel.

                                                      Regarding American brands, the reason I put up NJ Fresh canned tomatoes is that they're really good--better than what I've tried from either imported or commercial types. It truly was an eye-opener, and I called my husband in to take a spoonful before making a sauce from it because it was so fresh tasting and reminded me of the heirloom tomatoes I tried at some of the Vermont Farmer's Markets. I don't work for the state, but maybe I should be looking for work promoting the local farms instead of other sorts of non-profit environmental positions!

                                                      1. re: Caralien

                                                        dijon or Caralien,
                                                        Do either of you know if all d.o.p San Marzano's come in white plastic-coated cans, or can you recommend specific brands with coated cans? I've had a problem buying some tomatoes in uncoated cans, (probably not d.o.p.,) and having a strong metallic taste in the reduced sauce.

                                                        I'd rather spring for a bit more money and be sure I'm buying a coated can.

                                                        1. re: bear

                                                          I haven't purchased those in awhile, but I believe that all DOP San Marzanos do come in lined cans (the white labeled ones with a simple green and red image of the tomatoes repeated alongside DOP San Marzano)

                                                          1. re: Caralien

                                                            Thanks, Caralien. I do buy those green, red and white tomatoes when I can find them at a somewhat reasonable price, but lately I've also been buying others labelled "d.o.p.", which, from what I understand, means that they have met the standards of the Italian gov. for San Marzanos, both growing and processing. They are pretty pricey, though, but I'm hesitant to buy other tomatoes and take the chance that they have that metallic taste from unlined cans. I'd be more willing to stray from the expensive d.o.p. tomatoes if I knew the cans were lined.

                                                          2. re: bear

                                                            I was kind of hoping we had a can lining expert lurking on here who could expound on can linings. All of the steel cans have linings, I am trying to avoid the plastic lined cans that release BPA, bisphehol a. The white lined cans look like a powder coat of sorts, which essentially would be a porcelain or glass lined can which I suspect would be safest. Even the cans which look like they have a tin or zinc lining are probably also protected with a clear plastic lining, but i am looking for safest. It is not easy to research this even on the internet. The Racconto and Marconi cans did have white linings, Racconto even advertises that on the can, I am keeping track of which have white linings and buying those till I hear otherwise. Muir Glen advertises their safe lining but I don't like the price.

                                                      2. Well, looks like I'm the odd man out on this one.
                                                        After discovering the superior flavor of sauce made from fresh tomatoes, I would only use canned tomatoes if I were desperate.
                                                        When tomatoes are in season, I make a boatload of sauce from them and it is far superior than sauce made from any kind of canned tomatoes. I make a big batch and put it up in canning jars, and then have great homemade sauce for much of the coming year. The one day spent in the kitchen is a very small price to pay for a result that nothing from a can will match.
                                                        The tomatoes come from local farm stands as well as an organic farm a few miles outside of Princeton. I use a combination of different types of ripe tomatoes (and I ripen them even more my paper bagging them for a few days) including plum, Rutgers, and any heirloom varieties that are available. By using different varieties I can get the right ratio of sweet to acidy (a good tomato sauce should have a well defined acid component).
                                                        The sauce from fresh tomatoes is no more watery than any made from canned stuff, and the flavor is ten times better.
                                                        Maybe NJ doesn't have as many farms as it used to, but there are still enough around that grow fantastic tomatoes of many varieties...and with a little planning, the harvest lasts (in jars) into the next year.

                                                        5 Replies
                                                        1. re: The Professor

                                                          please do add these farms to the local princeton site as you see fit.


                                                          1. re: The Professor

                                                            Professor, I do agree, but most folks aren't going to can a year's worth of fresh tomatoes in the summer, so for them "desperate" comes early. For me, the heirarchy is 1. Home grown, 2. locally grown, 3. Canned. Store bought doesn't even make the list. A couple of weeks ago I used the last pint of home grown tomatoes I put up last fall, and locally grown is out of the question, so I too am in the desperate category now. Frankly, tomatoes are just about the only thing I regularly buy in a can.

                                                            For everyone else, do consider canning your own tomatoes. It really is worth the effort.

                                                            1. re: Zeldog

                                                              Canned tomatoes one of the few canned items I buy too, preferring frozen for everything else.

                                                              We have a 3'x3' plot of dirt next to our back porch, so will try to grow some this year.

                                                            2. re: The Professor

                                                              Professor, I agree that a good supply of locally grown romas in a good year is a good argument for canning and I admire you for it. I do can my own salsa, green salsa and some jam/jelly. Last year was a terrible tomato year here in NE Iowa. I live 2 blocks from our local farmer's market and it isn't that easy to come up with a good supply of roma tomaotes for canning even in a good year, not to mention the cost and work involved. I regret buying a home with mature walnut trees that don't allow tomato growing for me. I envy the communal canning facilities the Mormon communities still promote. A food growing industry/culture committed to a quality product with good growing conditons and mass harvest, mass process capabilities is still a good alternative for most of us. The Italian canned tomatoes offer that. I would also ask you to resubmit to a blind taste test.

                                                              1. re: dijon

                                                                I'm always up for a blind taste test...of course perhaps I sounded a little TOO snobby in my post because I have used canned tomatoes when necessary. You do what you have to do sometimes. They really are ok, especially the Romas.
                                                                By the way, I lived in Storm Lake, Iowa for a few years and one thing I did miss during the summers were NJ tomatoes. Because of their notion of what NJ was like, my farmer friends in IA just wondered aloud how we can grow tomatoes in NJ on border to border pavement. LOL! They were shocked when I showed pictures of NJ farmland. Thank god there is still plenty of it...

                                                            3. This is something I learned from watching a Canadian celebrity chef show. Apparently, canned whole tomatoes for cooking are the way to go. Because they go almost straight from the field to canning immediately. While others, such as diced or crushed go through an extra process.

                                                              And this was the most amazing thing I learned (apologies to everyone who knew this already cuz I'll sound like an idiot). All you do is shove your immersion blender straight into your 28-oz can of whole tomatoes and it's all ready for your sauce in seconds. I love it.

                                                              1. At home, (and probably just because I'm lazy) I always used canned tomatoes -but am quite picky about which ones. Living in Spain, believe it or not, it's hard to get good canned tomatoes (imo) - the whole tomatoes are packed in water rather than tomato juice (like the ones I buy in Italy) and lack a real "tomato" taste. On the other hand, the fresh tomatoes in Spain could easily be the best-tasting in the world! So, when my husband & I return to visit his family in Italy, we do a big shop & stock up on canned tomatoes among other things. Like many people have already mentioned, San Marzano are always great, I just add them in whole & then smash them up with a wooden spoon. Another canned tomato that's really tasty are the canned whole cherry tomatoes or "Pomodorini di Collina". They are especially good in quick-cooking sauces.
                                                                Which brings me to another point:

                                                                I worked in an Italian restaurant (in Spain) but all chefs were from Italy, and they always used fresh tomatoes for their basic tomato-basil sauce. Every day boxes of cherry tomatoes, still on the vine, would arrive from the market, and we'd have to wash them, remove them from the vines, and halve them. Then the chefs would just cook them up in some extra virgin olive oil and lots of fresh basil leaves thrown in. they'd only cook briefly, just long enough for them to start to shrivel from the heat.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: msmarabini

                                                                  If you live in the New England area try the Pastene brand of imported plum tomatoes, unfortunately the only come in small cans so I use 4 per recipe. I cook them only for 10 minutes and use a stick blender to blend.

                                                                2. jfood uses canned whole San Marezano like many others here. He does try to check the sodium content as this can vary by brand. Likewise he learned a trick a few months ago. He opens the cans and then he takes each toimato and cuts the "tough end" off before squeezing with his hand into the holding bowl. There seems to be a little bitterness in the stem end. Then after the simmer he takes his immersion blender and purees in the pot. He has also been using 2 oz of cubed and rendered fatback at the beginning of the recipe. Adds a real nice flavor to the sauce. Two weekends ago he and mrs jfood canned 8 jars for them and for little jfood and her roommate. Nothing better than getting a txt message at work "ur marinara sauce is awesome." That's worth all the years of prepping.

                                                                  1. I live in California and have access to good produce year round, but truly good tomatoes are really only available in the summer. I have had success with good canned tomatoes. But when I'm "jonesing" for a good sauce with a fresher taste...I roast cherry tomatoes. There are always good cherry or grape tomatoes available in the winter; I think they come from Mexico. I roast them with some olive oil and garlic, and then use that as the sauce. The next best thing to summer!

                                                                    1. I always thought that long cooking times over low heat was the way to make a proper sauce for spaghetti. Then I saw a program (Alton Brown?) or read a recipe (Marcella Hazan?), cautioning me against long cooking times because the tomato sauce lost its tomatoey flavor.

                                                                      I think the explanation was that the longer you cooked the tomato sauce, the less acidic it became and the sauce lost its "brightness" (crispness, I think). Anyway, I have experimented with a variety of cooking times and, without a doubt, short cooking times are better. There's much more tomato flavor with short cooking times. (This was something I learned after thirty years of cooking my tomato sauce the wrong way! Well, you live and learn.)

                                                                      1. I'm sure I'm an a duplicate here so apologies in advance.

                                                                        I grow and a friend of my grows heirlooms and regular beefsteak and roma and every kind of tomato possible. I use them all.

                                                                        I make tons of sauces. In a similar blog or post What is the best tomato sauce ... it depends. I have four Italian friends and they all make if differently. All from Italy and cook traditionally no cook books.

                                                                        Me, I make lots of sauces, some all yellow, some red, some hot, some sweet. I use all my tomatoes for different sauces.

                                                                        What exact kind of sauce do you want to make ... if traditional ... well there a hundreds of recipes for that too.

                                                                        1. I've heard grocery store tomatoes are picked green and chemically ripened where as canned tomatoes are truely ripened by nature. Soooo, unless buying from a farmer, canned are most likely your best choice.
                                                                          Please let me your thoughts, commentsl, observations.

                                                                          :) hrrrrrr

                                                                          1. While most people use plum tomatoes like "Roma" for sauce, many of those don't taste as good as standard types. "Opalka", an elongated plum type, is an exception. Many standard types like "Andrew Rahart" or "Akers West Virginia" are meaty and make good paste. So do many heart shaped tomatoes like "Reif Red Heart" or "German Strawberry". And if you are sufficiently patient and have only tomatoes with lots of juice, just cook them down longer until it evaporates.

                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                            1. re: DonShirer

                                                                              I hope these will grow in the midwest. I'm going to try growing this year.