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ISO: Local - Best Canned Tomatoes for Italian Sauce

Hey guys - I have a mission, and I hope some chowhounds can help me.

My son, who has gone through hell & back again (gf's son was taken by her drug addict-ex, who lied to the court, etc. & it took a yr of red tape to get him back), has asked me to make him (his words) a "huge vat of sauce." Now that things are finally at a pretty normal state with all of us, I guess he's craving the comfort food of his own youth - growing up, we always had sauce (Italian red sauce, known as gravy in *my* younger days) with everything in it.

He's chipping in what he can, but all of our moneys are tight right now - so I'm trying to find the best deals for my ingredients. And by best deals, I mean best quality for least amount of money, as I want this to be terrific for him, of course.

I think local sausages has pretty much been covered her on Chowhound - I figured I'd look at McKinnon's (I'd get the hamburg for the meatballs on the same trip of course), or take a look at DePasquale's in Newton (haven't been there, but it's close to me - I'm in Watertown now). I've already located the Marguerita Pepperoni - but I'm hoping I don't have to pay top dollar (translated: Stop & Shop price) for the canned tomatoes.

Usual brand we used (when my kids were little) was Pastene (my mom used it so there's a big nostalgia factor going on here), and my now passed away SO used to use 7-11 brand, which he'd get at restaurant supply places. I haven't seen this for a long time, and the place he used to purchase it is now gone.

So if anyone knows of someplace local selling either of those brands at a decent price (I don't have either a Costco or B.J.'s membership anymore), or if you want to share another brand that's good - I'd appreciate it. Otherwise, I guess I'll just bite the bullet & pay S & S or Shaw's prices. Ouch!

Thanks to all for any suggestions!

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  1. Well, you should check Market Basket first and always. The Chelsea mother ship is wonderful, and not too far from Watertown.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Karl S

      I agree, Karl - but I checked the flyer online & tomatoes weren't on sale. The Chelsea mother ship wears me out!! Years ago I would have loved it, but now I don't shop for as many now that the chicks have (mostly) flown from their nests... and trying to find stuff there wears me out. It's harder because I'm not familiar with the layout of the store, and there's so much there..

    2. I'd say go for Parmalat in boxes, but too bad you just missed all really good tomatoes that are really local this summer.

      6 Replies
      1. re: tatsu

        Yeah, tell me about it. If only he had mentioned of this a month ago. Well, I did have a tomato "garden" this year. I put it in quotes because my tomatoes were so sad...so very sad... that I don't think it qualified for garden-status.

        I would think Parmalat would be too expensive. I need a couple of gallons at least.

        1. re: threedogs

          I don't think local tomatoes have been that great this season. Too much rain. Bad for sauce. Last year was a great season. Seasons vary in quality. A lot.

          1. re: Karl S

            That's true - I've had really bad seasons back when I used to really garden. I didn't get a chance to use a good amt of compost this year (and my heart wasn't really in it, either), so I was thinking that was why. Planted some canning tomatoes but they tasted super bland.

            1. re: Karl S

              I would check Russos for reasonable priced bulk canned tomatoes for sauce starter.

              My tomatoes garden is fantastic this year. The bumper crop is still bearing lots of fruit and the late season harvest particularly tasty. I switched to Earth Boxes this year to fantastic results. I am going to leave in the ground for flowers going forward. All veg gardening will be in the boxes.

            2. re: threedogs

              This is not a sure thing, but if you live near an Ocean State Job Lot with a decent food section, I've found on occasion the Parmalat boxed tomatoes for about $1.50-$2 / box. I try to grab a box or two whenever I see it.

              1. re: threedogs

                While, sauce from fresh tomatoes is great, if he is really craving the nostalgic sauce of his youth, stick with the canned such as Pastene Kitchen-Ready.

            3. depasquales is the best in the area. tell maria "box of sweet" and she will box up 5 pounds of real fresh italian sausage for under 20usd. they have a lot of canned tomatoes, but i am unsure of how much of a "deal" they are .i keep my eye open at s&s and buy tuttorosso when they are on sale.

              1 Reply
              1. re: hyde

                Sounds great, hyde! That's a good price for sausage. I used to stock up on tomatoes when they were on sale - but I haven't made sauce in ages. Got away from it. Lesson learned - they keep, of course!

              2. Market Basket has great prices but so does Russo's in Watertown. The store is packed and you have to look on the shelves below the fresh produce. I can't really recommend a brand because I"m all over the map and just doing fresh now (and they are still around)....maybe someone else can recommend a brand sold at Russo's. I read about the "6 in 1" brand on chowhound home cooking and bought a can at russo's but haven't tried it yet.

                One trick for getting in more flavor from canned plum tomatoes is to take them out of the liquid and broil or roast them to get a little bit of charred flavor in. I'd also suggest searching and posting on the home cooking board. S&S and Shaw's often have sales on canned tomatoes but I think Market Basket will always have the best every day price.

                good uck to your family. sounds like an awful situation. For me, homemade tomato soup with grilled cheese does it.

                1. long ago i did an extensive search for best canned plum tomatoes. i still stand by that outcome- Pastene imported Italian Plum Tomatoes. I do get the large #10 6 lb cans at BJ's (you don't have to have a membership; you can get a pass for one day, and also we rcve, regularly in the mail, 6 week passes. For a few yrs i would make enormous batches of marinara w/ bushels of plum toma. from verrill farms, but honestly, i am just as happy with the Pastene version i make.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: opinionatedchef

                    Did you record the brands you tried, OC? Would love to know, if you did!

                  2. This week, 28 oz cans of Redpack Tomatoes are on sale at Stop and Shop for a dollar (Regular price $1.95). It is a good budget choice.

                    Not sure whether it is a month long sale or ends on Thursday. Good Luck.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Gigihsu

                      That's a good price - not sure about that brand, though. Can't remember if I ever tried them (brain doesn't work like it used to, lol). Thanks!

                    2. Pastene is the best of the best in canned tomatoes and the cheapest place I know to get them is Market Basket..even when they are not on sale. I have also seen McKinnon's put Pastene products on sale so you may want to check their sale flyer.
                      In the unusual event that Market Basket is out of the Pastene products that I want..the Market Basket store brand is very good and a lot cheaper.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: BlueMagic

                        Good to know about MB's store brand. I think I'm going to stay closer to home, to save on gas - and my sanity. I really hate driving these days. Besides, I'm going to use my son's car, what I only half jokingly refer to as "the death mobile," lol. Of course, if I find I need to go to Chelsea for something else, and go off hours (like at night), I'm sure I can survive the car drive, lol.

                        Haven't been there for awhile, but I would expect their prices are better than most any other store. Eventually (can't do it now), I want to make monthly trips to Market Basket & my fav, Price Rite, and stock up. So, so much cheaper - but I can't do that right now.

                        If I can get a day pass at B.J.'s, that'll probably be my best bet, as it's almost around the corner from me.

                        1. re: threedogs

                          A box of 7 cans of Pastene tomatoes (1 lb 12 oz) was $7.99 at Market Basket in B'rica.

                          1. re: three of us

                            That's a great price! Don't think I should attempt driving in the Death Mobile all the way to Billerica, though. Although, I've driven it all the way to Maine before.. (I do have AAA, but I've called them so much I may have met and even possibly exceeded their coverage, lol).

                            1. re: threedogs

                              I would guess one Market Basket is the same as any other MB. No need to come to Billerica.

                      2. My favorite is the Pastene San Marzano DOP. I usually get them at Stop & Shop or Roche but I found them today at Walmart for a little cheaper.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: hto44

                          Me, too. But they are spendy, no matter what.

                        2. For sauce, I would stick to the DOP San Marzano canned tomato, regardless of price. Since you are in Watertown, I would suggest looking at Russo's for them. The Whole Foods in Bedford sells the Famouso brand, which is DOP with the grower's ID and EU seals on the label. These sell for about $4.39 / 28 oz can, high but not bad considering the quality.

                          For fresh tomatoes, I just bought 3 lbs of fresh zebra roma's that were brilliant for sauce from Nourse Farms ($2/lb) (http://noursefarms.com/, they go to local area farmers markets). I have also gotten good fresh sauce tomatoes this year at Verrilll Farms in Concord (San Marzano, Monica).

                          9 Replies
                          1. re: Highland Park

                            Uhhhh, did you read the original post stating that in fact price IS an issue? SRSLY.

                            1. re: StriperGuy

                              Interesting...I would think that given that fuel is nearly $4.00/gallon he would want to stick close to Watertown. Hence the suggestion for Russo's. Unless he's making huge quantities of sauce, I don't see how a slightly lower price for canned tomatoes equates to much savings.

                              1. re: Highland Park

                                Ugh.. yeah - well, I'm doing the shopping & I'm a she (just wanna make that clear..lol). In our house, a vat is equal to one or even two #10 cans, so I don't think I'll be buying cans of 28 ounces for $4 each - probably ever. I like knowing good brands, though, so when & if I find a deal, I can pick them up (like at the Restaurant Depot, or another restaurant supply place); I've read some threads about quality canned tomatoes on PizzaMaking.com forum - lots of good info there, too.

                                If I can, I'm going to check out the Farmer's Market for some fresh tomatoes - for me. I think sticking w/Pastene for my kid is the best for now, and B.J.'s is nearby. He loves good quality, but the nostalgia factor is a big consideration - plus, he has a few (lol - that's an understatement) pet peeves - the one I almost forgot, is that he hates chunky tomatoes in the sauce, & I don't want to spend extra time crushing tomatoes for him.

                                1. re: Highland Park

                                  Again you obviously did not bother to actually READ the original post, and I quote:

                                  "...has asked me to make him (his words) a 'huge vat of sauce'."

                                  1. re: StriperGuy

                                    Huge is not defined in the OP. The way I read it is that the sauce is for a small group, not an army. Since 1 28 oz can of canned tomatoes makes enough sauce for 1 lb of pasta, and since the sauce lasts about 4-7 days refrigerated, I cannot see how such small group could consume so much sauce. At any rate, I'm just trying to be helpful and not interested in arguments.

                                    1. re: Highland Park

                                      second paragraph, first sentence, huge vat. And sauce freezes perfectly. No need to use all at once.

                                      1. re: Highland Park

                                        Just trying to more clearly define my stated needs: the huge vat *is* more likely for a small army, since my son is 6'2", does weight lifting & has the appetite to match. Plus, yes, he'll freeze (I'll take some, too) what he doesn't use all at once. Sauce in our house doesn't always go with pasta, too - you eat it with the meatballs, the sausages, the pepperoni, ribs (when added - don't think I'll add them this time to keep a lid on my and his costs down a bit)... you eat it plain, in a bowl. It should come out that good. Plus, when you add all that meat, it soaks up the tomatoes, so you need much more than if you were making it plain.

                                        Besides, I just can't justify spending that much for tomatoes under any circumstance, since I know the mark-up, and would prefer to try to get some wholesale, if I had no other choice. Just can't do it.

                                  2. re: StriperGuy

                                    San Marzano's do go on sale and are worth stocking up on or if possible using a groupon to buy. That's what I did with my recent WF groupon- the 10 bucks for 20 bucks worth of food. While a diehard believer in Pastene ground tomatoes for many years I do like these pricy tomatoes better.

                                    1. re: Berheenia

                                      I keep a close watch on Groupons, yet managed to miss the WF one. Been getting a lot of bargains (I had a credit for a big item I bought a yr & a half ago - so it feels like 'free' lol) w/that & LevelUp. Wish there were more grocery store bargains on those type of sites!

                                2. You may find Pastene at a reasonable price at McKinnon's. I've seen the huge cans for 4.99. And since you are in watertown, you may find some canned tomatoes at Russo's that are reasonable. But I'm going to bet you'll do best at McKinnon's.

                                  1. OP maybe interested in this, from the Davis Sq livejournal. Looks like it more about the process than the results, but 100lbs is 100lbs!

                                    What: Tomato canning @ Parts and Crafts
                                    When: This Saturday, September 24, from 12-2 p.m.
                                    Where: 155 Powder House Blvd. (basement of Clarendon Hill Presbyterian Church)
                                    Who: Kids, adults, and curious people
                                    Cost: $5 suggested donation (depending on how much we have, and how much you want to take home)


                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: emannths

                                      Wow - this is an awesome find! Something I most certainly wouldn't have found on my own! Only problem I'd have is transportation (I don't want to drive & try to park there), unless I can just get a ride home. I might do this anyway, as it sounds like my kind of fun!

                                    2. OK Three dogs, I've been deleted some, but .....let's just cut to basics. If what your son and his family needs is tomato gravy, frankly, if you cook it enough it will do. Add some tomato paste and I always disliked the sharp tomato taste of cheap tomatoes with lots of paste, add some grated carrots, pureed, or a bit of sugar. Since $$$ are an issue, you can't go with the "best" ...try adding some white or red wine, the alcohol will cook out, or, my favorite trick, red peppers roasted and pureed. this may not be the taste your son is looking for, so I can't be sure, but you can find jarred roasted peppers at Russo's and other places.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Madrid

                                        Good suggestions - I was going to forget to add the wine!! I always used wine in my big-vat sauces. And yes, I would keep some tomato paste around JUST in case the canned tomatoes weren't up to par (no matter what the brand, it can vary, because - well, their tomatoes!). The pepper flavor gives the sauce a different flavor, so I'll leave that out, but def need the wine. (sheesh - I'm THAT rusty!)

                                        Pretty much sure I'm going to stick w/the Pastene at B.J.'s, esp. since the weather is so rainy right now (and looks like it'll be like that on Sat, too). My strength isn't as great in this weather. Yuk. Love the fall but not looking forward to the winter.

                                        Btw, my email addy is in w/my info - feel free to send me an email if you'd like! Originally, I *was* going to ask you some stuff about counseling for my grandson (thinking maybe you have experience w/that w/your son), but she ended up getting a place on the North Shore. Of course, you know this is going to get deleted (hopefully AFTER you read it, lol).