You’ll thank us after the fifth red sauce over pasta dinner in a row.

If you have been following the coverage on how to stock your pantry, you know that canned tomatoes are top of everyone’s list. They are a powerhouse ingredient for cooking with some good nutrition to boot, and there is a ton of versatility to this simple product.

Whether you are making a hearty roasted tomato garlic sauce to put on just about any protein or a spicy tomato aioli for sandwiches or salads, canned tomatoes can be the start of a beautiful condiment. Pull out your can opener and remember that homemade creamy tomato soup is just moments away, as is a hearty beef and bean chili.

Shakshuka is sweeping the nation, and canned tomatoes make for a really simple version with eggs poached in tomato sauce. And of course, canned tomatoes stand at the ready to fuel any tasty red sauce over pasta, like this family-friendly penne with chicken tenders.

So! That’s two weeks of quarantine menus notched! But we’re in this for the long haul, so let’s explore with some more creative, off-the beaten path uses for canned tomatoes you may not have thought of.

Creative use #1: Make tomato jam!

Ham and Manchego Sandwiches with Tomato Jam
Credit: Caitlin Bensel

Caitlin Bensel

The tomato, as science tells us, is actually technically a fruit and not a vegetable, and anyone who has eaten a vine-ripened farm-fresh tomato knows that its flavor can lean much sweeter than savory. Which means that tomatoes actually make for a killer jam, like this tomato ginger version. And while there is nothing wrong with smearing this sweet and sour spread on your morning toast or slathering it on a brick of cream cheese or a log of goat cheese for an appetizer, there are other ways to take advantage of its savory/sweet balance. Think about this sandwich with ham and manchego and tomato jam. Want to bring out its sweeter side? What about a cornmeal thumbprint cookie?

Get the recipe: Tomato-Ginger Jam

Creative use #2: Whip up some tomato gravy!

Cat-Head Biscuits with Tomato Gravy
Credit: Photo: Jennifer Davick

Tomato gravy, unlike tomato sauce you might think of for pasta, is a southern staple born of sustenance cookery. This is a a humble, homey sauce that can help stretch a basic, filling carb like a cat-head biscuit into a full meal. But what was born of frugal impulses is so delicious that it is equally at home when used for fancier applications. Serve it over a tenderloin steak, or elevate humble cheese grits to Michelin aspirations by making gorgonzola grits and pouring your tomato gravy over them.

Get the recipe: Tomato Gravy

Creative use #3: Cook up tomato-forward breakfasts and desserts (yes, desserts)!

tomato pudding
Credit: Photo by Stacey Ballis

Tomatoes are so freewheeling they can take you from breakfast to dessert without batting an eye. Whether it is a savory take on a tomato bread pudding with baked eggs on top for a really special way to start your day, or a sweet cobbler style tomato pudding to end your dinner on a sweet note, canned tomatoes will surprise you with their versatility.

Canned tomato shopping tips

When you are shopping for canned tomatoes, look for whole peeled tomatoes packed in tomato puree, which will give you the broadest range of applications. (You can always break down a whole tomato, but you cannot un-crush one.) I try to look for canned tomatoes from Europe, especially Italy, for excellent quality and flavor. Keep cans of whole plum tomatoes and cherry tomatoes in your pantry for even more variety.

How to substitute canned tomatoes for fresh ones

If your recipe calls for fresh tomatoes to be cooked, you can often swap in canned without a problem. Since canned tomatoes are cooked, and fresh will weigh more since they are raw, assume one 15-ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes drained for every pound of raw tomatoes your recipe calls for. Reserve the tomato puree for another use.