Whether you got a great deal on a case of tomato paste and you’re trying to use it up or you’re in the middle of cooking a dish and discover there’s no tomato puree in the pantry, you can use tomato paste as a substitute by simply adding a little water. Tomato paste and tomato puree usually only contain Roma tomato puree and citric acid, though the paste is cooked longer so it’s very thick. In contrast, tomato sauce is thinner and has a variety of added spices.
The Legal Definition of Tomato Paste vs. Puree
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says that tomato paste must contain at least 24 percent tomato soluble solids, while tomato puree contains between 8 and 24 percent tomato soluble solids. These tomato concentrates are composed of tomatoes and their juice, excluding the seeds, skin and any other non-tomato materials. Both tomato paste and tomato puree may contain salt, lemon juice, sodium bicarbonate, water spices and flavorings, though most processors only use Roma tomatoes and citric acid.
Use Tomato Paste as a Tomato Puree Substitute
While tomato puree is readily available at the grocery store, it isn’t always convenient to stop cooking and dash out for a can or two. When you need tomato puree and all you have in the pantry is tomato paste, all is not lost. You can dilute a can of tomato paste to make a substitute for tomato puree.
Open the can of tomato paste. Measure out 1/4 to 1/3 cup of the paste and mix with 3/4 cup water. To mask any metallic flavor, heat a little oil and add the puree. You can also add onion, garlic or other spices to the mixture. Cook for several minutes. Substitute the paste and water mixture in a 1-to-1 ratio for the tomato puree.
Use Canned Tomatoes to Make Puree
You can use other tomato products as a tomato puree substitute. Open a can of tomatoes, whole, crushed or diced, and pour it into the blender. Blend the tomatoes and liquid until smooth. Pour the puree through a strainer to remove the seeds and any bits of skin. If the blended mixture is a little too thin, pour it into a saucepan and simmer gently until it reaches the right consistency. Stir the mixture regularly to prevent scorching.
Make Your Own Tomato Puree
If you have an abundance of fresh tomatoes, you can make your own tomato puree. While plum tomatoes, such as Romas, are usually used by commercial and home canners, you can use any variety of tomato to make your own puree. Wash your tomatoes thoroughly; then remove the stem end. Cut an “X” on the bottom of each tomato to make them easy to peel.
Fill a large pot with water and bring it to a boil. Using tongs, place the tomatoes in the boiling water. Cook for at least 5 minutes and up to 15 minutes. Remove the tomatoes from the boiling water and put them into a bowl of ice water.
Peel the tomatoes after they cool and the skin splits. At this point, you can slice the tomatoes into quarters and remove the seeds, or wait until after you puree them and then strain the puree to remove the seeds. Put the seeded or whole tomatoes into your blender or food processor. Puree the tomatoes.
Add 1/2 cup vinegar, 1/2 cup sugar and 1 tablespoon salt for every 2 pounds of fresh tomatoes to the puree to add flavor and extend the storage time. Pour the puree into a large pan and bring to a boil; then simmer for 30 minutes to an hour. Once the tomato puree reaches the right thickness, you can use it in your recipe, pour it into smaller containers to refrigerate or freeze, or pour it into canning jars and process them in a hot water bath.
Tomato Puree vs. Sauce
While tomato puree is cooked for a short time, tomato sauce contains added water and is usually simmered longer. It has a thinner consistency than puree. It may also contain a variety of other ingredients, including water, salt, sugar, onion, garlic, and Italian or Mexican herbs and spices. You can thin tomato puree and add spices to use it as a substitute for tomato sauce.
Ruth de Jauregui is the author of The Soul of California - Cooking for the Holidays. She spent five summers working in the Napa Valley as a catering assistant, mostly for weddings and special events at the various wineries. While working in San Francisco for William (Bill) Yenne at American Graphic Systems, she assisted in the design and publication of several cookbooks. In addition to her interest in food and cooking, de Jauregui has several nonfiction garden books and her first novel in the works.