A few weekends ago my kids were invited to a birthday party at a friend’s house. The party was lots of fun (complete with an appearance by Batman!), and, as an added bonus, the parents offered to send us home with a bag full of garden fresh tomatoes. As a tomato lover and a wannabe gardener, I was ecstatic. I think my exact words were, “please give me all the tomatoes – they will definitely not go to waste at my house!”
You can probably see where this is going. We started out strong – enjoying the most delicious BLTs that evening for dinner. And my tomato loving 2-year-old ate a few slices over the next few days. But all other plans I had for the tomatoes kept falling through. A simple but delicious tomato sandwich with just mayo – great idea but no bread and no time to go to a store with good bread choices. Pasta with sauce made out of fresh tomatoes – great idea but zilch energy when I got home from work after a long day of meetings and pumping in the bathroom. What my beautiful fresh tomatoes did give me, however, were fruit flies. And as the tomatoes sat longer and longer the fruit flies multiplied and multiplied, until finally I got fed up and had to throw the rest away (sadly the rapidly reproducing fruit flies were harder to get rid of).
At first I was really disappointed in myself – in a word where “eat local” is perhaps the coolest trend, who lets garden fresh tomatoes go to waste? Don’t I profess to love farmers markets and eating locally and seasonally? Don’t I always want to join a CSA? Aren’t I always tempted to buy seasonal cookbooks and cook beautiful things from seasonal food blogs? If I knew I was going to die (or lose my taste buds) tomorrow, would I want to eat the freshest food possible for my last meal? Yes, yes to all of that.
But … the reality is I am in a canned tomatoes season of life. I have 3 tiny kids – 1 of whom is completely reliant on me for his entire food intake. I have a full time job. My husband has a full time job. We need to buy a new car. My older kids go to a wonderful preschool that requires parental involvement (more on that soon). My husband is coaching my oldest son’s flag football team. And it would be an understatement to say my middle son is not a great sleeper. We do our best to prioritize the things that matter to us – and that definitely includes eating meals together – but right now we just don’t have the time or energy (or the money now that we’re paying for childcare for 3) to eat seasonally all the time. Canned tomatoes, however, can be bought on Amazon (or you know your local grocery store) and always get used in my house.
And you know what? I’m OK with that. Because when you’re not comparing canned tomatoes to fresh ones, they’re pretty darn good and quite versatile. Take the iconic and super simple recipe for Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce, which can be made with fresh or canned tomatoes. When you make it with canned tomatoes, literally all you do is (1) simmer a 28 ounce can of peeled tomatoes (cut up with their juices – look for San Marzano tomatoes but any work) with 1 small, white onion (cut and peeled in half), 5 tablespoons of butter, and a pinch of salt; (2) cook uncovered on medium heat for about 45 minutes; (3) discard the onion; and (4) toss with cooked pasta (and shaved parmesan and/or with any protein you wish). And that’s it! Easy, delicious, no fruit flies or guilt required.
Do you have any favorite recipes using pantry ingredients? Please share!