Dinner ideas using a can of tomatoes

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Vegetable tagine with couscous

While its Friday night and it might be more tempting to put the tin of tomatoes back in the cupboard, you no longer have to because a can of tomatoes are the start to an easy and filling meal that means you don’t have to go out in the cold or spend a truckload of your hard earned cash. A tin or can of tomatoes are just about the cheapest thing you can buy, with Aldi (Australia) selling diced tomatoes for 59c a can. And if you feel like splurging you can get the diced tomatoes with herbs or a can of the whole tomatoes for a phenomenal 79c a can.

Talk about a bargain!
Even if you’re not on a budget, there are some good reasons for why you should cook with a tin of tomatoes, particularly as cooking food from scratch helps both your waistline and your wallet. But its the versatility of a can of tomatoes that should be the draw card for you.
With a tin of tomatoes you can make any one of the following meals:
  • Curry
  • Casserole/stew/tagine
  • Nachos and salsa
  • Soups
  • Pasta sauces
  • Meatballs and sauce
  • Chilli
  • Tomato sauce
A recent beef casserole I made.

And most of these meals won’t take you that long if it is Friday night and you’re not in the mood to cook.  Here’s a couple of ideas to get you started.

You can find plenty of casserole recipes on the internet, but the basics of a casserole are usually the same.
  1. Brown the meat in a hot pan and then remove the meat from the pan.
  2. Cook your onion and garlic in the same unwashed pan (you want the stuck on meat bits to help the flavour of the casserole) and then add in the spices when the onion is cooked.
  3. Add in the chopped vegetables (larger pieces if you want it to cook for longer – like for a beef casserole – and smaller pieces if you want a quicker meal – like with chicken) and cook them for a few minutes so they are coated in spices.
  4. Throw in a can of diced tomatoes and some beef/vegetable/chicken stock. In the first minute or two when you throw the liquid in scrape your spoon around of the bottom of the pan so that you get the stuck on meat bits off the bottom of the pan (this is called deglazing and adds flavour).
  5. Cook the whole thing on the stove for a few more minutes. If you have a dish the goes from stove to oven place it straight in the oven, and if you don’t transfer it to an ovenproof dish. 
Casserole tips
The timing of a casserole will depend on the type of meat you’re cooking. Sometimes you might want to cook the meat, like a tough piece of beef, for an hour before you add the vegetables whereas if its chicken you can put the vegetables in at the same time. Although harder vegetables will need longer than soft vegetables (i.e. potatoes and carrots need more cooking time to get soft than zucchini). You can add flour when cooking the meat or add it a small amount at a time at the end so that the sauce becomes thicker, more like a gravy rather than water. You can often add wine or beer into a casserole as well though you will need to reduce the amount of stock you put in.
You can always throw some fresh vegetables, like (lettuce or rocket)
or fresh herbs on the top of a casserole when you serve it.

Here’s a couple of casserole recipes you might like to try:
Pasta Sauce

Pasta is pretty easy to come by, and really, so is pasta sauce, but the thin bottled stuff just isn’t the same as something that you can make yourself. To make pasta sauce follow these simple steps, but of course personalise the sauce to your own tastes:
  1. Cook some finely sliced onion in a frypan with some garlic.
  2. When the onions are soft add in the can of tinned tomatoes – put in diced tomatoes for a chunkier sauce or puree diced or whole tomatoes for a smooth sauce.
  3. Boil the sauce for a couple of minutes to evaporate some of the water, then add 1-2 tablespoons of tomato paste and stir it in well.
  4. Add salt, a small amount of sugar and any herbs, spices, vegetables or cheese you like to the sauce and let it cook on a low heat (called simmering) for as long as you like. Longer times give a firmer sauce, shorter times give a wetter sauce.
Pasta sauce tips
Wine can be added to the pan, but do this before you add the tomatoes as you need to cook off the alcohol content before you add the tomatoes. Soft cheeses or cheeses that easily melt are best left to adding right before you take the sauce off the heat (unless its ricotta and you can add that earlier), but hard cheeses like parmesan can be added earlier (or add the parmesan rind and take it out when serving). Salt is essential to bringing the sauce to a nice taste, but a small amount of sugar helps to make the tomato sauce less acidic and more palatable (which means you like the taste better).
Here’s a couple of pasta sauce recipes to try:
  • Basic tomato sauce
  • 25 Pasta sauce recipes. This page includes recipes that use tinned tomatoes, fresh tomatoes and pasta sauces without tomatoes, so you can try different types of pasta sauces on different nights.
  • Linguine with tuna pasta. In this recipe the chef uses passata, which you can buy at supermarkets, but if you don’t have a bottle, puree a tin of tomatoes and use that. 
  • A Really Good Lasagne. This is my basic recipe for making a lasagna. For the vegetarian version put in lentils or keep them out, its up to you, but the lentils look a bit like minced meat, so if you like that go ahead.

The lasagna I make at home

    Question: What else can you do with a tin of tomatoes?

    One year ago on Spiced Anecdotes:
    26 June 2014 – Tea Thursday

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