How to Make Tomato Purée from Fresh Tomatoes

Finished tomato purée fills a glass mason jar. The jar sits on a gray and white marble background
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This week, I made tomato purée during my annual squirreling-away-of-all-the-tomatoes ritual. In the fall or winter, I’ll transform this staple into pasta sauce or pizza sauce or tomato paste or add it to chana masala or minestrone soup or any other recipe calling for fresh tomatoes. Every year in late September or early October, I buy 20-pound cases of tomatoes to process and enjoy well after tomato season ends. So far, I’ve bought two cases and will buy a third this weekend.

Usually, I roast every last tomato (go here for instructions) but one night, while deciding between prepping and sleeping, I chopped up a few pounds of tomatoes, threw them into the slow cooker and chose sleep. By the morning, the tomatoes had softened and condensed. I ran them through my food mill, reduced the ensuing purée over low heat, stored it in a jar and froze it. So easy! I’m definitely adding this to my yearly ritual.

Three baking sheets filled with quartered tomatoes sit on a light colored wooden table. A hand holds a small cutting board with smashed garlic cloves. Fresh tomatoes, basil leaves, garlic and a knife rest in the lower lefthand corner of the image.
After roasting seven trays of quartered tomatoes, I tossed more into the slow cooker and went to bed

Which tomatoes work best?

Choose dense tomatoes such as plum tomatoes and avoid watery varieties such as heirlooms, which will cook down very slowly. The cases I buy are not plum but Early Girl dry-farmed tomatoes. The intense, sweet tomato taste adds so much flavor to dishes but I will look for a case of plum tomatoes next year for this purée.

Special-ish equipment

Slow cooker

I cooked a few batches of tomatoes in a 2-quart (8-cup) slow cooker. (Our Star Wars slow cooker is very small.) You can also slow cook tomatoes in an Instapot set to slow cooker mode.

Food mill

I love my food mill. It easily removes skins and seeds from cooked tomatoes (and other vegetables). I don’t even bother to core my tomatoes when prepping them—the food mill removes any tough parts. But you may not have a food mill or you may not mind tomato skins in your purée. You have a couple of options for processing tomatoes without a food mill.

If you don’t like skins in your tomato purée

  1. Blanch and peel the tomatoes. Core the tomatoes, score the bottoms with a shallow “X” and drop the tomatoes into a pot of boiling water until the skins begin to pull away (about 1 to 2 minutes). Immediately transfer the tomatoes to an ice bath—a large bowl filled with cold water and ice cubes. When the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, pull the skins off with your fingers. They should slip off easily.
  2. Cut the tomatoes in half. With a spoon, remove the seeds.
  3. Chop the tomatoes.
  4. After cooking the chopped tomatoes, purée them with an immersion blender, standard blender or food processor.

Dehydrate the skins in a food dehydrator or at a very low temperature in the oven and grind them up for homemade tomato powder, if desired.

If you don’t mind skins in your tomato purée

  1. Cut the tomatoes in half. With a spoon, remove the seeds.
  2. Chop the tomatoes.
  3. After cooking the chopped tomatoes, purée them with an immersion blender, standard blender or food processor.

Cooking down the tomato purée: Should you bother? If so, how?

After cooking the tomatoes, processing them and allowing them to cool, you can store them in the freezer and call it a productive day. If you intend to use the purée in soup, you’ll add less broth or water to your recipe if you use the purée as is—and you’ll conserve energy and your time.

On the other hand, reduced tomato purée will take up less space in the freezer and you already have your apron on. I’ll use the purée for thicker sauces and will need to reduce the purée eventually anyway, so I cook it down before freezing. (I freeze mine in wide-mouth glass jars. Go here for more info.)

Reduce in a pot

This works quickly and renders a wonderful, sweet flavor. The purée cooks down considerably in about an hour on medium-low temperature.

A stainless steel pot of tomato sauce cooks on an induction cooktop. In the background are several jars.

Reduce in a slow cooker

The tomato purée reduces very slowly in a slow cooker, even by slow cooker standards. These appliances do not do a great job at cooking down liquids and may not stay hot if you remove the lid in an attempt to speed things up.

If you choose the slow-cooker route, do not cook longer than about eight hours on low. Otherwise, your tomatoes may develop a bit of a burnt flavor.

I prefer the stove-top method but cooking tomatoes in your sleep has its benefits!

How the annual tomato ritual started

When we broke up with plastic in 2011, I had to figure out how to replace canned tomatoes. Cans are lined with epoxy (i.e., plastic) that contains industrial chemicals such as BPA. And although many food manufacturers plaster the claim “Now BPA-Free!” on their cans, the linings may contain something similar and just as bad.

I don’t know if I would have started roasting so many tomatoes had I not broken up with plastic. As a result, the tomatoes I eat now taste incredible. Make this tomato purée for taste alone!

Finished tomato purée fills a glass mason jar. The jar sits on a gray and white marble background
Finished tomato purée fills a glass mason jar. The jar sits on a gray and white marble background
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Tomato Purée from Fresh Tomatoes

This easy tomato purée is a great staple to have on hand after tomato season has ended
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time8 hrs
Course: Condiment
Cuisine: Italian
Servings: 3 cups
Calories: 82kcal
Cost: $6

Equipment

  • slow cooker
  • food mill to remove tomato skins if desired
  • immersion blender, blender or food processor if not using a food mill

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds fresh tomatoes

Instructions

If using a food mill

  • Wash and chop tomatoes into bite-size pieces. Cook in a slow cooker on low heat for 6 hours, until cooked and soft.
  • Place the food mill over a large bowl and run the tomatoes through it. Store the purée in wide-mouth jars and freeze or cook down before storing.

If not using a food mill to remove the skins

  • Blanch and peel the washed tomatoes. Core them, score the bottoms with a shallow "X" and gently put the tomatoes into a pot of boiling water until the skins begin to pull away (about 1 to 2 minutes). Immediately transfer the tomatoes to an ice bath—a large bowl filled with cold water and ice cubes. When the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, pull the skins off with your fingers. They should slip off easily.
  • Cut the tomatoes in half. With a spoon, remove the seeds. Chop the tomatoes and cook in a slow cooker on low heat for 6 hours, until cooked and soft.
  • Purée the tomatoes with an immersion blender, standard blender or food processor. Store the purée in wide-mouth jars and freeze or cook down before storing.

If not using a food mill and leaving the skins on

  • Cut the tomatoes in half. With a spoon, remove the seeds. Chop the tomatoes and cook in a slow cooker on low heat for 6 hours, until cooked and soft.
  • Purée the tomatoes with an immersion blender, standard blender or food processor. Store the purée in wide-mouth jars and freeze or cook down before storing.

To cook down the tomato purée

  • Simmer the purée gently on medium-low heat for an hour or until it has reached your desired consistency. Stir often. You can also cook it down in the slow cooker at low heat for 8 hours. Avoid cooking it for longer than 8 hours. Cooking tomatoes for too long in a slow cooker can result in a burnt taste.

Nutrition

Calories: 82kcal | Carbohydrates: 18g | Protein: 4g | Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 0.1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.4g | Monounsaturated Fat: 0.1g | Sodium: 23mg | Potassium: 1075mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 12g | Vitamin A: 3778IU | Vitamin C: 62mg | Calcium: 45mg | Iron: 1mg

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