13 Ways to Cook Every Spoonful of Leftover Tomato Paste

Blobs of homemade tomato paste sit on a silver cookie sheet before going into the freezer to reduce wasted food

How many recipes call for an entire six-ounce can of tomato paste? Basically none. Most call for a small amount but you must buy four times what you need (same with herbs). While I have no numbers to back me up—just a hunch—I imagine millions of dollars’ worth of opened, neglected cans of this cooking staple sit languishing in American refrigerator doors and back shelves as I type this, destined for the trash. Such a waste of umami—and tomatoes!

Whether you buy canned tomato paste or make it yourself, the following ideas will help you waste less of it.

five glass jars filled with tomato paste slow cooked in the oven
Homemade tomato paste

Freeze leftover tomato paste if you won’t use it immediately

At the end of the season, when tomato prices drop, I buy cases of them. Some of them become amazing tomato paste. Although I spent an entire day doing this, the process is mostly hands-off so I’m able to work on other stuff in between cooking tasks—and I make several jars of this incredibly delicious flavor enhancer.

Whether you make it or buy it, save it by freezing tablespoon-size blobs on a cookie sheet. After the blobs have frozen, pop them off of the cookie sheet (a spatula works), transfer them to jars and put the jars in the freezer. (Go here for more info on freezing food in glass jars.)

Ice-cube trays also work. Fill, freeze for several hours, then transfer the cubes to containers and return them to the freezer.

When you need tomato paste, grab one or two blobs (or cubes) and toss them into whatever you’re cooking. It thaws quickly.

1. Homemade ketchup

Love ketchup but hate the ultra-processed store-bought versions and their excessive plastic packaging? If you have leftover tomato paste on hand, you can make ketchup in less time than it takes to run to the store and buy a bottle of it.

Thin out the tomato paste with kombucha vinegar or apple cider vinegar to taste and stir in honey or maple syrup (also to taste), followed by a pinch each of cinnamon, cumin, cayenne pepper and salt. (My cookbook includes a recipe for fermented ketchup. So good!)

2. Barbecue sauce

Ketchup is just a few ingredients away from barbecue sauce.

3. Dips

Stir a spoonful of leftover tomato paste into a bean dip, use it in lieu of fresh tomatoes in refried beans or add a bit to hummus or sour cream and so on.

4. Tomato-based sauces

Thicken up sauces quickly by adding a spoonful of tomato paste to pizza sauce or your favorite pasta sauce.

5. Enchilada sauce

Enchilada sauce is easy to make and freezes well. Try this recipe from New York Times Cooking.

6. Red rice

Whip up a batch of arroz rojo to go with your enchiladas—or any Mexican dish. I could eat this side dish every day. Go here for the recipe. Or add a bit of tomato paste to other grains, such as farro or quinoa.

7. Colored pasta

Stir leftover tomato paste into pasta dough to add a splash of color. You’ll need to very slightly adjust the amount of liquid in the dough. Go here for green pasta as a guide.

8. Baked beans

I love this Alton Brown recipe. I’ve never made it with the bacon it calls for and yet it still tastes amazing. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, sub in lots of fat for the bacon—butter, olive oil or a combination of fats.

9. Shakshuka

This one-pan dish of eggs poached in a tomato-based sauce is easy, delicious and satisfying. This recipe calls for fresh tomatoes.

10. Borscht

You’ll need a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste for my version of this traditional Ukrainian beet soup. Go here for the recipe. It calls for not only the beets but the beet greens—using all the beet parts and wasting less food. That post also includes a recipe for beet kvass to put the beet scraps to work. If you like, turn the borscht into a new dish the next day by poaching eggs in it. Go here for the borschuka recipe.

11. Soup base

Add leftover tomato paste to scrap vegetable broth or bone broth for amazing umami flavor.

12. Lentil soup

When my daughter MK was a toddler, she ate homemade lentil soup almost every day. She loved it. It contained brown lentils, onions, lots of garlic, carrots and a big dollop of tomato paste. The recipe was similar to this one.

13. Pan deglazer

Have your caramelized onions left a pattern of crusty brown bits all over the bottom of your pan (or pot)? Tomato paste will help clean those up. Simply add a spoonful, stir and cook.

Bonus leftover tomato paste cooking tip!

Add the tomato paste near the beginning of a recipe before adding liquids. Cooking the paste over medium heat caramelizes it, darkening the sugars and rendering a richer flavor. For example, let’s say you’re cooking a pot of chili. After sautéing the onions, add the paste and cook it for about a five minutes rather than stirring it into the sauce later on. Same ingredient, different method, more flavor.

These tips should help you conserve more tomato paste, save a bit of cash and add more flavor to dishes.

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3 Replies to “13 Ways to Cook Every Spoonful of Leftover Tomato Paste”

  1. Here in the UK most tomato paste, or tomato purée as we usually call it, comes in tubes like large toothpaste tubes. They can be a bit problematic when they’re nearly finished as it’s difficult to be sure that every bit is used. I usually cut the tube in half and squeeze hard to get as much as possible. I remember years ago when my mother bought it in small tins and often half had to be thrown out as it had gone mouldy. In the tubes it lasts for ages after opening.

  2. Since writing my first comment I’ve reminded myself that one bit drawback of the tubes is that they aren’t easily recyclable. I recycle the plastic tops but have to put the metal tubes in the general waste.

  3. The freezer is a good tip. I always have little blobs there, and sometimes I just buy the past in tubes when it is on sale. You use just what you need.

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