Tomato Problem

It’s a sad day for lovers of canned tomatoes. While fresh tomatoes are obviously a superior choice, even for making sauces, we of the wintery climes cannot deny the year-round convenience of good quality canned plum tomatoes when it comes time to make sauce for pizza or pasta.

This is particularly true if you, like me, follow the school of tomato sauce thought that believes “the simpler the better.” When the sauce contains little more than the tomatoes themselves, and cooks for about as much time as it takes to make a side salad, then the quality and flavor of the canned tomatoes is of paramount importance.

yummy!For the past few years, my favorite canned tomatoes have been President’s Choice “Splendido” Italian plum tomatoes. I find them to be, in a word, superb. They are 99% as good as San Marzano tomatoes, which cost four dollars per 28 ounce can, yet the Splendidos go for only $1.39. All other canned tomatoes I have tried pale by comparison, with the exception of Pastene whole plum tomatoes (generally about $1.99 a can), which are almost as good as the Splendidos. Almost.

I haven’t seen Splendido plum tomatoes on the supermarket shelves for a month or so. Worried that they had been discontinued, I called the President’s Choice consumer hotline to inquire. Sadly, they confirmed that the product has, indeed, been discontinued. The person I spoke with was not able to say why, but she told me it is not uncommon for imported products to get dropped if shipping becomes too complicated or expensive, or if there is a problem with the supplier. She said it might also be due to low demand, but given the outstanding quality and very low price, how could that be?

I registered a complaint, and she told me I was not the first to do so. She also said that sometimes, according to consumer demand, they bring discontinued products back.

So here is my plea: if you live in Canada, please call the President’s Choice consumer hotline (1-888-495-5111, M-F, 8:30am – 4:30pm, EST) and register a complaint about the discontinuation of Splendido plum tomatoes (product UPC code: 6038370333).

As a “thank you,” I present below two recipes for basic tomato sauce. The first, which I consider to be “complicated” because it takes about 40 minutes and uses a sofrito, is from “Simply Recipes.” I highly recommend it as the sofrito provides a nice texture and depth of flavor. It is virtually identical to my own “Blork’s Basic Tomato Sauce #2.” Here is the “Simply Recipes” version.

The second is my basic recipe #1, inspired by a recipe I found in Byron Ayanoglu’s excellent book The New Vegetarian Gourmet. It does not use a sofrito, but achieves its depth through the use of sun-dried tomatoes and a bit of balsamic vinegar. This is the recipe I use most of the time (sometimes I skip the sun-dried tomatoes) because it is fast and easy and emphasizes the fresh taste of the tomatoes. Needless to say, for either recipe you should use the best quality whole Italian plum tomatoes.

I recommend you make a double or even triple batch. It freezes well and stays fresh in the fridge (use a glass jar) for up to a week. I use it as-is, or as a base for variations such as lasagna sauce, pizza sauce (with the addition of oregano) or whatever comes to mind. For example, warm up some already-made sauce and stir in a bit of finely grated parmesan cheese and some 15% cream to make a nice rosé sauce.

Blork’s Basic Tomato Sauce #1

Ingredients:

  • 28 ounce can of excellent quality whole Italian plum tomatoes (including juices).
  • 4 or 5 sundried tomatoes, lightly reconstituted and chopped
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, smashed and chopped
  • 1/4 tsp. dried chili flakes
  • 2 tsp. dried basil, or 1/4 cup (or more) of chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 or 3 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Method:

  • Dump the canned tomatoes into a large bowl and use your bare hands (washed) to crush them.
  • In a wide, heavy bottomed pot big enough to hold everything and still have room for bubbling and stirring, heat half of the olive oil. Add the garlic and stir quickly for 30 seconds (it should sizzle, but don’t let it brown).
  • Add the chili flakes and continue stirring for 30 seconds.
  • Add the crushed tomatoes and stir vigorously for a minute.
  • Add the chopped sundried tomatoes, and if using dried basil, add it now.
  • Lower the heat a bit and let the tomatoes bubble for about 15 minutes, stirring every few minutes.
  • Add the tomato paste (if the sauce is quite dry you might want to add a couple of tablespoons of water).
  • If using fresh basil, add it now. Also add the balsamic vinegar and stir well.
  • Taste for seasoning. It likely won’t need much salt (if any), but a bit of freshly ground black pepper is nice.
  • Cook for another five minutes. Turn off the heat and drizzle in the rest of the olive oil. Stir it up and voila! Your sauce is ready.

Either of these sauces can be used as-is (I recommend a good “sauce catcher” pasta such as rotini or fusilli), or you can stir in some browned meatballs and serve with spaghetti. Alternatively, you can use them as the base for more elaborate sauces (such as the previously mentioned rosé sauce.)

Now call that number, and help me get my Splendidos back!

8 thoughts on “Tomato Problem

  1. That tomato sauce recipe looks great. Can’t wait to try it.

    /You have overlooked the spelling of “Splendido” in several cases though, which is a way of saying “fantastic” in Italian. ;)

  2. As an aside, many chefs and cooks, including Delia (and Delia is never wrong), say that decent canned tomatoes are usually as good as or better than store bought fresh tomatoes when used for sauces. Easier to prepare and often more flavourful.

    Of course, freshly picked tomatoes straight from the garden are a different story.

    (Happy to see you’ve removed your CAPTCHA :))

  3. Thomas, thanks for pointing out the typos. I have fixed them.

    Lambic, you are correct about canned tomatoes. Fresh can be wonderful, but so much work!

    Thanks to YOU for your blog post that prompted me to ditch the CAPTCHA.

  4. Hey Blork,

    Will do re: contacting President’s Choice and their dropping of the “Splendido” canned Plum Tomatoes. Thanks for the recipes in exchange!

    I’ve been finding more and more import brands at good prices by doing more and more of my shopping at places like Mourelatos and Adonis. Their fresh vegetable selection and pricing is also a hands-down winner over the box grocery stores.

    Speaking of boxes, I was tasked with making Wood Burning Stove-top Chili on a Cross-Country Skiing / Camping trip in Mont-Tremblant this past weekend. Logistic issues included all goods had to be back-packed in and all garbage taken out afterwards and the very real threat existed that “real” tomatoes would freeze and spoil during the trip in and wait until day 2 for the chili’s appearance on the menu. I opted for an aseptic- packaged box of chopped tomatoes that did the trick!

    Harry

    Also snuck in a bit of my not-so-secret ingredient, Masa Harina to ensure I could thicken the batch to the consistency where the spatula stood straight up unattended. At -30 Celsius, we were looking for “stick-to-your-ribs” type meals.

  5. My secret to good canned tomatoes …..buy the ones that DO NOT contain citric acid. (they are harder to find…and i’m sure i look like a freak reading all the labels at the grocery).

  6. hey blork–
    i want to call the PC people, but the phone number seems to be missing the last digit–is it me?

  7. Whoops! My bad. Gordon, I’ve fixed the mistake — the whole number is there now.

  8. My mother, who now lives in the States, sends me these awesome canned tomatoes. They’re Muir Glen Organic Fire-roasted canned tomatoes. They may sound extremely expensive but my mother has an uncanny ability to find stuff incredibly cheap.
    It’s not rare that she get’s a can for 49¢.

    I know they have some Muir Glen products at loblaws, not sure if the fire roasted tomatoes are there, though.

Comments are closed.