Alchemy with tinned tomatoes


Our basic tomato sauce

We can tell you exactly how much of this stuff we have eaten over the years.

It is precisely the mid-point between lots and lots on the one hand and, on the other, heaps and heaps.

Seriously, we really have tucked away plenty, though that has been less so in recent months as our blender broke and has yet to be replaced.

However, a few weeks back – when we were having a dinner that included a rare, for us, commercial bolognese sauce – I opined that it was actually pretty good.

“Not as good as yours,” Bennie said.

“What, you mean my tomato sauce?” asked I.

“Yeah,” said Bennie.

Dead chuffed I was, but it also was a signal that it was time to fire up, blender or not.

Truth is, just chopping or otherwise smashing the tomatoes is fine.

We prefer our tomato sauce to be a sort of blank canvas, so we keep seasoning to a minimum.

So no garlic, no basil or other herbs, no meat.

We add all those and more – bacon, chorizo, polish sausage, Italian sausage meat, tuna, depending – when we unfreeze and use the individual portions.

As well as with pasta, this goes good with roast chook, fish, snags & mash and so on.

Makes the house smell sweet, too!

The vegetable quantities are negotiable, though if you use too many you’ll get a vegie stew rather than a sauce.





6-8 cans whole or chopped good-quality tomatoes

Olive oil

Bay leaf

Salt (about a teaspoon)




1. Without being too fastidious about it, chop the carrot, onion and celery as finely as you can.

2. Cook vegetables over medium-high heat with plenty of olive oil.

3. As the vegetables cook, whizz or otherwise smash the tomatoes.

4. When the vegetables are well cooked and wilted, add tomatoes, keeping the heat the same.

5. As the sauce comes to the boil, add salt, sugar, bay leaf and pepper.

6. Cook for several hours at the lowest possible simmer – at least until the oil rises to the top.

7. Eat, freeze, enjoy.

It’s really cool how the tinned tomatoes and vegetables you have at the start become something entirely different after a couple of hours.

19 thoughts on “Alchemy with tinned tomatoes

  1. Looks yummy. I make one that’s more “traditional” with garlic, onions and herbs, however I don’t make it in big batches like you do – I usually make it as I need it. BTW it was great to meet you today Kenny – it felt like celeb spotting in downtown Seddon!!!


  2. Today was more of a chance to check it out while I was in Seddon for lunch so I didn’t buy much at all – just some flowers and some very nice nougat. They stock some yummy things so no doubt I’ll be back soon.


  3. Love the recipe Kenny!

    Can I share a recipe for a VERY basic but brilliant tomato sauce – it can be a base for a pasta sauce, or as an accompaniment for arancini, boreks etc. The secret is to take your time.

    – olive oil
    – 1-2 brown onions, chopped
    – 1 clove garlic, crushed
    – passata or crushed Italian tomatoes
    – salt
    – sugar
    – balsamic (for European recipes) or lemon juice (for Middle Eastern)

    1. Saute the onion in olive oil over very low heat until soft and golden. (At least 10 minutes.)
    2. Add the garlic for a few minutes – make sure it doesn’t burn.
    3. Add tomatoes, and salt/sugar/balsamic to taste.
    4. Barely simmer over low heat, half covered, stirring occasionally.
    5. Whizz.

    That’s it! Deliziosissimo!


    • Oooh, that sounds good! Similar but different. Passata is something I’ve never used. Maybe I should. We love our sauce, but using tomatoes only – even good ones – it can be be a bit watery.


      • Good point Kenny about ‘watery’ – if you only use tomatoes, you need to simmer it for a long time.


    • My ex taught me to make tomato sauce for pasta (he’s of Italian background). I dont think its the traditional way, but its what he taught me. It tastes great. Its basically canned / fresh tomatoes (if they’re whole then crush them) or passata and olive oil. In a large frypan, dump in the tomatoes, and the olive oil (its always a guesstimate of how much), and get it simmering, then reduce the heat and let the sauce reduce. At no point stir the mixture, as this mixes in the oil, which is only there so that the tomatoes dont burn. It take a fair bit of reduction time, with a minimum of half an hour what I was told.

      Once you master that, you can start playing around with additives.

      But I like your addition of balsamic, James – I might have to try that!!!


  4. The simple things in life… Great post Kenny 🙂  Your sauce looks very appetising sploshed over the ravioli. Do you use this as your bolognese base as well, with some meat added and maybe a dash of wine?

    On the subject of canned tomatoes, a guy I know grew up in Shepparton and had vacation jobs at the SPC factory. He reckons that chopped/crushed canned tomatoes are made from the “offcuts” and odds & ends left over from other canned goods. A bit like the meat chicken nuggets are made from, if you’ll excuse the analogy! 

    My Shep friend says you’ll get better quality produce if you buy whole tinned tomatoes, and simply break them up with your wooden spoon. I don’t generally buy SPC, but I imagine that this would be a widespread cannery practice. 


    • No bolognese, but we do use salami, chorizo, bacon.

      I’m sure that’s true about tinned tomatoes, Juz, but I’m not sure it makes a difference. Have some plans to do a tin tom road test one day.


      • I’d love to see a tomato cook-off. It’d be very interesting to see the difference between brands or kinds of tomatoes. I’m loyal to the ones that a friend of Sicilian heritage once recommended (his mum was an awesome cook, so how could I argue with her choice?). I’d be keen to see a taste test… Are the 70 cent cans a match for the more expensive ones? And Aust vs Italy?


      • James, it was that story that got me thinking. The Italian ones are definitely superior based on the last time I sued Oz ones. I also found a comment somewhere that maintained that if you look at the ingredients list of Oz tin toms you’ll be reading a longer list than on Italian tomatoes.

        As well, I’m far too cynical to simply take such a story at face value. There’s agendas everywhere. Australian farmers are a lobby group just like everyone else. In fact, they’re a very effective lobby group and frankly city slicker me gets really freaking tired of being guilt-tripped by them. It seems to be a classic case of socialise the losses and privatise the profits.

        My own industry is being transformed yet I don’t expect taxpayers to subsidise failing newspapers. As taxpayers, do we owe farmers a living?

        The man on the land? It’s all a myth – Australia has ALWAYS been a predominantly urban nation.

        And Ardmona is owned by Coca Cola anyway. Is a Holden an Australian car?

        Finally, I’m not convinced any of it matters a pinch of … whatever.

        Still, it’d be cool to do a taste test, Maybe cooking separately with a six different brands would be a stretch. But a simple test of smell, texture, flavour, price, ingredients …


      • I agree with you Kenny. It’s a bit sad if the industry is saying ‘buy us out of pity’. It doesn’t give you much confidence. It probably isn’t a very wise long-term strategy.

        Maybe the Australian producers have the marketing all wrong too. I think we value tomatoes as a basic ingredient, and all that matters is quality. I don’t think we want ‘tomatoes with basil and garlic’ or ‘tomatoes with chopped herbs’ – it undermines the message.


  5. When buying tinned tomatoes I too prefer the Italian brands; however I also check the ingredients for the percentage of actual tomatoes versus juice – some can be as low as 53%!!


  6. A long while ago I did a cook off between La Gina or something similar and Aldi’s basic Italian tomatoes. I do a sauce like James’ but with no onion, just garlic, olive oil, chilli and whole tomatoes that I don’t break up – leave to cook for 45 mins with lid on then whizz up. Bottom line – no difference between expensive and cheap tinned Italian tomatoes. I was shocked!

    I agree with Juz; I used to only buy whole tinned and chop them myself as I suspected inferior ones went into the chopped, but now am too lazy and buy the chopped organic ones from Aldi – they’re still really nice.



    I reckon Ross Gittins is one of the most reliably smart commentators in Australia.

    Here he looks at various topics that touch on the tomato issue, especially the video at the top.

    My conclusion: Prices trump patriotism every time. That battle has already been lost. No matter what people say. We’re all guilty – if that’s the right word! In an ever-changing world, it’s a brutal matter of adaptability. As I am currently finding out in my own “career”. And it further suggests to me that press/media coverage of the homegrown versus imports debate is often more about lobbying, positioning for government support, sympathy and the like.


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