Quick-Cooked Tomato Purée (Passata di Pomodoro) Recipe

A quick and easy purée made from fresh tomatoes, which can then be put to use in future tomato sauces.

Overhead shot of an open canning jar full of quick-cooked tomato purée.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Why It Works

  • Cooking the tomatoes with their seeds improves the puree's flavor; the seeds and skins are strained out after.

When it comes to tomato sauce, we here at Serious Eats have you covered,* but I noticed recently that we hadn't yet offered recipes for the two simple purees known as coulis (in French) and passata (in Italian). They are about as simple as tomato sauce gets—essentially just a puree made from fresh or barely-cooked tomatoes, which you can then go on to use as you wish.

*There's my laborious but insanely good sauce made from fresh tomatoes. And then there's Kenji's oven-roasted red sauce, which is just as much work and just as wonderful. To help save you some time, I also created a much simpler marinara that's a heck of a lot less work, but still sterling.

Most of the year I generally prefer to use either bottled passata or puree canned whole tomatoes myself, since canned tomatoes are riper when picked than your average fresh supermarket tomato. The only challenge is that canned tomatoes taste very cooked, and sometimes you want a fresher tomato flavor. Other times, you have an overabundance of great fresh tomatoes and want to make the most of them (think end of summer at the farmers market).

Looking at existing recipes, I found many ways to make this family of sauces. Some people peel and seed the tomatoes, dice them, then cook them just enough to remove excess water, then puree them. Others prefer to skip the peeling and seeding steps, instead opting to cook them—seeds, skins, and all—and strain them after. And then there are the folks who seed and peel the tomatoes, salt them to remove excess moisture through osmosis, and then finally puree the salted tomatoes while they're still raw.

Of course, you'll also find tomato coulis that are more complicated, with aromatic vegetables or splashes of vinegar and pinches of sugar. I decided not to go down this road, since that ventures more into true sauce territory. Think of a tomato coulis or passata as you would a meat stock: Once you have a good basic method for making it, it becomes the base for many other dishes and sauces down the line.

I played around with many of the most common methods—peeling, seeding, cooking, pureeing, and salting—until I'd ended up with versions of both a cooked tomato passata and a raw tomato coulis that I liked.

We don't have a food mill in the Serious Eats test kitchen (mental note: add a food mill to our equipment shopping list), so for this batch I strained the tomatoes manually, pushing them through a mesh strainer with a wooden spoon. A scraping motion is more effective for getting the flesh to pass through than just pushing down.

If you have a food mill or an electric tomato strainer, it'll make this process even easier.

A canning jar full of quick-cooked tomato purée.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

The resulting puree may be a little coarse, depending on the fineness of your strainer. You can either leave it like that if you don't mind a little texture, or you can pass it through an even finer strainer to get a smoother result.

Whether you’ve opted for the quick cook method here, or a raw coulis, you can use either puree as you wish. The passata can be incorporated into any cooked dish or used to make a full-fledged sauce by combining it with aromatics like onion, garlic, and herbs. Both types freeze really well, they're the kind of thing you can make in large batches in the summer and then defrost long after tomato season is over.

And with that, I think we really do have every major tomato sauce need covered.

August 2015

Recipe Facts

Active: 35 mins
Total: 35 mins
Serves: 4 to 6 servings
Makes: 1 quart

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Ingredients

  • 3 pounds ripe plum tomatoes (about 15 large plum tomatoes), diced

  • Kosher salt

Directions

  1. In a large saucepan, heat tomatoes over medium-high heat, stirring, until tomatoes begin to release their liquid. Bring to a simmer, then lower heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until much of the excess liquid has cooked off but the tomatoes aren't totally dry, about 15 minutes.

  2. Transfer tomatoes and any juices to a vegetable strainer, a fine-mesh strainer, or a food mill set with the finest strainer. Strain the tomatoes of seeds and skin, pushing all the pulp and juices through; if straining by hand, use a wooden spoon and a scraping motion to pass the tomato flesh through into a bowl below. For an even smoother texture, pass the coulis once more through an even finer strainer.

    Simmered tomatoes being pressed and scraped through a fine mesh strainer.

    Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

  3. Season with salt. Use the tomato puree in any recipe calling for a tomato puree, or freeze for up to 6 months.

Special Equipment

Food mill, vegetable strainer, or fine-mesh strainer

Make-Ahead and Storage

The purée can be frozen up to six months.

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Nutrition Facts (per serving)
41 Calories
0g Fat
9g Carbs
2g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4 to 6
Amount per serving
Calories 41
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g 1%
Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 116mg 5%
Total Carbohydrate 9g 3%
Dietary Fiber 3g 10%
Total Sugars 6g
Protein 2g
Vitamin C 31mg 155%
Calcium 23mg 2%
Iron 1mg 3%
Potassium 538mg 11%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)