Friday, May 06, 2005

Paste Pitch -- No More!

The Boys of Summer are back and another baseball season gets underway. Stadiums fill with eager fans, hot dog vendors cook up the links and the scent of popcorn wafts through the air.

The pitcher winds up and delivers the first pitch of the game – a curve ball, high and inside. “Ball one!” The crowd murmurs its reaction to the umpire’s call through mouths brimming with dogs and corn. The second pitch is a slider – right over the plate, just within the strike zone. “Stee-rike!” Once again, the pitcher squints into the sunlight as he grasps the ball for the next pitch. It’s a fastball, perfectly positioned. “Stee-rike!” The crowd becomes quiet, as the impending out can be sensed.

Just one more strike is needed. The pitcher winds up and delivers the pitch, at lightning speed, straight into the garbage can at the far end of the home team’s dugout! An awed silence fills the stadium. The catcher reacts and reaches the garbage can just as the apple core dislodged by the hurtling pitch bounds into the air. By instinct, he reaches his gloved hand into the garbage container to retrieve the pitch. And out it comes … a bright, shiny can of tomato paste!

The crowd goes wild (I had to say it – this IS a baseball story, after all)! The pitching coach explodes from the dugout, grabs the cap from his head, throws it to the ground and sends the pitcher packing. There is just one pitch that is NEVER allowed on this coach’s pitching staff: the tomato paste pitch!

I can certainly relate to the pitching coach’s opinion – it is the stuff of ingredient sleuth dreams! Time after time, can after can, year after year, I have resignedly pitched moldy tomato paste into my garbage can, shaking my head in disbelief that I have let it happen yet again. Filled with good intentions, of course, I had earlier placed the remainder of the tiny can’s contents into a glass container and wedged it into my refrigerator.

Whatever recipe I was making at the time – meat loaf, pasta sauce, hearty soup, Spanish rice, sloppy Joes, barbecued ribs, chicken cacciatore, red curry, pizza, salsa, jambalaya, pork stew – it undoubtedly called for one or two tablespoons of tomato paste. Because tomato paste is made from five times its own weight of tomatoes, it doesn’t take much to provide intense flavor. But, that often means that half (or more) of the can remains after some delectable dish has been prepared.

In general, once opened, canned tomato paste will keep for up to seven days in the refrigerator. If one’s cooking is organized – or voluminous – enough, perhaps the entire contents of the can will be used within that weeklong window of opportunity. Somehow, that never seems to have been the case, for me. The well-intentioned second dish of the week somehow seemed not to materialize, no matter how clearly I visualized it when the tomato paste can was zipped open. And hence, the inevitable tomato paste pitch occurred, yet again.

Finally, I have found two solutions that have banished the tomato paste pitch from my life! First, the remaining paste’s usable life can be extended to about six months by freezing. Many experts recommend freezing tablespoon-sized servings in ice cube trays, then removing them after they are frozen and packaging them in airtight freezer bags. This is a very good solution, but I must confess that something about the thought of washing those ice cube trays always dissuades me a bit!

I prefer to retrieve the nifty little baking tray from my toaster oven, cover it with a shiny piece of plastic wrap or waxed paper, and then put the tomato paste spoonfuls several inches apart on the sheet – as if I was making tomato paste cookies! I slide that tray into the freezer, let the paste dabs freeze, then peel them off and put them into a good, heavy-duty freezer bag. The dabs wait happily in my freezer – and I don’t even have to remember to thaw them before using them in most dishes. .

Recently, I discovered my favorite solution to the paste pitch problem, bar none. No ice cube trays, no plastic wrap, no scraping of that last remaining bit out of the tiny little can. The Italians figured it out – they put tomato paste into a tube! What genius, what sensible thriftiness, what flavor, all contained there in that squeezable packaging. The tubed paste has a longer refrigerator-life than the canned paste (up to three weeks). Although, ounce for ounce, or in this case gram for gram, it is more expensive than the canned paste, I rarely pitch any tubed paste into the garbage can – a cost offset, for sure. Also, I have found the squeezable paste to be very handy for speedy hors d’oeuvres, encouraging me to enjoy its nutrition benefits on a much-more-frequent basis than before.

Recent food and health literature has documented very well the benefits of tomatoes – particularly the cooked variety. Like all tomatoes, they provide excellent doses of potassium, vitamin A and vitamin C. The cooking involved with heat-processed tomatoes releases lycopene, the strong antioxidant contained within the skin that has been credited with reducing the likelihood of several major diseases.

With all those nutrition benefits, as well as its deep, rich flavor going for it, tomato paste is just way too valuable to waste. Tomato paste in tubes can be found in some major supermarkets, at international markets, Italian groceries and online. Finally, just like the ballpark – in my kitchen, no more tomato-paste pitches are allowed!

Batter up – and bon appetit!


Doug said...

My wife discovered the "tube paste" some years ago, but she actually found a different solution to the problem...she usually increases the size of the recipe to use the entire can. Many tomato-based dishes reheat nicely and we found we were much more likely to pull out a ready-to-eat dish than we were to pull out a partial can of paste ;)

Rochelle said...

We always have this same problem. Great ideas!

PAT R. said...

you are right on about this ... and the baseball story is so funny ... I will think of it every time I buy tomato paste!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

This is WAY funny and astonishingly practical at the same time. I tried the ice cube tray method, BTW, and didn't like the orange stains in my plastic trays ... YOUR ideas sound much better to me.

Carolyn said...

I saw the tubes of tomato paste in the store for the first time a couple of weeks ago. I wasn't sure about it, but nexxt time I'll buy it. It sounds as good as I hoped it was. thx.


Anonymous said...

Ever since we found tomato paste in tubes at Little Italy it's the only kind we buy. We used to avoid recipes that called for a teeny bit of it but now we are making all those recipes again and enjoying them so much. Have tried a couple of brands and they're all good. marc&terri

Rickie said...

You have the perfect solution to the tomato paste problem. Bravo!!!!

Dennis said...

Tomato paste is a mainstay in our cooking, especially during the winter when the fresh tomatoes are so terrible here in the midwest. We add a spoonful to batches of soup to add extra richness and to add that Italian element. The tubes of paste would be so handy; we'll look for them. Ciao!

Anonymous said...

hope that nobody squeezes the tube in the middle ;)