What Is Tomato Passata?

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If you’re a fan of Italian food, you may have noticed recipes calling for tomato passata. You’ve guessed that it’s made from tomatoes, but is it the same as tomato paste, puree, or sauce? How do you use it in everyday cooking?

What Is Tomato Passata?

Homemade tomato Passata in rustic plate with herbs. Dark background. Top view. Copy space.

Tomato passata is uncooked and strained tomato puree. No water, artificial flavorings, preservatives or seasonings. Just plain old tomatoes pureed with seeds removed – so you don’t have to do it yourself.

You’ll find several variations of passata, some smooth and others are quite chunky and rustic. A few will have seasonings but most are not.

What makes passata so delicious and vital to Italian cuisine is the quality of the tomatoes. Many cooking authorities argue that the best tomatoes in the world are San Marzano tomatoes, a plum-style tomato with the typical oblong shape, vivid red color, and sweet, flavorful juice. These are the ideal tomatoes for passata so look for these types of tomatoes in the ingredient list.

What Does It Taste Like?

With a sweet and bright taste, tomato passata is like drinking a fresh tomato. It lacks the acidity of tomato paste and canned varieties and is as close to a fresh tomato as you can get. If you can’t find good tasting fresh tomatoes for you recipies, tomato passata is the next best thing.

Commercially Made Passata

Commercially produced tomato passata begins with fresh, ripe plum tomatoes, intact, without blemishes or bruises. The tomatoes are washed, the stems removed, and then cut in half to deseed them. They’re often quickly blanched to remove the skins and seeds. In some factories, the seeds and skins are first removed by hand. Next, the tomatoes are strained through a series of blades and sieves in a machine called the passapomodoro (tomato strainer, but it does sound better in Italian). Then the tomatoes are then poured into glass jars or cartons and sterilized.

There are laws in Italy concerning the production of passata. For example, passata may not contain either water or tomato paste. However, salt, citric acid, fresh herbs, and seasonings are permitted. And any commercially produced passata in Italy must indicate the origins of the tomato on the container, which ensures that producers only use the best-quality tomatoes.

Homemade Passata

You can make passata from any sweet tomatoes, including cherry and cluster tomatoes, but if you can get your hands on San Marzano tomatoes, use those for superior flavor.

In Italy, making passata is often a family affair, with each family member helping – sorting, washing, and chopping the tomatoes; deskinning and deseeding; grinding the hand-held food mill or strainer; seasoning the passata; or washing and sterilizing the bottles.

Many versions of homemade passata begin by chopping the tomatoes and cooking them briefly to soften before running them through the food mill. Family recipes may include herbs and spices, but only salt and basil are traditional.

Cooking the tomatoes is a good idea for home canning — it helps kill bacteria that contaminate canned food — but strictly speaking, passata is uncooked.

The passata then gets poured into sterilized glass jars and sealed airtight. To complete the sterilization and canning process, you can put the jars in a pot of boiling water and cook for about 40 minutes. Allow the jars to cool in the pot of hot water.

Whatever the family recipe, the resulting passata is a rich, red, juicy sauce stored for use for the rest of the year — summer in a jar.

If you plan to make homemade tomato passata, first check out these guidelines on Canning 101.

Is It A Healthy Choice?

Tomato sauce passata - traditional sauce for italian cuisine. Black background. Top view. Copy space.

Because tomato passata is made with pure tomatoes and has no artificial additives, it provides all the benefits of fresh tomato. That means you get a dose of vitamins A, B, C and K along with potassium, iron and fiber. Plus, if cooked, tomatoes contain the anti-aging, cancer-fighting antioxidant lycopene. 

Tomato passata is gluten-free, fat-free, and perfect for those following vegan and vegetarian lifestyles.

Different Ways To Use

Tomato passata is a versatile, nutritious, and tasty ingredient that you can use in any recipe requiring chopped, crushed, diced, or strained tomatoes. It will add an intense, zesty tomato flavor and will cook more quickly than tomato chunks or whole tomatoes. Just remember that passata is usually not seasoned.

For Sauces

You’ll find passata as an ingredient in many Italian recipes, especially for pasta sauces. To make a marinara sauce, you’ll only need a few spices and some olive oil. Passata is also used as a base for other pasta sauces like Bolognaise or vodka and in dishes like eggplant parmigiana, or lasagna.

Try passata in one of these recipes:

In Soup

Tomato passata makes the ideal basis for a rich tomato soup, adding a rich thickness and a zingy tomato freshness that is often welcome in the winter months. It boosts vitamin C, which is vital for fighting off colds and sniffles.

Try using tomato passata as an ingredient in one of these recipes:

In Stews and Casseroles

Don’t confine yourself to using passata in Italian cuisine. Because passata is unseasoned, it makes a great tomato base in dishes such as Indian curry, butter chicken, or an Irish stew.

Consider using tomato passata to make one of these winter warmers:

Other Uses

You can also use this luscious puree in recipes for shakshuka (eggs in tomato sauce), huevos rancheros, refried beans, or even your Bloody Mary at brunch.

Where To Buy

Classic Italian tomato sauce with basil for pasta and pizza in skillet. White background. Top view.

Passata is more expensive than regular canned tomatoes, but the flavor and brightness of the tomatoes are well worth the cost. If you can’t find tomato passata at your local supermarket, look for it in delis, at Italian grocery stores, and, of course, online.

Some highly regarded Italian brands are Corbara, Pomi, and Mutti, all known for their sweet, rich tomato flavor. If you can’t find these brands, look for jars or boxes (not cans) labeled “strained tomatoes.” Check the ingredients: the best-quality tomato passata includes only tomatoes and salt.

What Makes It Different?

You may think that tomato passata is no different from other tomato products available — it does sound an awful lot like tomato puree. But there are significant differences.

Tomato Puree

Tomato puree is similar to tomato passata in that it is also made with deseeded, skinless tomatoes. However, the tomatoes in puree are cooked until thick and then pureed to make a smooth sauce, so their flavor is more intense and less fresh. Tomato puree is ideal for chili, but rather choose passata for a summery pasta sauce.

Crushed Tomatoes

Crushed or chopped canned tomatoes are very similar to tomato passata in that they do include crushed raw tomatoes. However, these canned tomatoes usually include some tomato puree to give them a thicker, less watery consistency. Flavor wise, crushed tomatoes are similar to passata but have a chunkier texture.

Canned Whole Tomatoes

Known in Italy as pomodoro pelati, canned whole tomatoes are usually peeled whole plum tomatoes canned in tomato juice or puree. You can use canned whole tomatoes to make passata if you have the time.

Tomato Paste

For tomato paste, tomatoes are slowly cooked until almost all the juice has evaporated and they have reduced to a thick, dense paste. Tomato paste is best as an enhancer or enricher of tomato color and flavor but use sparingly as it has an intense and slightly bitter taste.

Tomato Sauce

Tomato passata may have been a base for canned or jarred tomato sauces but they contain a variety of oils, seasonings, vegetables, meat or cheese taking them far away from the fresh tomato taste of passata. That’s fine in a pinch, but if using tomato sauce in place of passata, be aware that the other ingredients will alter the taste of your finished dish.

Stewed Tomatoes

Like tomato sauce, stewed tomatoes are cooked, in this case, stewed gently and slowly to achieve a delightful sweetness. They often include onions, garlic, peppers, and celery, so they are a dish in themselves, rather than a building block for other dishes. As a replacement for tomato passata, choose unsalted, unseasoned stewed tomatoes.

The Bottom Line

Tomato passata consists of strained, deseeded tomato puree, usually uncooked and unflavored. Traditional Italian passata is made with San Marzano tomatoes, flavored only with salt and basil, and used as a primary ingredient in most tomato-based sauces. Use tomato passata whenever you would use diced or crushed tomatoes or tomato puree, but expect a bright, intense tomato flavor that will add a taste of summer to any dish.

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