It is one of the age-old food conundrums, like why hot dogs come in packages of eight and buns in packs of twelve. Why does tomato paste come in 6-ounce cans when most recipes call for a couple of tablespoons, quarter of a cup at most? How many times have you opened your fridge to the sad sight of a little can of tomato paste, topped awkwardly with a small piece of foil, with the contents oxidizing into brown sludge, or worse, topped with a thick bloom of green and white mold?
Sure, you can buy the metal tubes of paste, but these are often twice the price per ounce, and have a tendency to get lost in door shelves or drawers or pushed to the back of a deep shelf, only to be rediscovered after their expiration date. Some people swear by freezing it in ice cube trays, but I find it makes it watery and off-tasting when thawed, and loses the deep rich tomato punch.
Short of having a multi-day tomato recipe adventure, or making Dad’s famous English muffin pizzas (tomato paste, Italian seasoning, grated parm) what are you to do to salvage the rest of the can?
Tomato butter. It’s a two-ingredient cooking miracle. On the surface, it seems strange, just leftover tomato paste and softened butter in a 1:1 ratio. Why bother? Because fat makes everything better, culinarily and scientifically speaking.
The fat in the butter emulsifies with the tomato and prevents both oxidation and delays spoilage. Can you keep it forever? No. Can you keep it a lot longer than plain tomato paste? Yup. As with any compound butter, it is a terrific condiment and addition to recipes. You can make a lazy pan con tomate with a schmear on toast. Tossed with hot rice it is an easy red rice hack and perfect side dish. If your kids aren’t quite yet on board with a full marinara situation, noodles with tomato butter are a gateway to red sauce. It makes for a lovely topping on fish or steak and melted and drizzled over grilled sweet onions or bitter radicchio is a revelation.
It loves a biscuit, a scone, and a popover in equal measure. And using it instead of plain butter on your next grilled cheese might just change the color of your sky. Tomato butter might just be the best reason those cans are always so much bigger than any recipe needs. Now if only we could figure out the reasoning behind the hot dog and bun algorithm.