Updated and recipe revised October 2010.
If I could wake up tomorrow and be anything in the world, I'd be an artist.
Not just an artist.
In my studio I'd have old coffee cans filled with brushes, a canvas on the easel, and a palette of paint blobs squeezed out of tubes: zapf green, alizarin crimson, yellow ochre, cerulean blue.
And tomato paste. If it's not a paint color, it should be. Everything about it -- the richness, the consistency, even the crinkly tube -- makes you want to squeeze a bit out onto a palette and push it into the canvas with a paint brush. Or squeeze a bit into a sauce or stew and push it around with a wooden spoon.
Tomato paste, also sold as tomato concentrate, is a thick paste made by cooking meaty plum tomatoes for several hours, straining them to remove the skins and seeds, and reducing them further until they turn into a thick paste with intense flavor. Though the paste can be reconstituted into tomato juice or ketchup, it's most often added to the pan right from the tube or can.
Especially in the off season, when the tomatoes you buy in the market are so often disappointing, a tablespoon or two of tomato paste really improves the flavor in almost any recipe.
If you can find tomato paste in a tube (always available in the Italian foods aisle of my local grocery stores; the Amore brand is most common), you'll love the convenience of using just a spoonful or two at a time. Store the opened tube in the refrigerator; it will last for many months.
Floribean chicken chili
My husband Ted, an unrepentant Montreal Canadiens fan, reminds me that this week is the start of hockey season, so this chili with mango salsa topping is for hockey fans everywhere, and for my mango-loving fan in particular. It has lots of ingredients but, like all chili, is very easy to make, and it uses chipotles in adobo, which we found in the pantry earlier this week. Adapted from a recipe in Parade magazine by Sheila Lukins, the dish serves 6-8; can be doubled or tripled (and frozen).
2-1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts
1 onion, divided (half cut into two large chunks, half diced)
1 carrot, halved
2 celery ribs, halved
2 bay leaves
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
3 black peppercorns
1 15-oz can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 4-oz can roasted green chiles
4 oz diced chicken andouille or other spicy sausage
2 tsp each ground coriander, cumin, and chili powder (mild or hot, to taste)
1 14-oz can crushed tomatoes
2 oz tomato paste
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp molasses
1 Tbsp chopped chipotle pepper in adobo
1 tsp agave nectar or honey, or more to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves, optional
2 tsp cornstarch mixed with 1/4 cup water
For garnishes (optional):
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup snipped fresh chives
1 ripe mango, diced
1 ripe tomato, diced
Grated Monterey Jack pepper cheese or other cheese
Place chicken along with the two large chunks of onion, carrots, celery, bay leaves, lime juice, 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp coriander and peppercorns in a large heavy pot. Add water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken to a bowl. Strain broth through a strainer lined with cheesecloth into another bowl, and set aside. Shred the chicken and set aside.
Heat olive oil in a heavy pot over medium-low heat. Add chopped onions, green chiles and sausage; cook for 8 minutes. Add 2 teaspoons each of coriander, cumin and chili powder; cook 3-4 minutes, stirring. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, vinegar, molasses, chipotle, agave or honey, and reserved chicken cooking liquid. Simmer 20-25 minutes. Add cilantro, beans and chicken. Cook for 10 minutes longer. Add cornstarch slurry to the stew and stir. Cook for 5 minutes until the stew thickens slightly.
The chili is quite flavorful on its own, but if you'd like to garnish, combine sour cream and chives in a bowl. In another bowl, combine mango, tomato and cilantro, and salt and pepper to taste (making a mango salsa!). Serve chili with optional garnishes and grated cheese.
Other recipes that use tomato paste:
Grilled tomato paste flank steak, from Use Real Butter
Com do ca chua (Vietnamese tomato paste red rice), from Wandering Chopsticks
Muhammara (Middle Eastern pepper and walnut dip), from Closet Cooking
Ciabatta with sundried tomato paste and Monterey Jack, from Our Life in Food
Cream of roasted tomato soup, from Andrea Meyers
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