No longer will half-used cans of tomato paste fall victim to the back of the fridge.

Shrimp Étouffée
Credit: Stephanie Meyer

Rarely if ever does a recipe call for more than a few tablespoons of tomato paste. As a result, regardless of how little you buy, there's always plenty left over. So you toss it into the fridge, wait for it to become suitably gross and then toss it during your next fridge cleanse. (For the record, it’s better to freeze leftover tomato paste into individual tablespoon size portions.) Fret not, though: Tomato paste is tremendously versatile and can be used for all sorts of dishes. Here are five ways to use leftover tomato paste.

Add it to a quick pasta sauce.

Pasta is delicious, but sometimes, especially after a long day, you might not want to take the time to make a proper marinara sauce. For those nights when you’re still yearning for the combination of pasta and tomatoes, but feel like putting forth minimal effort, tomato paste is a great substitute. When thrown together with olive oil, garlic and basil, tomato paste will impart a ton of tomato flavor without taking more than a few minutes to cook.

Intensify existing tomato flavors in other dishes.

Now, tomato paste can also assist when you do have the energy to cook a marinara sauce from scratch. While whole canned tomatoes will do most of the heavy lifting for the sauce, tomato paste helps add a richer, sweeter flavor to the marinara sauce as a whole. Especially if you’re in a rush and don’t have as much time to reduce the sauce as you’d like, tomato paste can help impart flavors that will convince others that you spent the whole day by the stove.

Embrace the flavors of New Orleans.

In there’s one city that fully embraces the versatility of tomato paste, it’s New Orleans. You can see the ubiquitous ingredient pop up in everything from shrimp Étouffée to dirty rice, always helping to deepen existing flavor and add body to any dish's cooking liquid.

Add it to a braise.

One of the best applications for leftover tomato paste is braising. When building a proper braise, tomato paste is great for adding a lot of flavor to the braising liquid, all while helping the wine, aromatics and fat meld together more cohesively. While you can rarely taste the tomato flavor in the finished sauce, this is another case where tomato paste helps deepen the flavors of dish as a whole, without overshadowing the other ingredients.

Deepen flavors in a soup or stew.

Quite possibly the best application for leftover tomato paste, though, is in a soup or stew. Tomato paste helps add body and color to any soup or stew and its acidity and sweetness balance out the rich flavors of aromatics and meat or seafood.