The Canned Tomatoes Ina Garten Can't Get Enough Of

Ina Garten is the unofficial foodie queen of impressive yet uncomplicated meals. As such, even the pantry staples she swears by are elevated classics. That's why, when Garten is cooking with canned tomatoes, they've got to be San Marzanos.

The celebrity chef and television personality names San Marzanos as her pick for iconic Barefoot Contessa recipes such as Weeknight Bolognese, Moroccan Lamb Tagine, Penne Arrabiata, and Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage, to name a few. But, while Garten's go-to canned tomatoes from Simpson Imports may wear the "San Marzano" label, the product doesn't necessarily come from Italy.

The San Marzano tomato is named after an Italian region between Naples and Salerno famous for its unique volcanic soil. The fruit is characteristically long and thin, a type of plum tomato with relatively few seeds. While they do grow in their namesake region (where they're protected by a Protected Designation of Origin seal, like Parmigiano Reggiano), the San Marzano tomato plant can also be cultivated elsewhere and is even grown commercially in the U.S. Don't get it twisted, the canned boys aren't frauds — they don't pretend to be the real deal — but we aren't mad about it either way. They're delicious, packing the signature sweet taste, mild acidity, and strong tomato-ey flavor into a single can that's intense yet well-balanced. "Can Marzanos" might not be "authentic," but that doesn't stop them from being a killer offering, and the number one choice of the Barefoot Contessa.

Marzano is the way to go

Their flavor isn't the only thing Ina Garten loves about canned San Marzano tomatoes. In a video with Food Network, Garten walks fans through her recipe for Penne Arrabiata. The secret to her Arrabiata sauce (besides lots of garlic and a slow-simmer in olive oil) is the San Marzanos' whole, intact, oblong shape. "I think San Marzano are the best-quality canned tomatoes," says the chef, as she drains the tomatoes in a colander to prevent a watery sauce. She opts for whole tomatoes to cook with because she can put them in a food processor and have total control over the consistency of her sauce. (Pro tip: Garten says she saves the drained tomato juice for making Bloody Marys later on.)

The brand Garten uses in the video can be purchased on Amazon and, according to the label on the can, the San Marzano tomatoes are grown and packed in the U.S. Accessibility is famously the name of the game in Garten's kitchen, but are San Marzanos worth the splurge? At a Walmart in New York, a 28-ounce can of Cento San Marzano tomatoes goes for $4.38 compared to just $1.36 for the same size can of store-brand Great Value canned tomatoes. Still, many different American and Italian brands manufacture canned San Marzano tomatoes, including Cento, Hunt's, Alessi, and Mutti Pomodoro. Try one out for yourself and see if you can taste the Italian (or, not-so-Italian) difference.