Fresh, fruit of the vine, the-moment-it’s-picked is always best when it comes to produce of any kind, especially tomatoes. But best isn’t always possible. In fact, up north, it’s only possible for a very short window of the year.

Besides, when it comes to something like tomatoes in the form of paste, we’re never using fresh anyway (though it’d be nice to try making a concentrated paste from scratch. To-do list.). The intensity of flavor and color imparted by tomato paste is a must-have, generally in addition to fresh tomatoes, for all kinds of sauces and dishes.

While powdered anything makes me think of an astronaut’s diet, The Spice House in my old Chicago neighborhood hang-out taught me something about the wonder of dehydration. The point is less that this is our ideal way to eat, say, a tomato, as it is that we can use concentrated tomato for super flavorful and colorful paste, with less waste and space, if we simply mix a bit of high-quality tomato powder with water.

This stuff is the bomb!! It stays fresh in the refrigerator, or even in the cupboard, indefinitely. I’ve had some for much more than a year before and it was still good. It may have formed a bit of clumpiness, but that’s easily remedied with the back of a spoon. No doubt there are good tomato pastes, like Rodolfi brand, that come in tubes rather than cans (no cans, can’t stand ‘em, and I always end up throwing ¾ away), but I’ve been ranking the powdered tomato for paste high on my favorite things list for some time. I just don’t ever have to think about tomato paste, and is it expired? Or do I have a can? Or what can I do with the rest before it spoils?

A little tomato paste is what we’ll need this week for our vegetarian grape leaf rolls. So get after it! Once you start shopping The Spice House, I have a feeling you’ll be enjoying many of their products, from cinnamon to vanilla beans to their array of extracts. If you ever hit Chicago, or live there, head to Wells Street for a great spice excursion. And while you’re at it, stop in across the street at La Fournette bakery, and/or at the Fudge Pot nearby for a bag of chocolate.

(Aren’t you impressed that I found a way to end a post on tomato paste with the word “chocolate”?)