Essential Recipe: Tomato Vinaigrette

This tomato vinaigrette is one of my go-to pantry staples that I love having on hand for last minute meals. But I have a confession… It’s not technically a “vinaigrette.” It’s main acidity comes from lemon juice, which makes it a citronette! Regardless, it’s a year-round way to achieve punchy, cheerful tomato flavor. The quick cook in a skillet lightly caramelizes the tomato paste, bringing out a lot of natural sweetness as well as natural umami. Adding a generous amount of lemon juice and zest balances the concentrated tomato flavor, and lifts it to a zippy and refreshing level of brightness.  As a die-hard tomato lover, having such a bright and lively tomato flavor at my fingertips, without being beholden to the seasons, makes this one of my top “essential” pantry recipes.

This easy tomato dressing is incredibly versatile, and stores well in the fridge!

I first developed this dressing for a simple and summery salad based around pearl couscous and zucchini. Its robust flavor gets soaked up by the couscous in a really satisfying way, and the savory-tangy combo of garlic and lemon is a no-brainer for adding pizzazz to raw zucchini. I realized fairly quickly that the addictive vivacity of the dressing would be an amazing addition to so many different meals… I’ve even been known to use this as an easy pre-made pasta sauce! Just toss with cooked pasta, a splash of pasta water, and torn basil and you’ve got dinner on the table!

Go beyond the salad: This tomato vinaigrette is a perfect "cheat" ingredient to quickly transform any number of meals.

Obviously, it’s easy to think about putting salad dressing on a salad, so be creative with what you’re tossing together. I particularly like crunchy, hearty greens like iceberg, Belgian endive, and kale.

For some non-leafy inspiration, try using the vinaigrette in one of these ways:

  • Bean salads: Creamy beans tossed with crunchy fresh veggies (like diced peppers, onions, fennel, etc) work super well with the big flavors of this dressing. Finish with a handful of parsley, mint, or dill!
  • Baked brie or feta: Tomatoes and cheese love each other. It’s a fact. Try spooning this over your wheel of brie or block of feta before baking it. Or, if you’re wrapping your brie in pastry, brush the bottom crust with the vinaigrette before placing and wrapping the wheel.
  • Grain salads: The deep and bold flavors of this tomato vinaigrette work incredibly well on whole grains. Try toothsome farro or barley, add some fresh herbs, and a few shaves of a nutty-salty cheese like Parmesan or Gruyere. Excellent as a side for most proteins!
  • A finishing touch for roasted or grilled veggies: The savory-tangy flavor of this dressing is the perfect foil to the crispy deep flavors that you get from roasting or grilling. Try tossing or drizzling your veggies with a spoonful of this dressing when they’re fresh off the heat. Finish with a sprinkle of flaked sea salt. (I’m particularly fond of using this for squash, green beans, potatoes, and asparagus.)
  • Finishing soups: You’ve heard of “soup au pistou?” How about “soup au citronette?” A swirl of this tomato dressing in a bowl of soup adds the same richness as a drizzle of EVOO and the same brightness as a squeeze of lemon. Plus the aromatic tomato, garlic, and lemon zest! Try it over pureed soups, but also in simple classics like chicken noodle soup.

Notes for Success:

Use sparingly on more delicate leaves if dressing a green salad. Tender greens like butter lettuce will wilt quickly once dressed. Those greens are also generally more delicate in flavor, and since the tomato vinaigrette is big and bold, a little will go a long way. Also, because of the thick texture of the tomato paste, you may wish to dilute it with a bit of extra lemon juice, or even a tiny dribble of water. Use your best judgement.

For a smooth dressing, feel free to blitz in a blender or with an immersion blender. This will help homogenize the texture and mince up the pieces of garlic, but it will still separate as it sits.

Essential Recipe: Tomato Vinaigrette

Technically a citronette, this bold lemon-based dressing is an easy way to add quick flavor to any meal. Excellent as a dressing for heartier leafy green salads, but also very good with grain or pasta salads, drizzled over roasted or grilled veggies, and even swirled into soups just before serving.
YIELD12 Ounces
TOTAL TIME 15 mins


  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • One 6-ounce can tomato paste (about ⅔ cup)
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest, plus 4 tablespoons lemon juice (Zest and juice of 2 lemons)
  • Kosher salt and black pepper


  • In a medium skillet over medium heat, cook the garlic and oil just until the garlic begins to sizzle. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, until darkened by a few shades to a brick red color, about 5 minutes. Scrape everything, including the oil, into a heatproof bowl or measuring cup, and whisk in the lemon zest and juice, 1½ teaspoons salt and 2 teaspoons pepper. Taste and adjust the salt to your liking.
    For a smoother dressing, blitz quickly with an immersion blender until the sliced garlic is broken down to a size of your liking.
    Use immediately or store in the fridge. It will last at least 1 week.

Extra Notes:

Tip: When stirring the tomato paste in the oil, it will be a fairly sloshy texture. That's normal! The large blobs of paste will break down as the paste cooks, but don't expect it to fully combine with the oil.
Tip: Tomato paste changes color gradually, so if you don't often cook with tomato paste it might be a bit tricky to tell when it has "darkened by a few shades." The simple trick? Keep a small smear of uncooked tomato paste near you while you cook. That way you have a small sample for color comparison. (I like to leave a small dab on whatever utensil I used to get the paste out of its can or jar.)

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Isabella

    5 stars
    Hi, I’m wondering if there is any particular kind of tomato paste you recommend, or don’t recommend? Like, would the kind that comes in a tube be better than one in a can for texture or flavor? Thanks. I’m looking forward to trying this in the Couscous and Zucchini salad.

    1. Julia @ Small Pantry

      Hi Isabella!
      Great question. I do have a personal preference for the thicker texture of canned or tubed tomato pastes, instead of jarred. The stuff in jars tends to be sloshier and take longer to brown. But! I’ve used canned, jarred, triple concentrated, double concentrated, etc, all with delicious results. So you can definitely use whatever you have available.
      I hope you’ll pop back and let me know how it goes!

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