Fall has officially…fallen (?!). With the change of seasons comes the end of the garden goodies we’ve been enjoying all summer. I managed to yank all the rest of my tomatoes before the temperatures turned them to slime, and thus begins one of my favorite weekend cooking projects: slow-roasted tomato sauce.
Let’s back up slightly. Phil and I planted our first garden last year. To say that we didn’t know what we were doing is an understatement—but I was happy with the results overall. One of the things we did wrong was the watering method: we used a sprinkler rather than watering at the roots. Apparently, tomato plants don’t appreciate that. As a result, our tomato harvest was sub-optimal. But the one tomato plant that DID do well was my “San Marzano” plant, which yielded fantastic sauce tomatoes.
This year, our tomato plants suffered from blossom end rot. I pulled off tomato after tomato with disgusting, black ends and thought that the tomato harvest would be a bust. But some Googling revealed calcium deficiency as the culprit, which could easily be fixed with calcium-containing sprays. The tomato plants bounced back and I had several batches of garden tomato sauce as a result.
Roasting the tomatoes
Sauce-making is a great weekend cooking project—especially this one, since it involves very little hands-on time. If you have the time for a slow-roast, this marinara is one of the easiest sauces you can make. If you don’t have access to fresh tomatoes, you can also make the sauce with good-quality, whole, peeled tomatoes. If you feel like splurging, spring for the actual San Marzano tomatoes, marked “D.O.P.”, for “d’ Origine Protetta” (protected designation of origin). However, I rarely do this anymore: $6 a pop for a can of tomatoes is a bit hard to swallow.
I like to slice my tomatoes and lay them out on sheet-pans, add salt and pepper, top with fresh herbs (I recommend parsley, rosemary, thyme, and/or oregano; you can also use dried herbage), and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil. I scatter sliced shallots, onions, or garlic over the tomatoes. I leave the garlic in its skin, which protects it from getting that acrid, burned flavor, then squeeze the cloves out later. The pan goes into a 250° oven for as long as I can stand it (usually about 2 hours, stirring once during the roast).
Assembling the tomato sauce
When the sheet-pans come out of the oven, I pick the herbs out and throw them away. The onions, shallots, or garlic get minced and sautéed—SLOWLY—in olive oil with some pepper flakes (preferably the EVOO that was used in the roast! Just strain it right into the pan to catch the seeds). I sometimes add some finely grated carrot toward the end of the sauté for added sweetness: this substitutes nicely for adding sugar.
While the aromatics sauté, I run the tomatoes through a food mill, which catches most of the skin and seeds. You can also puree the tomatoes in a food processor, or zap them with an immersion blender.
Building in extra flavor
AND NOW, A HACK. You know how adding anchovies to just about any sauce adds incredible richness, but without the fishy flavor? (It does.) I love this idea, but I hate leftover anchovies and those little vile-smelling tins. As an alternative strategy, I first went to using a teaspoon or so of anchovy paste, added toward the end of the garlic/onion/shallot sauté. This works great, but…
I recently discovered that you can cheat by using Asian Fish Sauce. Yeah, I mix my cuisines. So what?! This is a super-easy way to umami-fy your sauce. After all, the main ingredient is anchovy extract. I got very excited when I made this discovery and Googled it to see if anyone else had thought of it. They had. I’m definitely not the only one.
You know the part where you would usually add some wine to the pan and reduce? I now FIRST add about 2 tablespoons of fish sauce and reduce it to almost nothing. THEN I add the wine. You might wrinkle your nose or raise an eyebrow, but to me, the smell of the sautéed garlic and that reduction is AMAZING. The result is a meaty, complex flavor that you would never associate with fish sauce.
Now it’s time to add the tomatoes. The last time I made the sauce, I left the tomatoes chunky, just giving them a rough chop. However, this turned out to be kid-unfriendly, as I discovered when the boys industriously picked out EVERY SINGLE chunk of tomato. So if you have kids or you’re chunk-averse, I’d suggest running the tomatoes through a food mill or giving them a quick purée with an immersion blender. Simmer low and slow until the sauce thickens, watching carefully to keep it from spitting all over your kitchen.
What to do with your tomato sauce
When you have achieved your desired consistency, you’ve reached a fork in the road. You could now eat your tomato sauce sauce over pasta: just add some Parmesan or Romano cheese, maybe sprinkle with some fresh basil, and you’re good to go. You could portion out your sauce into freezer bags/containers for an easy weeknight meal. You could make Bolognese sauce. You could do a combination of all of these.
The great thing about freezing some or all of your sauce is that it’s an easy weeknight meal to pull out when things are hectic. You can simply heat up the sauce, or—for a simple meat sauce—sauté some Italian sausage and diced onions and add it to the sauce (I like to use turkey sausage to cut down on the calories). Put it over some pasta, and BOOM—dinner done. Or use it in a baked pasta casserole: you can put these together the night before so that all you have to do is pop them into the oven!
What I’ve described above is a basic canvas for a sauce that you can embellish to your heart’s content. And so, without further ado, here is my Slow-Roasted Tomato Sauce Recipe:
- 10-12 whole sauce tomatoes,
- OR 1 28-oz can of good-quality whole tomatoes, drained
- 6 cloves of garlic, left in skin
- OR 1 small onion, sliced; OR 2 shallots, sliced
- Several sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme,
- OR 2 tsp dried Bouquet Garni, Herbs de Provence, or Italian herb mix.
- ~1/8-cup extra virgin olive oil, plus 2 tbsp, divided.
- 2 tbsp finely grated carrot, optional
- 1 pinch pepper flakes, optional
- 2 tbsp Asian Fish Sauce
- ½ cup white wine
- Fresh basil, for garnish (optional)
- Grated parmesan
- Preheat oven to 250°. Slice tomatoes and lay out on a sheet pan. Sprinkle with S&P. Scatter herbs and garlic/onion/shallot over the top. Drizzle with olive oil. Roast for 2 hours, stirring and flipping tomatoes once. (Alternatively, you can place the pan under a broiler set on high for 8-10 minutes, stirring once, and watching carefully to prevent burning—though some char is good.)
- Remove pan from oven and discard fresh herbs, if using. Remove tomatoes and reserve. Strain olive oil and collected juices from the pan into a Dutch oven over low heat. Add the additional olive oil. Mince the onion, shallots, or garlic (remove skin!) and add to the pot with the pepper flakes, if using. Heat, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Add grated carrot (if using); sauté an additional 2 minutes. Raise the heat to medium-high, stirring to avoid burning the aromatics. Add the fish sauce. Stir constantly until fish sauce is nearly evaporated, then add the wine.
- When the mixture is reduced by half, add the reserved tomatoes and reduce heat to low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens slightly. Check the seasoning, adjusting salt and pepper if necessary. Serve over pasta, topped with parmesan and fresh basil (if using), or store for another use.
This easy Bolognese Sauce recipe tastes as though you’ve been slaving over a hot stove all day—but it’s done in under an hour.
Lasagna Bolognese is delicious, easy to assemble beforehand, & freezes well. AND it’s a sneaky veggie-delivery vehicle for picky kids & spousal units.
Make Bolognese Sauce to eat over pasta, then use it in Lasagna Bolognese or baked pasta casserole for a “One-Two Punch” of easy meals!