Slow-Roasted Tomato Sauce is wonderful to have on hand in the dead of winter, when good, fresh tomatoes are so hard to find at the grocery. With this in mind, I grow buckets of sauce tomatoes during the summer months and make several batches to keep in the freezer.
(Updated post.) This weekend marked my first haul of garden tomatoes, and thus begins one of my favorite weekend cooking projects: slow-roasted tomato sauce. If you’re looking for a garden-fresh marinara recipe for all of your gorgeous garden or farmers’ market tomatoes, you can’t go wrong with this.
Let’s back up slightly. Phil and I planted our first garden a while back. 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 in the beginning 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.
Will we ever figure this tomato thing out?
The next 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.
THIS year has been very wet, so although our tomato plants are decorated with gorgeous, ripe and almost-ripe tomatoes, that’s all that’s left of the plant. The hubster despairs that we’ll ever figure this out. I tend to agree.
Slow-Roasted Tomato Sauce: 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 your slow-roasted 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 peeled, 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 extra flavor into slow-roasted tomato sauce
AND NOW, A HACK. And for any “Italian Foodistas” out there, this is ABSOLUTELY not authentic. (But it’s delicious.)
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. 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 first.
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 rich, complex flavor that you would never associate with fish.
Slow-roasted Tomato Sauce: the chunk dilemma
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 slow-roasted 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. Enjoy!
I’m sharing my slow-roasted tomato sauce recipe with:
- #CookBlogShare, a great food blogger recipe-share hosted this week by Glutarama.
- #CookOnceEatTwice, for recipes that are just as good left-over as they are when you made them, hosted by Searching for Spice.
- #RecipeOfTheWeek (coming soon!) hosted by A Mummy Too.
- #BrillBlogPosts, a link party with a variety of lifestyle reads hosted by Honest Mum.
Slow-roasting tomatoes takes the flavor of this sauce to another level. This is a favorite weekend project when the garden is full of ripe tomatoes. During the winter, you can use good-quality canned whole, peeled tomatoes. If you can find them, spring for San Marzano-type tomatoes.
- 10-12 whole sauce tomatoes OR 1 28-oz can of good-quality whole tomatoes, drained
- 6 cloves of garlic, left in skin
- Several sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme
- 1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil plus 2 tbsp, divided.
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp carrot, finely grated (optional)
- 1 pinch pepper flakes (optional)
- 2 tbsp Asian Fish Sauce
- 1/2 cup white wine
- Fresh basil, for garnish (optional)
- Grated parmesan, for garnish
Preheat oven to 250°. Slice tomatoes and lay out on a sheet pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Scatter herbs and garlic 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 during the broil, and watching carefully to prevent burning—though some char is good.)
Remove pan from oven and discard herbs. 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 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 wine is reduced by approximately half, add the reserved tomatoes and reduce heat to low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens slightly, about 30 minutes. Check the seasoning, adjusting salt and pepper if necessary. If desired, purée the sauce or remove any large pieces of tomato skin. Serve over pasta, topped with parmesan and fresh basil (if using), or store for another use.
- To stretch a batch of sauce, I'll often add one 14-oz. can of crushed tomatoes (or a 28-oz. can for a larger batch). The flavor won't suffer.
- If you like a thinner sauce, add 1/2 cup of water (or vegetable broth) and adjust the seasoning.
- To make this sauce vegetarian, omit the fish sauce and use a vegetarian-friendly substitute for Parmesan cheese.
Related tools on Sur La Table (affiliate)
|pepper mill||baking sheets||oil dispensers||immersion blender|
|“Bolognese” Sauce: my cheater version of the Italian classic. Easy enough for a weeknight!|
|Baked Lasagna Bowls: great make-ahead meals for busy times. I always make a few of these when I have extra bolognese or marinara sauce hanging about.|
|The Bolognese-Lasagna One-Two Punch: an easy “saucy two-step” meal plan with Bolognese Sauce, where you make the sauce ahead and then use it over pasta and in Lasagna Bolognese.|