It's easy to think of tomato sauce at two ends of the spectrum: Straight out of the jar or cooked for hours on the stove top.
Friends, I'm pleased to report there's a happy medium that gets you a flavorful sauce in less than one hour - and with very little work.
I was more than thrilled to make that discovery, because in my initial testing, I followed a recipe that involved about two hours' worth of prep (boiling, peeling, seeding and chopping), 8 pounds of Roma/plum tomatoes - plus an hour of cooking.
It was ... a lot.
I pitted it against a recipe that basically had you throw the whole tomato in as is, with a mere 30 minutes in the pot. Tasters liked both, but the amount of effort required gave the quick sauce a clear advantage.
The recipe comes from Lynne Rossetto Kasper, formerly of the radio show "The Splendid Table." Her sauce was maybe a bit on the watery side. To compensate, I switched to Roma tomatoes, which are meatier and contain less liquid. There's a reason they're often referred to as "paste tomatoes." Part of me felt guilty doing this, because Rossetto Kasper's recipe explicitly states "never Romas of any kind," but I also believe that you get a fair assessment first by preparing a recipe as written and then by trying some informed, reasonable changes.
I made a few other nips and tucks - a little less onion here, a little more salt there - and added a tablespoon of tomato paste for a jump-start on a more intense savory, long-cooked flavor.
This revision blew the tasting panel away. It struck the right balance between sweet and acidic, bright and rich. The sauce is naturally at home on pasta, but it would also be great on sandwiches and pizza and as a base for a soup or braise. It's charming as a chunky, more rustic sauce; we also liked using an immersion blender to partially blend it into a more cohesive whole.
Because now is the time to get good local tomatoes, go ahead and buy a bunch at the farmers market to make this sauce. In terms of time put in and ultimate output, the math and the merits are very much in your favor.
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FRESH TOMATO SAUCE
Active: 20 minutes | Total: 50 minutes
8 servings; makes about 4 cups
Make Ahead: The sauce can be refrigerated for up to 4 days, or frozen for up to 6 months.
5 large cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
12 large fresh basil leaves, torn
1/4 medium onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, or more as needed
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more as needed
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 1/2 pounds plum or Roma tomatoes, cored and quartered
In a 4-quart saucepan, combine the garlic, basil, onion, salt, pepper, tomato paste and olive oil. Heat over medium-high heat for 30 seconds; you should be able to smell the ingredients, but they shouldn't be burning. Add the tomatoes, breaking them up a bit more with your hands as they go into the pan. Bring to a lively bubble, uncovered, and cook 30 minutes, or until the sauce is thick and reduced by half. Stir often, watching for sticking or scorching.
Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and let stand 15 minutes. Taste and season with more salt and pepper, if needed.
If you prefer a smoother texture, pass the sauce through a food mill or process it with a blender, immersion blender or food processor. Serve warm, with pasta or your dish of choice.
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Nutrition | Calories: 100; Total Fat: 7 g; Saturated Fat: 1 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 150 mg; Carbohydrates: 9 g; Dietary Fiber: 3 g; Sugars: 6 g; Protein: 2 g.
Adapted from a recipe by Lynne Rossetto Kasper at splendidtable.org.