Slow Roasted Tomato Sauce
I’ve been on a quest for a long, slow simmered tomato sauce. A lot of people swear by Marcella Hazan’s simple recipe – simmer butter, tomatoes, and a halved onion for an hour. It’s a good sauce. It’s fine. It’s not what I’m looking for. I also make a quick, weeknight tomato sauce. It’s better than jarred pasta sauce, and finishes in the time it takes to boil the pasta. That’s not what I’m looking for either. I want a classic Italian-American sauce, a slow roasted tomato sauce that cooks all day. 1
I think my quest is over. 2 I stumbled across this sauce recipe from The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion and Cooking Manual. It is barely a recipe – lightly toast garlic cloves in olive oil, add a big pinch of red pepper flakes, a lot of canned San Marzano tomatoes, and simmer for four hours. 3
I made a couple of modifications to their technique, because I can’t help myself:
- I cut the amounts in half, which makes just enough sauce to top a pound of pasta
- I simmer in the oven, instead of on the stove top
- I add a sprig of fresh basil (If it’s in season) or a pinch of dried Italian herbs (in the winter)
This is a great recipe for a lazy Sunday. Get the pot in the oven early, let it cook all day (and fill the house with delicious tomato sauce aroma), and serve it on pasta for an amazing Sunday supper.
Slow Roasted Tomato Sauce
- Oven safe, non reactive pot, preferably with a heavy lid, at least 3.5 quarts. (Enameled cast iron is perfect for this. I use a Le Creuset dutch oven)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 8 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 (28 ounce) cans whole plum tomatoes with juice
- 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning (or 1 sprig fresh basil)
- Salt and pepper to taste
1. Lightly sauté the garlic
Set oven to 350*F. Heat oil and garlic over low heat until the garlic shows just a hint of brown. Add the red pepper flakes, then stir in the tomatoes and their juice. (Watch out – the oil in the pan will spit when the tomato juice hits it. Wear an apron.) Increase the heat to medium and bring the tomatoes to a simmer, stirring often and breaking up any whole tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Cover the pot and move it to the oven.
2. Bake for 4 hours
Bake the tomato sauce in the oven for four hours. Every hour, check on it, stirring it well and scraping the side of the pot; after two hours, set the lid slightly ajar so steam can escape. After four hours, the sauce will be dark red and the tomatoes will have broken down – the sauce should be the consistency of crushed tomatoes. Remove the pot from the oven. Discard the basil sprig if you used it. Let the sauce cool for a minute, taste, and add salt and pepper as needed. (Canned tomatoes tend to be salty; normally I don’t need to add salt, just a lot of fresh ground black pepper.)
- This recipe freezes well – double the ingredients, and use a six quart or larger pot.
- To make this recipe even easier, I buy packages of pre-peeled cloves. My local grocery store sells clamshell packages of whole, peeled cloves, and they make my life so easy in the kitchen. Just watch out that the cloves look dry; if the’re looking wet or soft, they’re starting to go.
- What tomatoes? DOP San Marzano tomatoes from Italy are the classic answer – but they’re really expensive. I get great results from 28 ounce cans of Muir Glen plum tomatoes (if I can find them), or Hunts plum tomatoes if I can’t find Muir Glen.
What do you think?
Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.
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There used to be an Italian-American restaurant in downtown Cleveland; their claim to fame was a pot of sauce that had been simmering since the early 1900’s. It was refreshed ever night, but the base of the sauce had been there forever. That’s the ideal version of the sauce I’m looking for.↩
My quest is never over. I’m always tinkering with recipes, but this one is good enough for me to use as the base from now on. My next test? Add a halved onion and some butter, to see if I can cross Marcella’s recipe with Frankies’.↩
And yes, it’s Frankies, not Frankie’s. The Brooklyn restaurant has two chefs – Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo.↩