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), eight 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 Splendid Table” radio show. 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. (Getting fresh San Marzanos really takes it over the top.) It will keep for up to 6 months in the freezer or 4 days in the fridge. In terms of time put in and ultimate output, the math and the merits are very much in your favor.