Sisyphus and the world’s simplest tomato sauce

Colors of the Italian flag

Colors of the Italian flag

Gourmandistan may not harbor the world’s biggest tomato fans, but our borders can certainly hold a lot of tomato sauce. We rely on cup-size bags of frozen sauce for pasta, pizza and many other dishes that make the cold months bearable. In past years we’ve bought flats of San Marzano tomatoes from Hazelfield Farm to make one of our most-requested recipes, Roasted Tomato Sauce. This season, however, the weather wasn’t cooperating with the tomato plants—at least on our Padua-predisposed schedule. As our departure deadline approached, we began to despair that we would be limited to white sauces this winter. At the final markets before our travel we bought piles of plum-type tomatoes (including some Juliets which are really cherry tomatoes) from at least three different farmers. Michelle and Steve then each took a day to make sauce, tackling a mountain of small tomatoes that never seemed to end, yet somehow ended up as tubs and tins of roasted tomatoes, peppers, onion and garlic. A marathon mixing and FoodSavering session followed (breaking our blender in the process), but we finally ended up with what we hope is a winter’s worth of sauce.

This recipe is truly one of the simplest sauces we know about. There’s no blanching, seeding or peeling needed. You can, as we did, make a project out of it, but one small batch will simply and quickly make you happy. Just don’t expect it to last through your winter.


Cut out the woody and bruised parts of ripe tomatoes. San Marzanos or other paste tomatoes are best, but others or a mixture are okay. Halve or quarter the larger ones. Put them in a roasting pan. Add some quartered onions and/or whole shallots and as many garlic cloves as you can stand to peel. If you have some sweet red peppers, or even some hot peppers, seed and throw them in. You can add a carrot or two for sweetness. Toss in some herbs—fresh or dried. Basil and oregano, of course, are traditional. Season with pepper and, if you want, a bit of salt (we find that whatever salt is put in before freezing disappears so often wait to season it after thawing). Drizzle olive oil over.

Bake in a hot (425° F or so) oven for an hour, or an hour and a half. Stir occasionally. It’s okay if the tomato skins or the onions get a little charred. In fact, it may add to the flavor. Remove from oven. Cool for a bit. Plop the whole thing in a blender or food processor. (Or if it seems too runny, use a slotted spoon and leave some of the juices out.)

We always freeze the prepared sauce in 1- or 2-cup increments for pizzas, etc.  If it seems too runny after thawing, cook down for a bit on the stove.  If it seems a little blah, add a little tomato paste or chopped up dried tomatoes.  And salt.


  1. I’ve tried it, and I’m here to testify that I look forward to legitimate cold weather so I can break out some of the frozen precious stuff. I’ve already had to embroider on the basic approach a couple of times when people handed me tomatoes and I didn’t have the rest of the ingredients in the house, but the tomatoes had to be cooked. Roasted them separately, roasted everything else later, combined in various ways (once running the tomatoes through the trusty Foley Food Mill and then processing the other veggies in the skinless/seedless pulp just to a lightly chunky stage). I just love knowing about this sauce; because of it I’ll never fear another giant gift of late summer veggies.

  2. Pingback: Roasted tomato sauce, produce growing on top of the supermarket; more.

  3. Yes! I just got some tiny tomato beauties at the Farmers Market and I was going to roast them. Now I want to get some Romas and roast those too…and make sauce! Freezing instead of canning is a good idea in this hot weather.

    • Yeah, the freezing is so much easier and cooler. Steve loves his FoodSaver, and is so thrilled that this year there is room to lay the packets flat in the new upright freezer!

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