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Fresh tomato sauce is rich, flavorful and ready in less than an hour

Fresh Tomato Sauce is made in less than an hour and can be used on pasta, pizza and sandwiches or in soups. (Washington Post)
Fresh Tomato Sauce is made in less than an hour and can be used on pasta, pizza and sandwiches or in soups. (Washington Post)
By Becky Krystal Washington Post

It’s easy to think of tomato sauce at two ends of the spectrum: Directly out of the jar or cooked for hours on the stove top. I’m pleased to report that there’s a happy medium that gets you a flavorful sauce in less than 1 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 2 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 and 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 also would 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 as long as 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.

Fresh Tomato Sauce

Adapted from a recipe by Lynne Rossetto Kasper at

You don’t need an entire day to make a flavorful tomato sauce. With no peeling, seeding and very little chopping, this Italian classic requires hardly any prep work and only half an hour of cook time. The rich tomato taste and consistency is just as good as if you had spent hours over the stove top.

5 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

12 large 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.

Yield: 8 servings; makes about 4 cups.

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