Why It Works
- Slowly cooking tomato purée in the oven transforms it into a deeply rich, caramelized paste that adds depth and sweetness to the sauce.
- A splash of barely cooked tomato purée delivers the fruity flavor of sun-warmed fresh tomatoes.
- Using a variety of tomatoes, mostly plums but also other types (including juicy ones, like beefsteaks, that are not typically added to sauce), guarantees a balanced and well-rounded overall flavor.
The key to this amazingly rich yet fresh-tasting sauce, made from perfect summertime tomatoes, is that it's a blend of three different sauces. A homemade oven-baked tomato paste is deeply sweet and rich, a classic tomato sauce provides bulk and flavor, and finally, a splash of barely cooked tomato purée guarantees the bright, fresh, fruity taste of vine-ripened tomatoes. Served on pasta, it's so flavorful you won't even need cheese on top.
- 10 pounds (4.5kg) ripe plum tomatoes, preferably mixed varieties (such as Romas, Amish Pastes, and San Marzanos), cut into large chunks, plus 15 pounds (6.8kg) ripe mixed tomatoes, mostly plums with a small portion of other tomatoes (such as beefsteaks), cut into large chunks
- 3 tablespoons (45ml) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing
- 1 large yellow onion, minced (see note)
- 3 medium cloves garlic, minced (see note)
- 2 large sprigs fresh basil
- 1 small tomato plant cutting with about 5 leaves (optional)
- Kosher salt
In a large stockpot, heat the 10 pounds plum tomatoes, covered, over high heat, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes dump their liquid. Bring to a boil in covered pot, stirring occasionally, and cook until tomatoes are softened, about 10 minutes.
Preheat oven to 275°F (135°C) and grease several rimmed baking sheets and/or baking dishes with oil. Using a food mill or a stand mixer's vegetable strainer attachment, pass cooked plum tomatoes and all their liquid into a large heatproof container. Discard skins and seeds.
Pour plum tomato purée into rimmed baking sheets and/or baking dishes, being careful not to overfill them.
Carefully transfer baking sheets and dishes to oven and bake, checking every 15 minutes and stirring once purée begins to thicken, until a thick, spreadable tomato paste forms, at least 2 hours.
Meanwhile, fill the same large stockpot with remaining 15 pounds mixed tomatoes and cook, covered, over high heat, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes dump their liquid. Bring to a boil in covered pot, stirring occasionally, and cook until tomatoes are softened, about 10 minutes. (Work in batches if your pot can't hold all 15 pounds at once.)
Using food mill or stand mixer's vegetable strainer attachment, pass cooked mixed tomatoes and all their liquid into a large heatproof container. Discard skins and seeds. Measure out 1 quart (900ml) mixed-tomato purée and set aside.
Heat 3 tablespoons (45ml) olive oil in a large, wide saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and sweet, about 8 minutes. Add remaining mixed-tomato purée and simmer, stirring occasionally, until reduced to a sauce-like consistency, 35 to 40 minutes.
Remove from heat; stir in basil and tomato-plant cutting, if using; and let steep for 5 minutes. Discard basil and tomato-plant cutting. Stir in oven-dried tomato paste and reserved tomato purée and season with salt. Use as desired or freeze.
This recipe calls for 25 pounds of tomatoes and yields between 1 and 2 gallons of sauce, since it's not much extra effort to make a lot and summer rolls around only once a year. The sauce can be frozen for several months. If you want to make more or less sauce, the recipe can easily be scaled up or down; cooking times may change, but the method remains the same. This recipe calls for sautéed onion and garlic, but you can also choose to include minced carrot and celery in the mix, or skip the sautéing step and simmer the minced raw aromatics in the sauce. Or, you can leave the aromatics out altogether and make this sauce with the tomatoes alone.
Make-Ahead and Storage
The homemade tomato paste can be made separately in advance and stored for up to 1 week in the refrigerator. The finished sauce will keep in the refrigerator for about 1 week, or in the freezer for several months.