Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Fresh tomato sauce

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 Fresh tomato sauce Cook down a lot of summer tomatoes into this versatile sauce, and you'll be enjoying summer flavor all winter.
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Fresh tomato sauce

At the risk of tiring readers with yet another celebration of all the great vegetables coming out of our garden this warm summer, we're reveling in a bumper crop of tomatoes over here.

Hoping that you are, too (or at least have access to fresh local tomatoes at farmers' markets), I thought it would be worth revisiting a topic I discussed around this same time five years ago, talking about how to capture a taste of this bounty and save it for enjoyment when winter winds blast.

The secret: Make fresh tomato sauce! As I said in the July 25, 2002 FoodLetter, fresh-made sauce offers delicious richness and fresh flavor that can't be duplicated from a can, and better yet, it's easy to freeze in single-serving portions.

My standard recipe is simple, and subject to endless variation to your taste. (In fact, I've made a few small changes since I last talked about this procedure in print.)

The key, in any case, is not traditional long simmering, but a quick, non-intrusive cooking down that retains the tomatoes' natural fresh flavor. If you decide you want a long-cooked Sicilian-style sauce later, you can always put a ration on the back burner with plenty of garlic and let it simmer for hours and caramelize into Italian-American "gravy." Or use it to make tomato soup, or lasagna, or even a quick pizza topping ... well, you get the idea.


(Makes about 3 quarts or a scant 3 liters)

About 5 pounds (2 kilos) fresh, ripe tomatoes (plum tomatoes such as Romas are best for sauce, but any fresh garden tomato will do)
1 large sweet white or yellow onion
Several sprigs of fresh basil
2 tablespoons (30ml) good olive oil
Sea salt
Black pepper


1. Cut the tomatoes into large chunks and put them in a large non-reactive pan (most experts advise avoiding aluminum to avoid off flavors, although a hard anodized aluminum surface is OK).

2. Peel the onion and cut it into chunks, and put them in with the tomatoes. Add the whole basil sprigs, the olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper. (Be discreet with the seasoning. You can always add more when you use the sauce in recipes, but you can't take it out.)

3. Bring the tomatoes to a boil over high heat, stirring and mashing the tomato pieces occasionally. The natural juice of the tomatoes will provide all the liquid you need. When it boils, reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until the tomatoes are soft but not overcooked. About 30 minutes is plenty. The key to this sauce is freshness and simplicity. If you want to make a sweet, caramelized Italian-American "gravy," you can always put some sauce and a lot of garlic over low heat and simmer it for hours later on.

4. Put the entire contents of a pan through a Foley food mill (an inexpensive and useful accessory that should be available anywhere kitchen supplies are sold). If you don't have a food mill, you can force the sauce through a large strainer, but it's a lot more work. In any case, the point is to separate smooth, flavorful pulp from the tomato skins and seeds, which at this point will have given all their flavor to the sauce. To view a Foley food mill on, click

Use immediately or freeze. It tastes great over hot pasta with nothing added but grated cheese, or of course you can use it as your base in any recipe that calls for tomato sauce.

MATCHING WINE: Your wine match depends on the recipe, of course, but I find that fruity and acidic Italian reds make natural companions with tomatoes and tomato sauce. Chianti with red-sauced spaghetti or pizza is not just a cliche ... in my most recent batch, a simple bowl of spaghetti with a dollop of this sauce and a ration of grated Pecorino Romano cheese made a splendid match with a very modest 2005 Chianti.

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