Oven-Baked Heirloom Tomato Sauce

*This is a repost from several years ago when the lovely Jessa wrote our recipes.

I’ll start this off with an excuse and an apology – I’ve pinched a nerve in my neck and am stuck in bed with a ridiculous contraption of pillows, blankets, rolled-up towels, hot water bottles, ice packs, and painkillers trying to keep me motionless and (somewhat) pain-free. But it’s not working.

Typing is about the worst thing for me to be doing now (small arm/neck/shoulder muscles and all that), so with very little back-story or fanfare, I present to you one of my new favorite recipes, adapted from a method I saw on a TV show a while back (Good Eats, recipe by Alton Brown): an oven-baked tomato sauce perfect for pasta, pizza, eggplant parmesan…the possibilities are endless.

And right now, so are the tomatoes. I got these for $1.00/lb at the Alemany Farmer’s Market here in town, and have been waiting for this moment to start making (and putting up) tomatoes for the loooong dry spell of $7.99 heirlooms (or worse, NO heirlooms!) that is likely just around the corner.
Stupid fog. I can’t wait until my garden is putting out more than the occasional Sungold.

All the herbs are from the back yard – my favorite secret weapon? FRESH (not dried) fennel/anise seed straight off the plant. It grows wild everywhere around here, and these little seeds are full of delicious, deep flavor and a lovely crunchy green texture (I find the dry ones a bit chewy if not ground up).
I promise to make up for this terse post once I’m back on my feet; by then I’ll have gone so stir-crazy I’ll probably cook for several days straight just to feel sane again!

Oven-Baked Tomato Sauce (makes about 3 c.)

10-12 good-sized ripe tomatoes (San Marzanos and Romas are best, called “paste tomatoes”, but any thick-walled heirloom will do OK too. You just want to find the highest meat-to-seed/water ratio you can get)
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp olive or sunflower oil
a few sprigs each of your favorite herbs (I like oregano or marjoram to be the main flavor, with backups of lemon thyme, basil, and a hefty teaspoon full of fresh fennel seed)
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 c sherry or white wine
1 bay leaf
Wash and half the tomatoes, scooping out a majority of the seeds and gelatinous goop, but leaving any meaty inner-walls intact. Place them face-up in glass or pyrex casserole dishes. Sprinkle with the herbs, alliums (onions and garlic), and salt and pepper. Drizzle with oil, and put them in a 325 degree oven for around an hour and a half.

Once that time has elapsed, there may be quite a bit of juice in the bottom of the pan. Turn your oven to broil, and leave the oven door ajar for a good 20 minutes to boil away and condense the moisture.

Once the tomatoes are in less than a half-centimeter of juice (or you’re bored and don’t want to wait any more), transfer everything into a food processor, blender, or use an immersion blender to process everything into a smooth-ish paste. If you are averse to skins, you can run it through a food mill to remove any seeds/skins/lumps instead of blending. Me? I like the skins and am not fond of food mills.

Once fully blended, pour the mixture into a pot and add some sherry, wine (red or white), or vodka to open up the sauce and give it a little oomph. Also add a bay leaf, and any additional spices (hot pepper flakes, more fennel seed, more salt?), and simmer to cook off the alcohol.
Serve this sauce hot over pasta or in a lasagna, simmer fried spicy mini-meatballs in it for an amazing party snack, or spread it over your (homemade, of course) sourdough pizza dough and top with ridiculous amounts of mozzerella cheese.
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  1. thats a great trick broiling off the sauce moisture, very cool. The fennel here is still blooming!


    These photos are so fabulous and this looks so good i'm slobbering like one of Pavlov's dogs…

  3. Aww, thank you! I loved the colors of those yellow heirlooms – made the sauce a little less dark red than usual, but they were so sweet and wonderful I couldn't pass them up!

  4. Oh, yum! This looks like a brilliantly hands-off way to deal with all those maters, without dicking around with boiling water, slotted spoons and the like. I had a sauce similar this once at Aperto here on Potrero Hill and was amazed by the rich concentration of tomato flavor. I've been wanting to try making one myself. Thanks for posting a recipe. And killer photos, too!

  5. Paula B. says:

    Thanks for this neat, low-labor recipe. Hope you’re feeling better soon!

  6. great pictures!!… the tomato juice had the right shine and colour.

  7. Great recipe. We did it with all size tomatoes from our garden and it was super delicious. (Plus, today was cold in the am, and I had to work from home today, so the kitchen was nice and warm.) Thanks.


  1. Ciopinno - - says:

    [...] onion, chopped1 bay leaf1 tsp dry pepper flakes1/4 c olive oil1 green bell pepper, chopped4 c oven baked tomato sauce4 c regular tomato sauce1 1/2 c white wine1 lb clams1 lb mussels1 whole dungeness crab1 lb firm [...]

  2. [...] our limitations in this space: we are never going to be able to grow enough tomatoes to keep us in pasta sauce, salsa, and ketchup all year. Maybe those beds are better used for growing salad greens and root [...]

  3. [...] The seeds are fabulous fresh or dried in Italian foods (I put ridiculous amounts of it into my tomato sauce). The greens are delicious in salads. Eaten young, the bulbs are sweet and crisp, and don’t [...]

  4. [...] that require pressure canning. And recipes that don’t follow the safe guidelines, like our oven-baked heirloom tomato sauce, will always be for eating immediately of freezing (which is why we don’t include canning [...]

  5. [...] that require pressure canning. Recipes that don’t follow the safety guidelines, like our oven-baked heirloom tomato sauce, are always for eating immediately or for freezing (which is why we don’t include canning [...]

  6. […] that require pressure canning. And recipes that don’t follow the safe guidelines, like our oven-baked heirloom tomato sauce, will always be for eating immediately or freezing (which is why we don’t include canning […]

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