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Tomato sauce depth of flavor question

I'm wondering if anyone has any suggestions for adding depth of flavor to a tomato sauce. I made some tonight from scratch and get alright tomato flavor, and enough acid, but I'm not getting the real "tomato" depth of flavor.

I almost feel like it needs some demi-glace to really bring out that depth, but I don't have any and am not likely to come across any in the next hour or so.

Any suggestions?

I've added enough balsamic, salt, pepper, and some tomato paste, as well as the usual suspects- garlic, shallots, wine.

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  1. Based on the details you have provided, your only option is to concentrate the flavor more by reducing the liquid or water content of the sauce. Sometimes making fresh sauce, the tomatoes are just not that good.

    Next time, try slow roasting the tomatoes in the oven first to concentrate their flavor and intensity....some good olive oil, salt & pepper, garlic, onions/shallots and basil are all you need to make a great sauce.....other aromatics are optional to taste.

    3 Replies
    1. re: fourunder

      Yeah, the tomatoes weren't the best, but the options for canned tomatoes weren't great- I really only use muir glen and since moving to my current town, I have to drive about 30 minutes to get anything decent.

      Am reducing now.

      1. re: jameshig

        You can roast canned ones too. You might try brushing some whole drained canned tomatoes with oil and slow roasting for some time in the oven. Then add those to more canned ones and see if the roasted ones help bring some depth the the sauce.

        In the summer when fresh ones come into season, we slow roast and then freeze tons of tomatoes. Nothing is better for sauce. We had some tonight for dinner over spaghetti.

      2. re: fourunder

        Agree with the slow roasting approach. Thomas Keller's Oven-Roasted Tomato Sauce recipe (from Ad Hoc) has a really great depth of flavor. It starts with roasting the aromatics (which includes leek and fennel in addition to the usual suspects), then adding canned San Marzanos and roasting for another 2-3 hours. It is one of my favorite sauces (along with the Marcella Hazan tomato/onion/butter sauce mentioned downthread).

      3. Two thoughts... bay leaves and anchovy.

        10 Replies
        1. re: mcel215

          It's not sauce to me without oregano and basil.

          1. re: coll

            agree absolutely. tomato without basil is a crime ;-) those two should never be apart. oregano can play the minor role but will carry it's own weight.

            if you're going to make tomato sauce, then garlic is vital. lots of garlic... and plenty of garlic.... and a whole lotta garlic. final addition would be olives and maybe caramelized onions.

            1. re: epabella

              Don't forget to add more garlic once you've added the garlic. It's just not good sauce if it doesn't have garlic. Oh, did I mention more garlic? LOL

              1. re: boyzoma

                Did you mean Garlic? I would forgo the tomatoes than forget the garlic but that's another recipe tread I would think.

                1. re: Duppie

                  Duppie - me thinks you are spot on with that one with both the foregoing of tomatoes and the new garlic thread!

            2. re: coll

              I never put oregano in my Sunday gravy. For some reason, my 97 (bless her) Italian MIL, never added it. In her day, she fed a family of 5 boys and 1 girl, while still making her own ravioli (by hand), cutting the dough with a little grape jelly glass into round circles. Her cannoli could have given Modern Pastry a run for their money. Her sauce has pigs feet, hocks, sausage, salt pork and meatballs. Trust me, my friends and family rave about her sauce and I agree, it's outstanding. Each Christmas I make batches and give it as gifts to friends. So coming from her.. no oregano. ;) Might be a regional thing, she is Calabrese. I'm Irish, so what do I know about sauce? I'm just so glad I stayed by her side, while she taught me how to cook all of her Italian specialties.

              In the summer for fresh tomato sauce, I love fresh basil added. It's heavenly.

              1. re: mcel215

                i don't get fresh oregano often and it's really different from the dry stuff. fresh oregano in tomato sauce is great - not as important as basil but you'll miss it when you're used to it.

                1. re: epabella

                  Yes I grow oregano every year and even in the dead of winter, what's left (even though I dry it to get through) is a completely different thing than commercial oregano. But only a pinch, the basil is the predominant herb.

                2. re: mcel215

                  mce: (jealous!)

                  CH really needs to add a 'like' button and a 'jealous' button

            3. Anchovies was my first thought too. A little trick I learned from an Italian lady is to drop some tomato leaves, no more than a bay leaf's worth, into the sauce near the end of the cooking time and then remove it. My first reaction was " but they're poisonous!", but hey- she is 80-something. Then I recently read it on the Well Preserved blog and he explains why it works.

                1. Okay, you're gonna think I'm crazy...but way better CHs than I rave about this.

                  1 28 oz. tomatoes (San Marzano is great; I use TJs)
                  1 onion, cut in half
                  5 T butter

                  Put those three ingredients in a sauce pan and simmer for 45 minutes, breaking up the tomatoes occasionally if using whole. After 45 minutes, throw the onion away and you're gonna have a great tomato sauce. You can use this as a basis for anything. Before you poo-poo this, please give it a try. Alot of us like to eat it straight out of the pot :)

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: c oliver

                    You gonna credit Marcella Hazan, or what? 'Cause that's her sauce.

                    1. re: small h

                      OMG, I'm a complete idiot! Of course, Marcella Hazan is one of my heroes. Thanks for nailing me or I'd have missed it completely. Head hanging with shame :)

                      1. re: c oliver

                        I think of her every time I clean an artichoke. That sauce is one of the only recipes I recognize - three ingredients is my mental limit.

                        1. re: small h

                          Three ingredient limit is a good insight. I'm getting on up there in years. Karl S serves this as soup with a cheese souffle if that gives any skeptics a nudge towards this.
                          PS: After I posted last night, I realized that I should have started my reply with "small h eeeee double ll."

                    2. re: c oliver

                      Just a comment that I like this sauce better after an hour+ of simmering. It seems to mellow out the acid just that much more. Yum. Addictive stuff.

                      And I also would like to add "don't throw out that onion!" Fish it out of the sauce and eat it on a crusty baguette. Or chop it up and throw it in an omelette with some cheese and ham. Because really, what's not to love about an onion that has been simmering in tomatoes and butter?

                      1. re: TorontoJo

                        I really appreciate the onion suggestions. I kept thinking it should be good for something. Thanks.