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Recipe needed for Tomato Sauce w/ Heirloom Tomatoes

I was just given about 20 pounds of heirloom tomatoes by some super nice friends.

Can someone point me to a recipe for tomato sauce using these tomatoes? Something like a Marinara or Arrabiata would be nice.

I've never made sauce from raw tomatoes. Do I need to skin them? Roast them first?


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    1. This was posted on the famous DavesGarden site and became an instant favorite:

      Bluekat76's Recipe for Roasted Tomato Sauce
      4 pounds tomatoes, stemmed and quartered
      1 large red onion (or 2-3 small), roughly chopped.
      (OK to substitute yellow or other onions)
      2 Jalepeno peppers (remove seeds for less heat)
      16 cloves fresh garlic
      1/4 C Extra Virgin Olive oil
      1 Tbs dry oregano
      (or a bunch of fresh oregano & basil)
      Combine ingredients in a 9x13 inch pan.
      Roast at 450°F for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until juices get thick.
      Tomatoes will get a bit blackened and will smell wonderful.
      Let cool, and run through a food mill to remove skins & seeds.
      The resulting puree will be nice & thick; no need to reduce.
      Season to taste with salt and pepper.

      1 Reply
      1. Do you know exactly what kind of heirloom tomatoes they are? Heirloom tomatoes cover a lot of different breeds with a lot of different characteristics.

        "Do I need to skin them?"
        Depends on whether tomato skin bothers you in a sauce. It tends to curl up into long strands that are sort of papery. Or if you puree your tomato sauce, skins can make the puree a bit grittier. It's a textural thing. If this sounds like it might bother you, you can remove the skins by blanching the tomatoes for about a minute in boiling water and then remove to an ice bath. The skins peel easier that way. Alternately, you can cut the tomatoes in half and then grate them, tossing the leftover skins afterward.

        "Roast them first?"
        Again, depends on the effect you want. Roasting them on lowish-medium temperature creates a sun-dried tomato flavor that's a little different from the fresh tomato flavor in other sauces. Roasting them on high temperature can blister the tomatoes and create a toasty fire-roasted flavor that can also be nice when desired (I like this effect for salsas).

        With a lot of heirloom tomatoes, the best part about them is the intensity of flavor. So if I have good tomatoes, I usually make a sauce that really highlights that tomato flavor. Here's a basic example of an intensely tomato-y sauce:
        - Saute half a small onion in a 12 inch saute pan with a generous coating of olive oil on low until soft.
        - Add garlic as desired
        - Cut a few pounds of tomatoes in half and remove the seeds and liquid to a strainer. Discard the seeds but keep the fresh tomato water for later.
        - Dice the tomatoes into small cubes (obviously, I don't often worry about the skin)
        - Add the tomatoes into the pot along with maybe 1/8 cup of red wine and a generous pinch of salt
        - Crush the tomatoes in the pot as they cook with a potato masher
        - Cook uncovered for maybe 45 minutes to an hour on low-medium. Deliberately over-reduce the sauce just a bit.
        - Taste and adjust salt. Add a tiny pinch of sugar if needed.
        - Turn the heat to the lowest setting and re-hydrate the sauce with the reserved tomato liquid (this really amps up the tomato flavor, and justifies the use of good heirloom tomatoes in the sauce). Add the liquid in small amounts until the desired consistency is met - you may not need all the tomato liquid. If your sauce isn't fully rehydrated once you use up the tomato liquid (or if the sauce is getting too acidic before you're done rehydrating), you can use water.
        - If serving the sauce with pasta right then, add a splash of starchy pasta water along with pasta.
        - While stirring vigorously and constantly, add a tablespoon or two of olive oil and several tablespoons of butter, one at a time.
        - Turn off heat and add a small handful of fresh basil.

        Obviously, the amounts are pretty rough. But they depend on the qualities of the tomatoes, and as I said above, heirloom tomatoes vary quite a bit in their qualities.

        1. As others have said, there are lots of types of heirloom tomatoes. But most of the heirloom varieties that are popular, at least here in the US, are not the type you'd want for a tomato sauce. If they're not a paste / sauce type of heirloom (Amish Paste, Mama Leone, Roma varietals like the San Marzano, etc.), my guess is you may not have great results making a cooked sauce with them. The big heavy ones with a lot of water content are great for eating raw, but tend to either be too watery or just kind of disappear when made into sauce. Also, they are difficult to seed / peel, and hard to work with in general once they're very ripe.

          Gazpacho might work - I have had some excellent heirloom tomato gazpacho this season. You could also make an uncooked or barely cooked sauce like a checca, which should work well with pasta, but obviously couldn't be canned or frozen.

          1. You're not going to get rid of twenty pounds this way, but when it comes to pasta our experience with most readily available varieties of heirlooms is to steer clear of sauce. We tend to enjoy them cut into wedges and sauteed with some olive oil or butter, salt, and fresh herbs before tossing with homemade pasta and maybe some cheese and coarse black pepper.

            1. My own tastes lead me to contradict the advice of some posters here. I feel that the larger, wetter heirloom tomato varieties (like Brandywines) are terrific for sauce, just not so easy to work with as the drier, San-Marzano-style plums.

              I agree that the delicate skins of ripe Brandywines (or the like) and also their rather odd shapes make it a little harder to peel them. But it's doable.

              As for moisture, you'll just have a wetter sauce, but that can be minimized in several ways. If you peel the tomatoes and then crush them a bit in a colander over a bowl, you can drain a lot of moisture. (The captured tomato juice, by the way, is sublime in itself.)

              With truly excellent tomatoes, I make a simple and rather quick sauce. I would not add onion at all. I wouldn't alter their flavor with roasting. My whole recipe is tomato, garlic, olive oil, s/p, chile pepper to taste, herbs, and usually a dash of fish sauce. The method:

              1. Heat oil in pan over medium-low heat, to which a hot chile, like serrano, has been added, sliced in half lengthwise. (A green rather than red chile is good, to aid in picking it out later from the tomatoes.) The point at this stage is to infuse the oil with fresh chile heat. Pepper flakes or even cayenne powder can be added later if you have no fresh chiles.
              2. When the oil is well flavored, add garlic cut to your tastes, but don't let it brown. About a minute over low-medium heat.
              3. Up the heat to medium high and dump in the roughly crushed tomatoes. Add s/p, and if using dried herbs, add them now. Cook the tomatoes down a bit. Taste the sauce early on to judge when it is time to remove the sliced chile pepper. Add some fish sauce (or an anchovy filet or two) if desired. Depending on the moisture in the pan, you can cook it all as few as five minutes. Ten or fifteen minutes is called for sometimes for extra evaporation. I frequently let the sauce sit in the skillet for up to a half hour off of the heat. Get a bit of evaporation than way, and it's a snap to reheat the sauce when needed. Add fresh basil or other herbs to the sauce before serving. Given the moisture of the sauce, it's also effective to finish cooking your pasta right in the sauce itself--that is, cook the pasta in boiling water most of the way, but drain and finish the pasta right in the sauce. (Some Americans balk at that, I know, because they're used to pouring sauce on top of straight boiled pasta.)

              This stuff keeps a day or two in the fridge just fine. It also freezes well. I'd make a big batch if I had 20lbs of tomatoes. (You can only eat so much Caprese salad and bruschetta, after all, which are my other favorite uses for peak tomatoes...)

              5 Replies
              1. re: Bada Bing

                "I feel that the larger, wetter heirloom tomato varieties (like Brandywines) are terrific for sauce, just not so easy to work with as the drier, San-Marzano-style plums."
                +1. My sentiments exactly. You just have to work a little harder to control the liquid content and acidity of your sauce. But many heirloom varieties and brandywines in particular can make a top notch sauce. IMO it's a bit of a shame that the notion that 'plums/san marzano type tomatoes make the best sauce' has become dogma for so many cooks.

                1. re: cowboyardee

                  For me, it's not a matter of spouting dogma. Actually, several years back before trying it, I thought brandywines, cherokee purple, and similar tomatoes, even the bright read pear-shaped ones which look similar to another common Italian variety would make a good cooked sauce, despite the high cost. However, after trying it, my results were just not that great, and even making some of the adjustments mentioned above, the yield of sauce was almost nothing for several pounds of tomatoes, because so much of the weight of these hefty tomatoes is liquid & seed. Despite not being mealy fresh, some of them tended to have a weird texture when cooked down.

                  Of course, in this case, the OP has 20 lb, so their situation is a little different than someone who's paying full price, but given how much these tomatoes cost, I would definitely never again pay retail for them for sauce making, even if the results had been better.

                  Even for uncooked tomatoes on pasta, I prefer the taste and texture of paste varieties, some of which are excellent raw in and of themselves. It is true, though, that it is extremely difficult to get good fresh tomatoes of this type, even here in Southern California where we have a hot, dry climate and tons of farmers markets. Part of the reason may still be climate / soil, but I think a lot of it is that there isn't as much demand.

                  One other approach to take here would be to challenge another tomato dogma -- they could try putting them in the fridge, or at least in a cool environment like a wine fridge -- after waiting for them to ripen fully, of course. I have not tried this myself, but someone else on this board mentioned recently that it can be Ok if you wait until the tomatoes really are super ripe.

                  1. re: will47

                    I grow my own tomatoes, so the price is not the same kind of factor. I agree that they usually cost a lot retail, and for that reason I rarely buy them, and when I do, I'll buy one or two and make a caprese salad.

                    Brandywine's make exceptional fresh tomato sauce, but there's no doubting that they're pricey.

                    1. re: will47

                      Unspoken factor in my above post: I grow my own tomatoes. Cost vs yield isn't such a huge concern for me. I understand how it would be for others though.

                      That said, I've seen people go way out of their way (and pay more) to get imported san marzano tomatoes, passing up what happens to be in season, available, inexpensive and flavorful because they were't 'sauce varieties.' Whereas really, any fresh tomatoes with a nice, intense flavor and not-super-high acidity can make a great sauce if you have enough of em.

                      1. re: will47

                        The most intense tomato flavor is, according to experts, in the gel. Most people sacrifice that gel in the process of getting rid of the seeds.

                        I have read that room-temp storage of tomatoes is best done with the stem end turned toward the counter. Something about evaporation or microbes (can't recall which) having access at the stem end.

                  2. Word of advice: if the tomatoes come from a region that has had a lot of rain this summer, you may find the sauce to be blander than you expected. Lots of rain makes fruits of all sorts diluted in flavor; plum tomatoes, being low in liquid, are somewhat less at (but not entirely free of) risk of this dynamic.

                    1. If youve got yourself some really beautiful heirlooms, i definitely would stay away from a long-cooking sauce. take advantage of the fresh deliciousness! id just saute the basic onion, garlic, celery (i like to do it in bacon fat yum) with some red chili flakes, toss in some basil and oregano, and then some of the diced, seeded tomatoes with a hit of white wine. toss in the pasta after the tomatoes are just starting to soften and done!

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: mattstolz

                        I agree. I wouldn't cook at all. Just smear a pasta bowl with garlic, cut tomatoes up very small with seeds and skin intact. Add basil or oregano, best olive oil, salt and pepper, maybe some cayenne, let it sit for a few hours. Then toss with pasta. Add cheese if you must. can also add some cannelini beans. No better way to highlight the tomatoes.

                        1. re: magiesmom

                          I agree that simple and fresh like this is the best. But unless the OP can throw a very big party, it's hard to use 20 lbs in this fashion.

                          1. re: Bada Bing

                            I was assuming that OP might not need to use all at once. I think it would be a shame ot have so many and cook them all, whcih in my mind does not use them to their best advantage.

                      2. i wouldn't rush to cook them all, either. leave some aside to enjoy as salads and snacks for a few days.

                        i like to make a very simple "confit" that freezes well and then can be dolled up over the winter, as needed. saute a few garlic cloves til golden, then remove. add tomatoes and cook over a low heat til broken down. turn off heat, add basil leaves, salt and pepper to taste. portion and freeze.

                        1. I vote for roasting with olive oil and garlic after cutting in half and removing stem/core (if any). Slow and low until very soft. If you want to remove peel, lay them cut side down in pan to roast. When done, you can usually just pinch the peel and pull if off.

                          1. I'm sure you're eating some fresh, but it sounds like you've got lots. I love tomato sauce made from heirloom tomatoes. I don't peel or roast. I start with some slow-sauteed garlic and add roughly chopped tomatoes. Sometimes add a drizzle of water or smash the tomatoes with a potato masher to get them going. If they're excellent tomatoes, I like a short-cooked version, maybe 10 or 20 minutes. If the tomatoes are watery, I cook it longer. Add fresh basil (absolutely crucial, in my book) and parsley if I've got some RIGHT before hitting it with the immersion blender. It's so much more than the sum of its parts.