Nature made tomatoes delicious but She also drenched them in unappealing wateriness. All tomato sauces are based on rescuing the flavor out of the swamp. It is simply a matter of technique.
Some insist that the skin and seeds must be removed. Some put great stock in canned tomatoes as opposed to fresh; others swear by long cooking. These are all fine techniques; but the one that works in my kitchen is one that I haven’t seen other recipe writers talk about much. This is surprising, because there is literally no way to describe how deep and dark is the flavor that results.
It is more of a technique than a single recipe, though I will give you a couple of variations that I often make. It involves long-roasting in the oven instead of long-cooking on the stove-top: four hours is ideal, but three hours can work too, at a slightly higher temperature.
Since it takes no fussing over, you can set it in the oven and leave the house, or putter about your other household duties. Long-cooking is no strain if your appliances do all the work. Yes, it does take a bit of planning and it does take about 5-8 nice plump medium tomatoes.
As to why this technique results in flavor so much deeper than the traditional method of cooking in a pot, I can offer some educated guesses.
One of the components of the flavor is the deep caramelization of the cut surfaces of the tomatoes as they are exposed to the dry heat of the oven. The juiciness ensures that they do not burn, but you can see the chocolaty color on the edges in the pictures below. This color shows that the Maillard reaction has occurred, imparting a welcome depth.
Nor does the the tomato liquid dry out evenly, as it would on the stove-top. I have often tried long-cooking simply chopped-up fresh tomatoes in a pot; and while the flavor certainly intensifies, the waxiness of the peel and the bitterness of the seeds stand out, diminishing the flavor. Of course one could peel and seed the tomatoes, but if one is to remove all the fiber from a thing, why even bother?
The great advantage of the long-roasted sauce is that the peel and seeds all go in, impart a caramelized edge, and yet, deep pockets of juiciness are left behind; as the oven has not dried out the fruit indiscriminately. The residue one is left with is approximately like a hybrid of sundried tomatoes on the cut-surfaces, and deep juice bombs inside.
The basic steps are these. Cut up the tomatoes either in halves, quarters or eighths. Place them cut-side-up, salted, drenched in olive oil in the oven, in a single layer, at a low temperature for up to 4 hours. At the end, a simple dressing of fresh olive oil, vinegar, garlic or herbs are necessary. Mashing them roughly with the back of a wooden spoon or a potato masher produces a sauce that will cover long pasta like linguini or spaghetti.
Variation with red wine vinegar and garlic
Roast tomato sauce with garlic and red wine vinegar
- 6 medium tomatoes
- 1 fat clove garlic
- Few tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- A splash of red wine vinegar
- Salt to taste
Spread a bit of oil in a flat ceramic dish and start the oven at 250ºF (if you have 4 hours) or 300ºF (if you have 3). Meanwhile halve the tomatoes and remove the stem. Place them cut side up in the dish, as crowded as you can, so they hold each other up. Sprinkle with salt and squirt more oil on the surface. Place them in the oven and set the time for either 4 hours (if set to the lower temperature) or 3 hours (if set to the higher).
Meanwhile crush the garlic and mix in some salt. This will liquefy and cook it, which will take about half hour.
At the end of the roasting time, mash the tomatoes a bit with the back of a wooden spoon. Stir in the garlic and the splash of red wine vinegar.
Cook and drain spaghetti or other long pasta; stir to combine thoroughly with the sauce.
Variation with fresh basil and olive oil
Roast tomato sauce with fresh basil and olive oil
- 6 Kumato or other tomatoes
- a handful of cherry tomatoes
- 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- salt to taste
- about a dozen leaves of fresh basil
Spread some oil on a flat ceramic dish. Quarter the Kumato tomatoes and halve the cherries. Spread them tightly crowded on the dish, tucking the cherry halves into the gaps between the others. Sprinkle with salt and more olive oil. Reserve about 3 tablespoons of olive oil for later.
Roast at 250ºF (if you have 4 hours) or 300ºF (if you have 3).
Slice the basil leaves into ribbons.
Once the tomatoes are done, take out of the oven, mash and taste for salt. Add the reserved olive oil and the basil. Toss with pasta.
Variation with infused oregano and black pepper
Roasted tomato sauce with oregano and black pepper
- 7 or so medium tomatoes
- quarter cup of olive oil
- a few sprigs of fresh oregano
- several twists of black pepper
- salt to taste
Prepare the roasting dish with some olive oil spread on the base.
This time cut the tomatoes into eighths. Spread them tightly in the dish, cut sides up. Since the pieces are smaller, use the higher oven setting (300º F) and the shorter time (3 hours). Cover with salt to taste and olive oil. The sprigs of oregano are to be tucked into the dish and black pepper sprinkled onto the tomatoes. As the roasting proceeds, a savory aroma will filter through the kitchen.
When done, remove the oregano sprigs. Mash gently, add more olive oil and toss with freshly cooked long pasta.
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