Summer’s tomato bounty brings back memories—or creates new ones.
It’s that time of year—possibly my favorite time of year—when backyard gardens and farmers markets are bursting with summer produce. Strawberries may be on their way out, but tomato season is in full swing—and now is the time to get your fill of these plump, just-off-the-vine fruits that are packed with antioxidants, vitamin C and vitamin A.
Roasting is one of my favorite ways to prepare tomatoes, particularly the bruised and slightly older ones because it both concentrates their flavor and camouflages any puckered skins in the process. If you’ve never had homemade roasted tomato sauce, man, are you in for a treat. Traditional roasted sauces have an amazingly intense flavor but can take hours in the oven. I don’t know about you, but I just can’t get into the idea of having my oven on for hours on end with the heat of summer at its peak.
Quick roasting smaller tomatoes at a much higher temperature will kick-start the cooking and caramelization process, which means you can turn off your oven sooner and still have a delicious sauce in just under 30 minutes. Adding a can of tomato paste, some sun-dried tomatoes and a little brown sugar helps create the depth of flavor from slow-roasted sauces that will rival even your Italian grandma’s marinara.
Before you break out your oven mitts, here are five tips that’ll save time and leave you with a thick, flavorful quick-roasted tomato sauce:
1. Leave the beefsteak behind. Big, beefy tomatoes will yield a less flavorful quick-roasted sauce because of their higher water content. Look for smaller tomatoes, no bigger than 2 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter, and quarter them, which will help them cook faster. If you feel like experimenting, try cherry or grape tomatoes instead.
2. Look for deals on overly ripe tomatoes. They create greater depth of flavor, and you might be able to score a discount on them at your local farmers market or grocery store.
3. Cook with convection. If you’re fortunate to have an oven with a convection feature, now is the time to use it. Foods that are roasted, like tomatoes, really benefit from convection roasting as they cook faster and more evenly and caramelize better, which yields a more flavorful quick-roasted tomato sauce
4. Substitute dry-packed sun-dried tomatoes instead. If you already have dry-packed sun-dried tomatoes on hand, reconstitute them rather than buying the oil-packed variety. While your fresh tomatoes roast, place the sun-dried tomatoes in a heatproof bowl, cover them with 1 cup of boiling water mixed with 1/2 teaspoon salt, and cover the bowl. After 5 to 10 minutes, drain the tomatoes and blot them with a paper towel before adding them to your blender or food processor.
5. Double the recipe and freeze leftovers. Why not cook once and eat twice? This recipe will heartily serve 4–6, but you can save money on in-season tomatoes and your precious time by doubling the recipe. Simply transfer leftovers to a freezer bag and lay it flat to freeze for later use.
Quick-Roasted Tomato Sauce
Makes: Approx. 4 cups | Serves: 4–6
2 pounds small (2”–2 1/2”) tomatoes, quartered and stems removed
6 large cloves garlic, peeled and ends removed
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons packed brown sugar, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 500 F (on the convection setting if available), and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
Place the garlic on a small piece of foil and drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Fold the foil to form a sealed packet and place on the baking sheet.
Whisk together the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, brown sugar and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt until the sugar has mostly dissolved. Place quartered tomatoes in a large bowl, drizzle with the olive oil mixture and toss to coat well. Transfer tomatoes skin-side down to the prepared baking sheet, reserving the remaining olive oil mixture left in the bowl. Roast the tomatoes and garlic for 20 minutes. If time allows, remove the garlic from the oven after 20 minutes and continue to roast the tomatoes for an additional 20 minutes.
While the tomatoes and garlic roast, add the tomato paste, basil, sun-dried tomatoes and remaining olive oil mixture to a food processor or high-powered blender. When done roasting, add the tomatoes and garlic to the processor or blender and puree, working in batches if necessary, until the desired consistency is reached. The sauce will be thick but can easily be thinned (preferably with pasta water) if desired.
Season to taste with additional salt and brown sugar, freshly ground black pepper, and/or red pepper flakes if desired.
Serve over pasta, use as a pizza sauce or spoon onto a toasted baguette with a drizzle of olive oil for a delicious roasted-tomato bruschetta.
Photo credit: Elle Penner