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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