Spicy Tomato Sauce
Ever wanted to make a great homemade tomato sauce? Try out this Italian-inspired tomato-gravy and see if you don't fall in love!
Tomato sauce is a dish that’s been part of both of our childhoods for as long as we can remember. Our mothers had their way of doing things, our grandmothers as well. Having food allergies and sensitivities, and the urge to cook from scratch after years of pre-made sauces, we’ve learned some tricks of our own. This sauce is very versatile - you can add additional vegetables to it for a heartier sauce, you can use it as the tomato-base for pizza, you can serve it over pasta, rice or bread. We really like it paired with our Three Herb Noodles. For a full meal serve with a mixed greens side salad and our Hearty Garlic Thyme Bread.
Our favorite preserved tomatoes for this recipe are San Marzano (a type of Italian plum tomato); otherwise, another type of Italian tomato is best if you can find it, because the flavor is richer in Italian tomato varieties. Alternatively, if you bought jarred heirloom tomatoes found in some farmers’ markets you would get a superior taste in comparison to chain grocery store brands. We don't suggest using fresh tomatoes because it takes quite a few tomatoes to cook (which is a bit pricier) and it also takes a lot longer to cook as well (about 3 hours longer).
A good chunky but saucy sauce is one part diced tomato and one part crushed. If you use two parts diced tomatoes the sauce will be very thick, if you use two parts crushed tomatoes the sauce will be more liquid with minimal tomato pieces. If you use pureed tomatoes the sauce will be free of tomato chunks and act more like soup.
There's no need to add water to this recipe - as tomatoes cook down they release their own liquid and you don't want your sauce to be too watery. You also don't need to add tomato paste to thicken the sauce because then it becomes too thick; tomato paste also adds more tomato flavor but if you are using good quality canned or jarred tomatoes you don't need to add extra tomato flavor.
For a nice dash of flavor ⅛ teaspoon of both cayenne and crushed red pepper will do well; for an extra kick try a ¼ teaspoon - be careful, more than that will be too spicy for the average taste buds.
Many store brand tomato sauce recipes list some form of sweetener - usually sugar - in the ingredients. Traditionally Italian tomato sauces do not have added sweeteners and, if you use good quality ingredients you don’t need it either. For this particular recipe the basil and the caramelized onions add just the right note of sweetness to the final product.
Caramelizing the onions is an essential part of this recipe. It adds a sweetness and depth of flavor that’s noticeably absent if you rush to the next step. Depending on your pot and how hot your stove top runs it takes somewhere between 20 and 45 minutes to caramelize onions. We suggest chopping the onions first and caramelizing them while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. How do you cut an onion without tearing up? Try these tips!
How do you dice garlic without a special tool? Look here!
Have leftovers? The sauce stores well for over a week in the fridge and for months in the freezer and the flavors meld the longer it sits - so why not try making it ahead of time, letting it sit for a week or more in the freezer, and then defrost for a dinner - it might just blow your mind.
Try adding a chopped zucchini about 5 minutes before the mushrooms.
For a sauce without the kick, omit the cayenne and crushed red pepper.
For a simpler sauce all-around, omit cayenne, crushed red pepper, rosemary and thyme. This will be making a sauce similar to a traditional Italian tomato sauce.
If you’re absolutely adamant that you need an added sweetener, we suggest a tablespoon of maple syrup added in the last few minutes of cooking (although, really, we suggest no sweetener at all).
For your viewing pleasure, here's a quick video of us making this recipe:
Recipe: Spicy Tomato Sauce
Skill Level: Intermediate
Prep Time: about 30 minutes
Cook Time: about 1 ½ hours
Total Time: about 2 hours
Serves: 6 hungry folks
2 Tbsp avocado oil (why not olive oil?)
1 large or 2 medium onions - sweet or red (or both!)
3-4 medium-large carrots
8oz baby bella or cremini mushrooms (16oz if you looove mushrooms)
48oz crushed or diced tomatoes, preserved in can or jar (fire roasted is a nice extra)
8 cloves garlic (about 1 Tbsp diced)
⅛-¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
⅛-¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
½ tsp freshly ground or cracked black pepper
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp dried rosemary, ground
1 tsp dried thyme
2 bay leaves
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1 Tbsp dried basil
1 tsp lemon juice (about 1 quarter of a lemon), optional
Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat until shimmering (or until a piece of onion or a drop of water sizzles when added to the hot oil).
While oil is heating, peel and roughly chop onion.
Add onion to hot oil with teaspoon of salt, toss to coat thoroughly, then let caramelize. Caramelizing will take anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes, and onions that have been at least partially caramelized will be translucent and browning. Make sure to scrape onions off bottom of pan and mix every five minutes or so to prevent burning onions too badly (caramelized onions taste sweet, too charred onions taste like the burnt bottom of the pot).
While onions are caramelizing, peel and cut carrots in half and then slice, destem and chop mushrooms into quarters, dice the garlic, open cans or jars of tomatoes, and in a small bowl mix the cayenne, crushed red pepper, black pepper and bay leaves.
Once onions are at least halfway caramelized (browning and cooking for at least 20 minutes), add carrots and pepper-bay leaf mixture, mixing well and cooking for 4 minutes.
Next, add diced garlic for 2 minutes.
Pour in the canned or jarred tomatoes and mix thoroughly to allow for the base to be incorporated into the sauce. Cover pot, reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
After sauce has simmered, add the thyme and rosemary, mixing them in thoroughly. Cover the pot and cook for another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add quartered mushrooms to sauce and mix in basil and oregano before covering again and simmering for an additional 15 minutes.
At this point you can taste the sauce and add any ingredient you think it could use more of - salt, thyme, basil, etc. We don’t suggest adding more rosemary not just because rosemary is very pungent and less is more, but also because it takes a while to cook down and the sauce is nearly done at this point.
If you’re happy with the taste, you an add the lemon juice, cover the pot, turn off the heat and have the sauce sit for about 10 minutes before serving. This sauce tastes great the day of but also improves with time so if you make it ahead or have leftovers be prepared for it to blow your mind a day or more after you’ve made it. This goes great with noodles or over bread or as a pizza base.
Tried out our sauce and love it? Let us know! Wish we’d done it differently? Tell us in the comments. Sound good but you can’t do nightshades? Keep your eyes open for a similar recipe that’s nightshade free coming soon!