Basic technique, Building blocks, Cast Iron, Sunday dinner
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Slow Roasted Tomato Sauce

Slow Roasted Tomato Sauce

Slow Roasted Tomato Sauce

I’ve been on a quest for a long, slow-simmered tomato sauce. A lot of people swear by Marcella Hazan’s simple recipe – simmer butter, tomatoes, and a halved onion for an hour. It’s a good sauce. It’s fine. It’s not what I’m looking for. I also make a quick, weeknight tomato sauce. It’s better than jarred pasta sauce, and finishes in the time it takes to boil the pasta. That’s not what I’m looking for either. I want a classic Italian-American sauce, a slow roasted tomato sauce that cooks all day. 4

I think my quest is over. 5 I stumbled across this sauce recipe from The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion and Cooking Manual. It is barely a recipe – lightly toast garlic cloves in olive oil, add a big pinch of red pepper flakes, a lot of canned San Marzano tomatoes, and simmer for four hours. 6

I made a couple of modifications to their technique, because I can’t help myself:

  • I cut the amounts in half, which makes just enough sauce to top a pound of pasta
  • I simmer in the oven, instead of on the stove top
  • I add a sprig of fresh basil (If it’s in season) or a pinch of dried Italian herbs (in the winter)

This is a great recipe for a lazy Sunday. Get the pot in the oven early, let it cook all day (and fill the house with delicious tomato sauce aroma), and serve it on pasta for an amazing Sunday supper.

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Slow Roasted Tomato Sauce

  • Author: Mike Vrobel
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 4 hours 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 4 hours 20 minutes
  • Yield: 4 cups sauce 1x


Slowly roasted tomato sauce. Canned plum tomatoes, roasted for hours in the oven until they become a caramelized sauce.



  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 8 peeled garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans whole plum tomatoes with juice (preferably San Marzano tomatoes)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt (if using imported San Marzano tomatoes)


  1. Lightly sauté the garlic: Set oven to 350°F. Pour olive oil into a medium dutch oven with a heavy lid, add the garlic, and then turn the stovetop to low heat. Heat the oil until the garlic bubblers around the edges and shows a hint of brown. Add the red pepper flakes and Italian seasoning to the hot oil, let them sizzle for ten seconds, then stir in the tomatoes and their juice. (Watch out – the oil will sizzle and spit as you add the tomatoes. Wear an apron.) Increase the heat to medium and bring the tomatoes to a simmer, stirring often and breaking up any whole tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Cover the pot and move it into the oven.
  2. Bake for 4 hours: Bake the tomato sauce in the oven for four hours. Stir the sauce and scrape down the sides of the pot every hour; after two hours, leave the lid slightly ajar so steam can escape. After four hours of total cooking time, the sauce will be dark red and the tomatoes will have broken down. Remove the pot from the oven. Let the sauce cool for a minute, stir in the pepper, and the salt if the tomatoes are imported. Serve and enjoy.


  • This recipe freezes well – double the ingredients, and use a six quart or larger pot.
  • To make this recipe even easier, I buy packages of pre-peeled garlic cloves. Watch out that the cloves look dry; if they look wet or soft, they’re starting to go bad.
  • What kind of tomatoes? DOP San Marzano tomatoes from Italy are the classic answer – but they’re really expensive. I get great results from 28-ounce cans of American tomatoes – Muir Glen plum tomatoes and Hunts plum tomatoes both worked well for me.
  • The other big difference between the American and imported tomatoes was the amount of salt in the can. American canned tomatoes have plenty of salt added to them – I think they assume they will be used straight from the can, with no extra seasoning. Italian DOP tomatoes only have a little salt in them; you need to add more at the end to season them properly. Check the nutrition label to see if you need to add salt. If the “% Daily Value” of sodium is 1% to 2%, you’ll need to add salt – I add 1/2 teaspoon of fine sea salt, or to taste. If sodium is 8% (or higher), you don’t need to add salt.
  • Category: Building Blocks
  • Method: Roasting
  • Cuisine: Italian

Garlic’s a little TOO brown – get the tomatoes in there!


Breaking up the tomatoes

After 2 hours

After 2 hours – tomatoes crumbling on their own

After 4 hours - done!

After 4 hours – done!

What do you think?

Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.

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  1. MaryLou says

    Did make it – and got an A++ from my husband. I reduced the amount of red pepper flakes, and it was still plenty spicy for us. Great recipe, Mike!

  2. MaryLou says

    Sounds – and looks – delicious! Will definitely have to try…

  3. Laura says

    As with any tomato sauce, there is always a note of acidity that comes with that. I find that by either adding a pinch of sugar, or a bit (half of a cup, give or take) of a good semi-dry red wine always enhances the flavor and tones down the acidic aftertaste. Note when cooking with wine, don’t use “cooking wine”, but one that you would actually drink yourself.

    • I’m glad that works for you. And if it does, keep doing it! But…I disagree. This sauce does not need sugar or wine. The long, slow roasting adds plenty of sweetness.

  4. I’ll have to try this out with whole plum tomatoes! I normally use crushed tomatoes, but I bet this has more flavor! Love the site BTW!

  5. Leslie says

    This sounds really good. I think I will try it with a few jars of my home canned tomatoes from last summer. They are not as bright red but they are all natural and delicious.

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