Roasted Tomato Sauce · GF (dinner for four)

Despite my somewhat romanticized account of a day in the pastry dungeon at Table 310, the reality of my daily routine takes its toll. I come home tired and sweaty, a thin crust of butter and sugar over my skin, flour on my shoes, and smudges of chocolate on my pants. Once I make it home, I want nothing more than a hot shower, my pajamas, and a glass of wine.

You know that whole Spider-Man, “with great power comes great responsibility” stuff? At work, my employers have granted me great powers: to order whatever ingredients I want, every day, without asking permission. The power to change the menu, whenever I want, even during service. The power to make my own schedule, to take a day off whenever I want, to come and go as I please.

Of course, those aren’t powers. They’re privileges married to the notion that I won’t leave until I’ve done my job.

Which meant, at exactly 2:30 pm last Tuesday, I realized I would never leave in time for dinner at six with Sarah Jane at my house. I’d started way too many projects that I couldn’t abandon and still had a few fires to put out; I knew, even with my game face on, I wouldn’t escape before 5 o’clock.

And I hadn’t gone shopping yet. So much for mise en place.

I texted Sarah, “6:30?” And later, “7?”

Finally, at 6 o’clock, I raced out the door, my dream of homemade pasta in shambles at my feet. I did the math. I could go to the grocery, buy everything I needed, get home, take a shower and have dinner ready by seven under one circumstance: if dinner could magically cook itself.

I did have a safety net. I’d already set the table, put out olives and a cheese board (complete with roasted nuts, quince paste, and dried fruit). Everything would have come to glorious, delicious room temperature and my guests would have plenty to snack on while dinner came together, fashionably late.

saint augur, homemade quince paste, parmesean and dates

I flew into the grocery and did something ridiculously out of character: I bought a half dozen tomatoes and a box of tortellini. I don’t normally buy out of season produce or ready made foods (I’m that kind of martyr), but I knew I wouldn’t have time to even broil a piece of fish. So I wanted a substantial pasta with lots of chew. And while it pained me to buy tomatoes outside of the Lexington Farmers' Market, I only know one dish so incredibly laissez faire that it would, in fact, cook itself.

Roasted tomato sauce.

It requires ten minutes of prep, eight of which are spent peeling garlic. Everything roasts together for so long that even mealy, out of season grocery store tomatoes have time to melt into something tasty. (When made with perfect summer tomatoes, fall nothing short of glorious. But sometimes, I have to settle for merely terrific.)

When I came home, the clock read 6:20. I reminded myself to breathe; I turned on the oven, cut up enough tomatoes to cover a sheet pan and scattered a sliced onion and bell pepper over them. I peeled as much garlic as I felt time would allow, just one head, and sprinkled the cloves over the other vegetables. A hasty drizzle of olive oil, a few cranks of pepper and sea salt: done. I threw the sheet pan in the oven and dashed off to the shower.

roasting tomato sauce

Sarah arrived (freshly baked, artisanal bread in hand. The perfect guest!) minutes after 7pm. I still had water in my hair from the shower and had barely finished putting on a pot of pasta water to boil. But the tomato sauce had worked its magic already: the house smelled phenomenal, of roasted garlic, as if I’d slaved over the stove for hours. I had nothing to do but smile and greet my friend. Mr. BraveTart poured us all wine and courageously dove into the cheese plate, to set a good example.

I faked a look of serene calm, as if I’d leisurely puttered around the kitchen all afternoon rather than scrambling to pull myself out of the weeds for six hours and counting. Tried to remind myself I’d actually made it out of the weeds. I did it! So I drank and chatted happily while Sarah took pictures. I felt myself finally start to unwind. I’d accomplished everything I needed to, now I could just enjoy.

The final few acts of getting dinner ready, salting the water, tipping in a box of tortellini, filling a colander with fresh arugula, hardly constituted work. Rather, just simple chores to keep my hands busy and fill in lulls in the conversation. With five minutes to spare on the pasta timer, I pulled out the tomatoes, slid them into a pot, and blitzed them into a sauce with my immersion blender.

The arugula instantly wilted when I drained the pot of tortellini into the colander, then everything went int with the tomato sauce. Mercifully simple.

roasted tomato sauce and cheese tortellini

I love this recipe more than any other I know. It’s low key, easy, and highly versatile. You can roast it for as little as an hour, or up to three or four for a deep, caramelized flavor. A cup of cream makes it into a silky vodka style sauce; a pint of milk makes it the ultimate rainy day soup.

Roasted Tomato Sauce
6-10 Roma tomatoes, root end trimmed away
1 yellow onion
1 bell pepper
however much garlic you feel like peeling (2 heads if you’re not in a hurry)
olive oil
salt and pepper
1 box tortellini or homemade

Preheat the oven to 400°

Slice the tomatoes in half and place them on a sheet pan, cut side up. Use as many tomatoes as needed to cover the sheet pan entirely.

Peel the onion, slice it in half, and then each half into 1” slices; break up the onion pieces and scatter over the tomatoes.

Core and seed the bell pepper, slice and toss it on the sheet pan.

Leave the garlic cloves whole, just toss ‘em on with the tomatoes.

Drizzle the whole thing with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss it in the oven for about an hour, or until the onions have started to take on some color. The roasting time truly depends on how much time you’re willing to invest. Play with it and find what works for you.

When you’ve decided you’re done roasting, transfer the vegetables and juices to a pot, if you have an immersion blender, or to the bowl of a blender/food processor. Either way, blitz until smooth and creamy.

Season with additional salt and pepper and herbs, if you like. This sauce is incredibly lean on its own, so you may need another hearty drizzle of olive oil to bring out the full flavor of the dish.

Serve with tortellini and chunky shavings of Parm.

cheese tortellini with shaved parmesean and arugula
Tortellini with roasted tomato sauce, arugula and parmesean


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Any questions?

Apr 27, 2011 ·  8:56 PM

Yummmmmm… It’s good to know that out-of-season tomatoes work in this. I’ve been avoiding them like the plague lately!

I don’t know how you manage to pull all of this off… Yikes!

Sarah’s photos look great

 · Kaitlin ·

Apr 27, 2011 ·  9:04 PM

That sauce looks AMAZING!!! I think I would have to come and soak all that up with a piece of rustic bread

 · Ang ·

Apr 28, 2011 ·  2:47 PM

@Kaitlin, I'm not sure how I did it either. By the skin of my teeth, really. I loathe out of season tomatoes, but sometimes ya gotta do what you gotta do, and this recipe at least counteracts their bad qualities. Glad you're enjoying the photos, I'm having a blast working with Sarah.

@Ang, it is such a shame, I didn’t post any of the bread pix! Sarah brought some amazing foccacia and a baguette. She works at Bluegrass Baking Company, which is a phenomenal little artisanal bakery in town. Amazing stuff.


Apr 29, 2011 ·  5:04 PM

i made this last night for dinner, my husband loved it!

 · Ro · 

Jun 01, 2011 · 12:40 AM

I bookmarked this not too long ago as a fallback weeknight meal. I found it yesterday and had everything on hand except tortellinis. So I mixed up some spinach, ricotta, mascarpone, and garlic to put in some manicotti I had and poured this sauce over it. Simply divine, the sauce tasted delicious on this and was simple as ever to make. Very versatile too, great recipe!

 · Emma · 

Aug 21, 2011 ·  2:20 PM

Help! I made this and it did not turn out at all. I’ve read the recipe over and over to see what I could have done wrong, but I did everything that you said. It all burned and turned completely black! I really, really want to try this again, because it just sounds SO good! I put everything on a baking sheet for 1 hour and 10 min at 450. Why do you think it would have burned so badly?

 · Mary · 

Aug 21, 2011 ·  3:29 PM

@Mary, I’m sorry to hear that! It may be a combination of two things: if you had dry tomatoes (like romas) that didn’t release much juice they would have dried out quickly. Alternately, your oven may run hot which means you may not require as long of a baking time. You may need to adjust your roasting time and temperature according to your oven and tomatoes, keep an eye on them and pull them from the oven when the tomatoes have shrunk, their juices have begun to dry up and some of the vegetable bits have begun to char a little. I hope you can try it again with better results, it’s truly one of my favorite dishes to prepare. I hope I’ve been able to clarify the recipe a bit for you. Good luck!


Aug 25, 2011 ·  7:59 PM

Thank you! I will adjust my oven and “watch” it more closely next time! I will definitely be trying this again soon! Thanks so much!

 · Mary · 

Aug 26, 2011 ·  7:20 PM

@Mary, good luck!! I hope it turns out fabulously this time, I am about to make a batch myself.


Sep 03, 2011 ·  1:40 PM

Fabulous! Made this last night using our own tomatoes and peppers, for a meal share we do with our neighbors. Worked well with beefsteak and other non-plum tomatoes, as we only had a few ripe plums. Cooked til the moisture had baked away, then pureed with some cream and served over whole wheat penne. Rave reviews!

 · Sara · 

Sep 03, 2011 ·  3:46 PM

@Sarah, hahaha, I made this last night too! Although honestly, I seem to make it most nights during tomato season to deal with all the garden tomatoes.. The addition of cream is sooo good, if slightly naughty. Thanks for letting me know!


Sep 07, 2011 ·  7:59 PM

Roasting in the oven as I type! Thanks for this great idea! I’ve been trying to find something to do with my huge supply of garden tomatoes other than canning. So excited to see how it turns out. Smells delish!

 · Missy ·

Sep 08, 2011 ·  3:23 PM

@Missy, this recipe will definitely help you plow through garden tomatoes! It freezes beautifully too, we load our freezer with it and pull it out bit by bit all winter. Hope you enjoyed!


Oct 15, 2011 ·  8:42 PM

do the peels truly blend in so nicely as it shows on the picture?

 · Louise · 

Oct 15, 2011 ·  9:00 PM

@Louise, I suppose that depends on the quality of your blender (immersion or otherwise) but in short: yes. I’ve noticed that some types of tomatoes have tougher skins than others, (which effects how much blending you’ll need to do) but really, it purees into a super silky sauce. Let me know how you like it!


Nov 11, 2011 ·  8:47 PM

Thanks for the recipe! I’m currently roasting. @Mary – after 10 minutes my oven was smoking and my garlic cloves were turning black! I turned the oven down to 350 and put the pan on a lower rack. The hour’s almost up and the garlic hasn’t gotten darker. The tomatoes look almost perfect!

 · Emily ·

Nov 12, 2011 ·  9:15 PM

@Emily, perhaps I have the worlds coolest 450. Others have said the same, I will go back and modify the recipe to advise a lower temperature. I’m glad you saved your batch and it turned out nicely. Thanks for the feedback!


Feb 13, 2012 ·  4:18 AM

Ahhh, this sauce! Thank you for bringing people’s attention to this awesome and ridiculously easy sauce! It’s a favorite no-brainer of mine at my work. The basic idea of this sauce is my go-to for any less than perfect produce the bakery gets and didn’t have the good sense to return.

Squishy romas and bell peppers? In it goes. Abnormally tiny grape tomatoes? In! Odd bits and pieces leftover from cutting onions, leeks, mushrooms, etc? COME TO ME!

Usually I salt it first so it can start getting nice and juicy, then toss it with oil and whatever herbs I can find/steal and shove it in our deck oven in a big ol’ hotel pan. Sooo good!

 · Kaz · 

Feb 13, 2012 · 10:53 AM

@Kaz, yeah it does absolute wonders transforming mediocre produce into something amazing. I mean, it’s even more awesome with top notch farmers’ market stuff, but it’s kind of miraculous even with iffy winter tomatoes. You can’t lose! Do you use it at work for family meal, or do you use it in some way? Sounds fabulous with mushroomy bits and leeks!


Feb 16, 2012 ·  8:56 PM

Both — though we don’t have a ‘family meal’ really, more like a snack sheet pan, lol. My favorite thing to make is pasta and eggs in tomato sauce. I lightly scramble the eggs until barely set and add it into the sauce in big chunks and simmer gently with the pasta for a few minutes. Sooo good.

 · Kaz · 

Feb 18, 2012 · 10:52 AM

@Kaz, okay, I’ve gotta make that STAT!!


Apr 22, 2012 ·  2:35 AM

Do you know the trick of putting the head of garlic into a bowl, topping it with another bowl and shaking it to peel the whole thing quickly in just moments? Seriously! I’m including a link. Can’t wait to try your sauce, because I love roasted anything!

 · brenjen · 

Apr 22, 2012 · 12:05 PM

@brenjen, I’ve seen it before, but I don’t think it really works. Have you tried it for yourself? My husband and I made a spoof video of him doing the exact same thing, but none of the garlic is peeled. I can’t find the link to our video, I’ll have to reupload it, I think. Anyhow, we tried with 5 or 6 heads of garlic and it didn’t work on any of them. Wish it did, cos this sauce is great with a ton of garlic, haha.


Aug 11, 2012 ·  7:58 PM

Thank you SO much for posting this. I just wanted a simple recipe for tomato sauce and this is fantastic! I made it today and shared your blog with my friends. Another friend even made it today for dinner with success.
This one is a keeper!

 · kimbermcgray ·

Aug 12, 2012 · 12:20 PM

I’m so happy you liked it, Kimber! It’s the easiest thing in the world to throw together on a summer Saturday while you laze around the house. Glad your friends enjoyed it too. PS, I checked out your blog, your cards are incredible!


Aug 26, 2012 ·  9:10 PM

I just made this sauce. It is simply amazing!!! I have never made my own sauce before but this one is def a keeper and will be used. I added a little bit of basil and some heavy cream at the end. Its awesome!! Thank you so much for posting it!

 · Cait D. · 

Aug 26, 2012 ·  9:59 PM

Oh, Cait, the splash of heavy cream sounds fabulous! A little extra fat to round out the tomato’s acidity…what time’s dinner? I’m so thrilled to hear you jumped in to the world of homemade sauce, and thanks for letting me know how yours turned out. Enjoy your summer tomatoes!!


Sep 13, 2012 · 11:24 AM

Here’s a quick garlic peeling tip when you need to peel LOTS of garlic. Place the entire head of garlic into a large plastic or aluminum bowl. Place another bowl on top of it (can be the same size or slightly smaller) so that they create a closed dome. Hold them together and shake vigorously for about a minute. All of the cloves will be peeled for you!

 · Diana · 

Sep 13, 2012 ·  7:09 PM

Hi Diana! I have no idea why, but this trick never works for us. Mr. BraveTart and I even made a video showing our failure, I’ll have to search around to find the link to it. He shakes the garlic for over a minute, just to go the extra mile, but in the end only 1 or 2 cloves were peeled. We use garlic from the farmers market, so I wonder if that has anything to do with it (maybe compared to drier, grocery store garlic?). At any rate, hopefully the tip will work for those who read your comment and try it for themselves, if not for me. Cheers!


Sep 23, 2012 ·  6:48 PM

I tried this tonight as my sauce for spaghetti with added meatballs. I didn’t use the immersion blender so our sauce was full of veggies. This was amazing! The flavor is so rich (before adding meat). I am glad I read other comments so I timed it well. Thanks for sharing! Worth all the effort.

 · DoodlesBelle · 

Sep 23, 2012 · 11:34 PM

Hi DoodlesBelle! Ahhh, I’m so happy to hear it! This is one of my all time favorites. So many good options for turning it into dinner.


Nov 29, 2012 ·  1:24 PM

Do you know if this recipe would freeze well? I’m wanting to make a few batches as gifts for Christmas but I’m not sure if they would keep.

 · Leslie · 

Dec 01, 2012 ·  7:59 PM

Hi Leslie! Yes, this sauce freezes wonderfully, even so long as 8 or 9 months! You’ve got some lucky friends!!!


Feb 25, 2013 ·  9:26 PM

Very bland on its own. However, when dressed up with fresh herbs, tossed with a little butter, and topped with cheese, it is a tasty sauce.

 · Sherry · 

Feb 25, 2013 · 10:18 PM

Hi Sherry! Oh yeah, this time of year the tomatoes are gonna be pretty blah, so herbs and butter are definitely the way to go. Glad you got it doctored to your liking.


Apr 06, 2013 · 10:45 AM

Hi Stella,
Just tried this recipe and have gotten amazing reviews! Thank you so much for this inspiration. About peeling the garlic: my grandmother taught me to cover a whole head in a dishtowel and then to simply smash it on a counter with the open hand a couple of times. It is then pretty easy to peel the garlic by hand. All that is left to do is to trim off the ends. It works well for me…maybe give it a try sometime.
Cheers, Melanie

 · Melanie · 

Apr 06, 2013 ·  5:49 PM

H Melanie! Thanks for granny’s tip, that sounds totally do-able! (As opposed to some of the other wacky tips I’ve heard.) I’ll have to try that out tonight!


Apr 09, 2013 ·  5:19 AM

Hi Stella,
Just did another batch of the sauce since certain family members seem to now be addicted… and for this batch I peeled 4 heads of garlic in 4 minutes. To clarify how I do it: once that I have smashed the head in the dishtowel a good few times with my hand I take each clove (which still has the peel on) and twist it back and forth between my fingers. This way the peel pulls away from the clove and I am usually able to peel it in a few seconds. Sometime when I get some “green” (very fresh) garlic, each clove can get a little soapy when twisting it, but I still seem to manage to pull the peel off. I hope that this will work for you, since it makes my savory cooking life so much easier! Cheers from Switzerland, Melanie

 · Melanie · 

Jul 19, 2013 ·  2:16 PM

God, this recipe is so killer. I’ve now made it, what FIVE times? Once with tomatoes from a friend’s garden. Peeling garlic? You so crazy. Just separate the cloves and throw them on unpeeled. Once cooled, just squeeze them out. That’s how lazy I am. I put some marjoram (fave) from the garden on top of the whole mess. After it’s pureed, I add a glug of red wine, a glug of white wine and about 1/2 stick of butter. Cook it a little, heaven. Thank you for this glorious recipe. xoxoxoxox

 · Kathryn · 

Jul 21, 2013 ·  6:57 PM

Hey Kathryn! I love your confidence with the garlic! Everyone always says that, and for some reason I’m just so paranoid/compulsive about it that I never am brave enough to just go for it. I will trust you and give it a shot the next round! I love the butter addition, we do that sometimes too when we’re feeling wicked. It’s soooo good. Thanks for taking the time write!


Aug 23, 2013 ·  2:51 PM

Hi Stella!
We LOVE this recipe! In fact I have 4 pans in the oven now. Have you ever canned it?
We grow our own heirloom tomatoes from seed(and start about 350 plants for friends too!) and make a bunch of this for the freezer. (We always hoard the last batch until late the next spring and then it is torture until more is ready!) I have made it the last couple of years and have always frozen it, but I’d love to try canning it. I have heard that some tomato sauce recopies don’t can well, what do you think?

P.s. Everyone in that tomato group is making and LOVING it too! Check out the LOVE!

 · Aly · 

Aug 25, 2013 · 12:54 AM

Hi Aly! haha, we do the same thing, storing tons of it away in the garage freezer. We always get a little misty eyed when it comes to the last bag of sauce. I’m not sure about canning, but I have a good friend who is a canning expert. While my guess is that it can’t be, since canning relies on such a precise balance of ingredients, I’ve asked her to weigh in with an official word. I will get back to you when I know more!


Aug 25, 2013 ·  4:40 PM

For Aly and others, my friend Cathy Barrow of the blog Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Kitchen says that because of the onions, peppers, garlic and oil, this recipe is not safe for canning. She’s got lots of great canning recipes on her site though, so go check it out for safe ideas!


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 · Georges Sadala ·

Jun 23, 2017 · 10:02 AM

Would I do everything the same if I wanted to can this sauce for later use? Will the recipe work the same with much larger amounts? Thank you.

 · Margi · 

Jun 23, 2017 · 10:10 AM

Forget peeling each individual clove of garlic – just cut off the top and the bottom (just enough sot that it sits on the baking pan more or less flatly) and roast the whole head along with the veggies. When you’re ready to pour the pan of cooked tomatoes, etc. into a big pot for blending, just use a pot holder or towel to pick up the garlic head and squeeze out all that roasted goodness into the pot. Saves a lot of time and effort, and works just as well! Love this recipe, especially over spiralized zucchini ‘pasta’, since I’m doing low carb for the foreseeable future.

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