Fresh Heirloom Tomato Pasta Sauce

5 from 9 votes

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Homemade pasta sauce turns a basketful of ripe tomatoes into an easy dinner.

Pasta with Fresh Heirloom Tomato Sauce / Photo by Kerri Brewer / Katie Workman / themom100.com

Tomato lovers wait all year for the moment when plants in the garden are struggling with the weight of those gorgeous red (or yellow or orange) orbs, and the tables at the farmers markets are threatening to buckle under the load. We slice and eat them as fast as we can…but we still can’t keep up, nor can we get enough.

This is when fresh tomato sauce comes into play, turning a basketful of ripe tomatoes into an easy dinner. Sometimes I just chop up the ripest tomatoes and toss them with hot pasta, a bit of garlic and oil, and a handful of basil, and call it a day. But if you want to make your tomatoes into a true fresh tomato sauce, all it takes is a few extra ingredients and a little time.

And yes, this sauce was designed for those beautiful, ripe, juicy heirloom tomatoes, but you can use ANY beautiful, ripe, juicy tomatoes in this sauce. They don’t have to be an heirloom variety! If you do use a variety of tomatoes with different colors, you might not get that rich red color typical of tomato sauce, but it will get you a festive and ever-changing medley of tomato flavors.

Pasta with tomato Sauce in white bowl with spoon near fresh heirloom tomatoes.

This Pasta with Fresh Heirloom Tomato Sauce recipe makes great use of an abundance of fresh garden tomatoes and herbs in the summer.

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Ingredients

  • Heirloom tomatoes – You can use absolutely any tomatoes you like. Some are more meaty, some have more water and seeds, and the sauce’s consistency, flavor, and color will vary according to what kind of tomatoes you use.
  • Olive oil – The higher quality you use, the better this recipe turns out… magical how that works out.
  • Onion – For depth of flavor.
Fresh tomatoes, herbs, onions, and other ingredients for homemade sauce.
  • Garlic – Just the right amount, and not enough to overpower the tomatoes.
  • Red pepper flakes – For added heat.
  • Sugar – There’s a lot of acidity in tomatoes. The tiny bit of sugar bumps up the natural sweetness of the tomatoes; it’s a nice touch.
  • Thyme leaves – Fresh herbs are always preferable, but sub in dried if you must. I use a mix of oregano, thyme, and basil; you can switch up the herbs any which way you like.
  • Basil – Use some to flavor the sauce, and then, if you already have the fresh stuff on hand, why not top the dish with some slivered basil?
  • Oregano
  • Pasta – Whatever pasta floats your boat is the best pasta for this dish. I love spaghetti with this garden tomato sauce, but you can also go for a flatter pasta like linguine, or shorter, chunkier shapes, like rigatoni or radiatore.
  • Salt and pepper – To taste.
  • Parmesan – To sprinkle on top.
Saucepan with fresh tomato sauce on wood table next to heirloom tomatoes.

How to Make Fresh Heirloom Tomato Sauce

  1. Prep to blanch: Bring a large pot of water to boil. Separately, prepare a large bowl of ice water.
  2. Blanch the tomatoes: Make an X with a sharp knife on the bottom of each of the tomatoes. Drop the tomatoes into the boiling water, cook for 60 seconds, then remove with a slotted spoon to the ice water. Cool for a minute or two.
  3. Remove the skins: Place the tomatoes on a cutting board with a groove to catch the juices. Peel off the tomato skins, then roughly chop the tomatoes, discarding the stem and any white core.
  4. Sauté the aromatics: In the same pot, heat the olive oil, then sauté the garlic and onions for about 5 minutes, until soft. Season to taste.
  5. Add the tomatoes: Add the tomatoes and all of their juices, bring to a simmer, add the sugar, and cook for about 10 to 20 minutes until the sauce is as thick as you like it. Stir in the fresh herbs.
  6. Meanwhile, cook the pasta.
  7. Finish the sauce: At this point, if you like a chunky sauce, you can simply drain the pasta, return it to the pot, and toss with the sauce to combine. Or you can use an immersion blender, a food processor, or a blender to pulse or puree the mixture until it reaches the desired consistency.
  8. Serve: Pass the Parmesan for those who want it.
Wood table with saucepan of tomato sauce, bowl of tomato pasta, red wine glass, and heirloom tomatoes.

FAQs

Can you leave tomato skins on for pasta sauce?

This is one of the biggest questions people ask when getting ready to make their first homemade sauce: Do I have to peel the tomatoes for pasta sauce? The answer is, no, you don’t need to peel them — the tomato skins can stay on. However, I do recommend removing them, because it results in a silkier sauce.

How long to boil tomatoes to peel for sauce?

Blanching the tomatoes (giving them a quick simmer in boiling water, and a bath in ice water) takes just 60 seconds. It is a quick way to rid yourself of the tomato skins, which means a more luxurious sauce. The ice bath makes the skins easier to slip off.

Can the sauce be canned or frozen?

Homemade sauce can be canned (here’s advice from the folks at the National Center for Home Food Preservation on that). Make sure to follow canning instructions carefully to safely preserve your sauce. Use a glass jar with a new metal pop-up lid. If it’s properly sealed, you’ll be able to see a vacuum effect pull down the lid, and as it cools, the lid will pop. You can also freeze the sauce in freezer-safe resealable plastic containers for up to 3 months, though this sauce is best when freshly made!

Cooking Tips

  • If you have a food mill and plan to put the sauce through the mill when it is cooked, you can skip blanching the tomatoes: the food mill will prevent the skins from going through into the sauce. As for the seeds and the juice, just let the whole tomato be part of the sauce — no need to seed.
  • You can cook the tomatoes for as little or as long as you want, and you’ll still have a lovely clean sauce. The longer you cook the sauce, the thicker and more concentrated it will get. 
  • If you have the opportunity to mix different varieties of tomatoes then you’ll get a blend of different notes of sweetness and acidity.
  • If you prefer a chunky, rustic sauce, just skip the blending step altogether.

What to Serve With Heirloom Tomato Pasta Sauce

Pasta with homemade tomato sauce in white bowl with spoon near red wine glass, napkin, and whole tomatoes.

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5 from 9 votes

Heirloom Tomato Pasta Sauce

Homemade pasta sauce turns a basketful of ripe tomatoes into an easy dinner.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Servings: 6 People
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Ingredients 

  • 4 pounds ripe tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion (chopped)
  • 5 cloves garlic (minced)
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 6 large basil leaves (chopped or shredded)
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 pound dried pasta (any kind)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (to serve; optional)

Instructions 

  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water.
  • Make an X with a sharp knife on the bottom end of each of the tomatoes. Drop the tomatoes into the boiling water, cook for 60 seconds, then remove with a slotted spoon to the ice water. Let cool for a minute or two.
  • Place the tomatoes on a cutting board with a groove to catch the juices, and dump out the ice water, reserving the bowl. Peel off the tomato skins, then roughly chop the tomatoes, discarding the stems and any white cores. Transfer the chopped tomatoes to the bowl with all of the juices.
  • Meanwhile, return the same pot that you cooked the tomatoes in to the stove over medium heat. Add the olive oil, then add the garlic and onions and sauté, not allowing the garlic and onions to get more than lightly golden (about 5 minutes, until soft). Stir in the red pepper flakes, if using, and season with salt and pepper. Add the tomatoes and all of their juices, and turn the heat up to high. Bring to a simmer, add the sugar, and cook for about 10 to 20 minutes until the sauce is as thick as you like it. Stir in the fresh herbs. Check and adjust the seasoning.
  • While the tomato sauce finishes cooking, cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water according to package instructions. At this point, if you like a chunky sauce, you can simply drain the pasta, return it to the pot, and toss it with the sauce to combine. Or you can use an immersion blender to puree the sauce as smooth as you’d like right in the pot, or carefully transfer it to a food processor or blender and pulse or puree the mixture — in batches if necessary — until it reaches the desired consistency.
  • Serve in a large shallow serving bowl, or in individual bowls. Pass the Parmesan for those who want it.

Notes

  • If you have a food mill and plan to put the sauce through the mill when it is cooked, you can skip blanching the tomatoes; the food mill will prevent the skins from going through into the sauce. As for the seeds and the juice, just let the whole tomato be part of the sauce — no need to seed.
  • You can cook the tomatoes for as little or as long as you want, and you’ll still have a lovely clean sauce. The longer you cook the sauce, the thicker and more concentrated it will get. 
  • If you have the opportunity to mix different varieties of tomatoes, then you’ll get a blend of different notes of sweetness and acidity.
  • If you prefer a chunky, rustic sauce, just skip the blending step altogether.

Nutrition

Calories: 411kcal, Carbohydrates: 71g, Protein: 13g, Fat: 9g, Saturated Fat: 1g, Sodium: 24mg, Potassium: 922mg, Fiber: 7g, Sugar: 11g, Vitamin A: 2605IU, Vitamin C: 44mg, Calcium: 60mg, Iron: 2mg
Like this recipe? Rate and comment below!

About Katie Workman

Katie Workman is a cook, a writer, a mother of two, an activist in hunger issues, and an enthusiastic advocate for family meals, which is the inspiration behind her two beloved cookbooks, Dinner Solved! and The Mom 100 Cookbook.

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1 Comment

  1. Stephanie Jean says:

    Used this recipe tonight for dinner! Thank you!