Seared Tomato Sauce

The third in my series of recipe reviews from The Lost Art of Real Cooking, by Ken Albala and Rosanna Nafziger (A Perigee Book, published by the Penguin Group), this recipe, another sauce from Ken Albala, was intriguing from the get-go. The recipe, Fresh Tomato Sauce, in Chapter 2, Fresh Vegetables and Legumes, starts off with: “This sauce probably defies everything you have ever read about a good tomato sauce.”  With the gauntlet thus thrown, I could hardly avoid taking up the challenge, now could I?

Mr. Albala is correct: this sauce is intriguingly non-traditional. You sear the tomatoes, rather violently, then add a little onion, garlic and rosemary (rosemary? in tomato sauce?), cook over very high heat for just a few minutes, then put the whole thing through a food mill. Return to the pan just to keep warm until your pasta cooks, and there you have it: a smoky, flavorful, quite non-traditional but delicious tomato sauce, put together in less time than it takes you to boil that big ‘ole pot of water for the pasta.  What’s most interesting to me is that, despite many years of cooking and probably hundreds of tomato sauce recipes read and/or tried, I’ve never seen this method, nor heard of it. Just goes to show that you can teach an old dog new tricks.  And this is a trick that I will keep in my repetoire: the sauce is delicious, with the smoky flavor reminiscent of the best barbecue sauces, but without the added sweetness (from honey, sugar or molasses) that would make it a barbecue sauce. Simple, quick and delicious: three things we all love in a recipe.  The one drawback to this method with fresh, height-of-summer tomatoes, is that you lose some of that fresh-summer-tomato flavor: honestly, I almost never cook summer tomatoes, just slice ’em and eat them in various ways.  That ‘drawback’ however, could be a boon to a well-preserved, home-canned whole tomato: I can just imagine how delicious & easy this sauce will be in February with some of my home-canned heirlooms; onion, garlic and dried herbs are available all year round, making this an easy, convenient and delicious local “fast food” meal for the winter months.

For a chance to win this intriguing little book, surf on over to What Julia Ate and enter her giveaway! Entries accepted until August 25th. For previous Lost Art reviews, check out Swazi Sauce and Cultured Butter, or Julia’s discussion of Fermented Pickles. Also check out what Tigress in a Pickle and Ashley at Small Measures have to say about the book.

Adapted from Fresh Tomato Sauce in T The Lost Art of Real Cooking by Ken Albala and Roseanna Nafziger


Seared Tomato Sauce


  • food mill or chinois


  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 large beefsteak tomatoes (I used heirlooms from The Hickories), halved
  • 1 small yellow onion, peeled and coarsley chopped
  • 6 tiny cloves garlic, smashed but left in skin
  • 1 heaping tsp dried rosemary (or 1 tbsp fresh)
  • 1 cup red wine
  • salt & pepper to taste


  1. Heat a large frying pan (cast iron or stainless; do not use non-stick) over high heat for several minutes, until very hot. Add olive oil; it should shimmer and start to smoke quite quickly.
  2. Add tomatoes, cut half down (be careful of spattering oil!), and spread enough in the pan so that none are touching. Cover pan with splatter screen, if you have one. Allow to cook over high heat, without stirring, for a few minutes; the trick is to caramelize the tomato flesh and develop a nice brown layer on the bottom of the pan that will translate into smoky, yummy goodness in your sauce (just like with meat, over-crowding the pan will cause the tomatoes to steam, instead of sear).
  3. Add onions, garlic and rosemary. Continue to cook over high heat, stirring just enough to evenly distribute the vegetables in the pan, for 5 minutes.
  4. Add the wine to deglaze the pan; scrape up all the seared brown goodness. Reduce heat and simmer for another 5 minutes.
  5. Transfer vegetables to a food mill or fine sieve (chinois); push vegetables through, returning the pulp/sauce to the pan.  Add salt & pepper to taste, then continue to simmer, over low heat, until ready to serve. 

Serves 2. Recipe can easily be increased, only limited by the size of your pan.


  1. I will definitely try this with whole, canned tomatoes over the winter; it may be difficult to get a good sear if they are very wet, so I would recommend blotting on a kitchen towel first.
  2. I really liked the flavor that rosemary imparted to the sauce, however, other dried herbs would work equally as well: basil, oregano, thyme or savory are all good choices.


Refrigerated for about a week, or frozen for up to 6 months. This tomato sauce is not safe for water-bath canning due to the large amount of oil in the recipe.


Summer (or possibly year-round with canned, whole tomatoes).


  1. Rosemary – wow. I’d never have imagined that. I canned a lot of the more “traditional” tomato sauce last weekend, but I still have more and more tomatoes coming in. I don’t like a lot of oil in my sauces, so I may play with that a bit when I try it. And having the recipe in the winter to make with the canned whole tomatoes, what a good incentive to keep busy now with the canning.

  2. I’m going to have to try that one, too! Good thing we have a long, cold winter in front of us. There’s a ton of stuff on my list already, and this book has added quite a few more!

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