We’ve known about this recipe for years, and, all that time, we’ve wanted to make it. So, what stopped us? Simply a lack of ingredients. We just didn’t have all the ingredients; specifically, we were lacking fennel. Normally, when we get fennel, we make up a small batch of Fennel Gratin, which we think is nearly the best way to eat fennel, but, last week when we went through the line at the CSA, we selected a nice large fennel with the idea of making Thomas Keller’s Oven-Roasted Tomato Sauce.
Even with that fennel, we’ll be honest and let you know that we still didn’t have all the ingredients: no leeks. Still, we thought that we might as well try it; we’d just use additional onions in place of the leeks. Also, we made half a batch, which was just enough for the two of us, but we’ll list the amounts for a full batch of sauce.
We happen to love leeks and we almost headed to the store to buy one just for this sauce. Then, we decided that we’d try making this sauce using just onions and see how it turned out, figuring that, if we really liked it, we’d make it again and then we’d use leeks. You can do the same. We do think that you should try to get the fennel, though. It adds a slight sweetness and a faint licorice flavor to the sauce that seems to make a difference. We strongly recommend using San Marzano tomatoes; simply put, they taste better.
Procedure in detail:
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Roast vegetables. Place the oil, onions, leeks, fennel, and garlic in a baking dish and stir to coat with the oil. Sprinkle with about 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt. Place in the oven and roast about 45 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender and starting to caramelize.
Add sugar and vinegar. Stir in the brown sugar and vinegar and return the vegetables to the oven for an additional 20 minutes, or until all the liquid has evaporated.
Prepare tomatoes. With all this roasting going on, you have time to prepare the tomatoes. Place a colander in a large bowl and pour the tomatoes into the colander. Use your hands to break open the tomatoes and remove the seeds and tough cores. Similarly, remove any skin. Let the tomatoes drain for a while. Save the tomato juice that leaks through the colander for another use (we made tomato soup). Purée about half the tomato pulp in either a food processor or blender until smooth; roughly chop the remaining pulp.
Make sachet. Also, while the vegetables are finishing up, make the spice sachet. You can use a piece of butter muslin and some string and tie the spices into a small bag, or, if you have a tea ball, as we have, simply place the spices in that and close it.
Add tomatoes. Add the tomatoes and the spice sachet/tea ball, making sure to push it into the tomato sauce.
Bake. Let the sauce roast for another 90 minutes, stirring every 30. Yes, some of the tomatoes near the edge will blacken, but stir them into the sauce, as they add a delicious flavor. When you drag a spoon through the sauce and no liquid runs back in, the sauce is done.
Season. Remove the spice sachet / tea ball and discard the spices. Taste and add additional salt and pepper as needed.
Serve. We stirred the sauce into some freshly-made pasta for dinner, topping with sautéed mushrooms and just a bit of grated cheese.
This sauce is delicious, but, next time we make it, we’ll be making at least a full batch, possibly even doubling it and freezing some for later. As it was, a half-batch was just enough for the two of eat with pasta. The sauce had a slightly sweet taste, due to the fennel and the long roasting of the tomatoes, but it was balanced by the slightly acid red wine vinegar. Nearly perfect, and so easy! We really want to try it sometime when we have both leeks and fennel. Five stars.