Salads draw attention for easy summer eating, but I have another favorite go-to for making quick warm weather meals. As long as local tomatoes are available, I keep fresh homemade tomato sauce on hand.

Endlessly versatile, this chunky sauce tossed with pasta and a sprinkling of fresh basil makes the perfect meal. Alternately combine it with boiled shrimp or spoon it alongside grilled fish since it is dense enough to eat as a side dish. Heating cooked rice (think prepared frozen) and chopped baby spinach with a cup or two of this sauce cooks the spinach and makes a garden-fresh meatless main dish, especially with shredded mozzarella mixed in or grated Parmesan cheese sprinkled over the top.

When feeling more ambitious, I overlap thick slices of roasted zucchini and grilled eggplant in a shallow heat-proof dish, spoon a layer of the sauce over them and place slabs of mozzarella on top of the sauce. Popped in the oven until the cheese melts, this makes a vibrant summer version of Parmigiana.

Two choices make this fresh tomato sauce stand out. First, to emphasize and complement the tomatoes at a time when they have peak flavor, I use a lot of onions but a modest amount of garlic. In fact, I make this sauce only when ripe, local tomatoes are available.

Using the hard, barely red ones from the supermarket produces an insipid result. Second, I use the oval tomatoes called roma, plum or San Marzano. The meaty flesh of these varieties makes a sauce with substance. Since there is not a lot of liquid to boil off, it cooks quickly enough for the tomatoes to still hold some shape when it is done, hence the chunky texture.

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Since this sauce keeps in the refrigerator for a week and it is good enough to eat repeatedly, making a double batch is useful.

Fresh Tomato Sauce

Make 6 servings. Per serving: 1/2 cup.


  • 3 lbs. plum tomatoes
  • 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh oregano, or 1 tsp. dried
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar, optional
  • 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil, or 1 tsp. dried
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper


  1. Cut thin slice off top of tomatoes. Peel tomatoes, using either serrated swivel-blade vegetable peeler or hot water method. For this method, drop 2-3 tomatoes at a time into large pot of boiling water until their skins crack, 1-2 minutes. Immediately transfer tomatoes to bowl of ice water. When tomatoes are cool enough to handle, use your fingers to pull off skin. Halve tomatoes lengthwise and use your thumb to push out seeds, then your fingers to remove pulpy ribs. Chop tomatoes and set aside; there will be 6-7 cups.
  2. In large, heavy pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and cook, stirring often, until onion starts to color, 3-4 minutes. Add tomatoes and oregano and stir well. Cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Taste sauce, adding sugar if it is too acidic. Mix in basil and cook until tomatoes have broken down to your taste, 10-15 minutes for chunky sauce, 12-15 minutes for pulpier one.

    Note: Using ripe tomatoes is important. Supermarket ones usually require sitting at room temperature for 5 to 10 days to turn really red. They make a more chunky and drier sauce than local tomatoes in season because they are less juicy.

Nutritional Information Per Serving:
75 calories
3 g total fat
Less than 1 g saturated fat
12 g carbohydrate
2 g protein
3 g dietary fiber
19 mg sodium