Basic Meatless Tomato Sauces

Heirloom Tomatoes

Heirloom Tomatoes

by Cat, Dec 2007 (photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

See also: 1. Homemade Tomato Paste (For Canning, Freezing, Refrigeration); 2. Preserving & Using Tomatoes; 3. Basic Tomato Sauce for Canning; 4. Bolognese Tomato Sauce (with meat)

This article includes: 1. Basic Meatless Tomato Sauce; 2. Marinara with Balsamic Vinegar or Wine; 3. Rich Tomato Sauce with Sage or Basil; 4. ‘Pink’ Sauce for Gnocchi or Pasta

Research has revealed that the nutrient value of tomatoes is increased by cooking (but not by overcooking), so indulge in a good tomato sauce frequently.  There are many different ways to make a sauce with tomatoes, from a light meatless marinara to a heavy bolognese. 

Most of these recipes begin with “peel tomatoes.” I have to admit, there are times when I don’t do this. For example, if I’m making a sauce that includes sections of chopped tomatoes when it is done, I leave the peel on. or if I’m making a sauce that will be pureed, I leave the peel on and seeds in, because I will process it with my food mill, which leaves the peel and seeds behind. In fact, the only time I do remove the peel is when the sauce will be cooked until the tomatoes are a mush without pureeing.

Basic, Meatless Tomato Sauce

This is an excellent basic sauce using locally-grown sun-ripened-on-the-vine tomatoes, in the summer (or the ripest Organic tomatoes you can find at your grocer).  To make this last through the winter, make it in huge batches (see Basic Tomato Sauce for Canning) and then freeze or seal in glass jars.  You’ll be glad you did when bleak January comes and you’re craving baked manicotti or moussaka.

This recipe is adapted from The New Vegetarian Epicure, by Anna Thomas, and makes 2.5 to 3 cups of sauce.

If you want to make a huge batch and can in jars, see Basic Tomato Sauce for Canning, which also includes the canning instructions.

Ingredients & Equipment:

  • 3 pounds ripe tomatoes (will fill a quart jar when chopped)
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 – 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil leaves (or 1 bay leaf, torn in half)
  • Unrefined sea salt to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 quart stainless steel or enameled saucepan (Do NOT use aluminum)


  1. Peel tomatoes, trim off the stems; chop coarsely.  If you want a smoother puree, you don’t need to peel the tomatoes, just chop a bit and press through a food mill.
  2. Heat oil in saucepan over medium heat and saute garlic for about 45 seconds, then pour in the tomatoes.  Add basil (or bay), a little salt and pepper, and cook over medium heat for 20 to 30 minutes (no longer, or your tomatoes will lose their flavor), until reduced by about a third.
  3. You can use this at once, or refrigerate for several days.  Or, better yet, make in large batches for canning (but you may need to cook a large batch a bit longer).

Marinara with Balsamic Vinegar or White Wine

Classic meatless tomato sauce, this recipe makes 2 cups of sauce; adapted from Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig.  Marinara recipes often call for a bit of dried oregano, but for some reason, my system doesn’t like the combination of basil and oregano, so I omit the latter.  If I want a sauce with oregano, I use it instead of basil, and add a dried bay leaf as well.

The original recipe uses balsamic vinegar, which is delicious (you will not need to add sugar); but you can also use a dry white wine such as vermouth (you may want to add sugar), or a red wine such as Merlo.

Don’t be tempted to substitute canned tomato sauce for the fresh tomatoes. I tried it and it isn’t as good. Canned chopped tomatoes would be better than the sauce, in a pinch.

Ingredients & Equipment:

  • 3 cups fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced.
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar or 1/4 cup wine
  • 2 cloves garlic, mashed
  • 1/8 – 1/4 tsp sugar (optional)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves (or 1 Tbsp dried)
  • pinch of unrefined sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 2 quart saucepan


  1. Peel tomatoes, remove seeds, and chop into dice.
  2. Warm olive oil in sauce pan; add onions and and saute until tender.  Add tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, garlic, and sugar (if using).  Bring to a boil and reduce until liquid is almost gone, but tomatoes are still chunky.  Stir in basil and seasonings.
  3. Remove from heat for about 30 minutes to allow herb flavor to develop in the sauce.  Reheat before serving.

Rich Tomato Sauce with Sage or Basil

This sauce works well with dishes containing ricotta cheese, such as stuffed manicotti.  I prefer to use fresh basil when it is in season (and tomatoes are at their peak).  At other times of the year, I use sage, and my frozen whole or crushed tomatoes if fresh ones are not very ripe. I don’t use canned tomatoes or sauce.   Makes about 2 cups of sauce.

Ingredients & Equipment:

  • 2 pounds (or enough to make 2 cups, chopped) ripe plum or Roma tomatoes, peeled and chopped *
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 2 – 3 cloves garlic, pressed (or to taste)
  • 1/2 young carrot, grated fine
  • 1 – 2 leaves fresh sage, chopped; OR 4 – 6 leaves of fresh basil, chopped (or more, to taste)
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp fresh-ground fennel seeds (optional)
  • Unrefined sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/3 cup dry red wine, or to taste
  • 2 quart saucepan
  • food mill or sieve (optional)

*if you plan to put the sauce through a food mill or sieve, you do not need to remove the peels and seeds first.


  1. Peel tomatoes, then chop coarsely.
  2. Clean and grate the carrot, and chop the onion.  Peel the garlic and press it with the flat side of a knife blade.  Chop the sage leaves.
  3. Heat olive oil in saucepan.  Saute onion until wilted. If using ground fennel seeds, add to onions and stir to release fragrance.  Then add tomatoes, garlic and carrot and stir over medium heat, until warmed.
  4. If you want a smoother sauce, push through a food mill or sieve *, then return to the saucepan.
  5. Add chopped sage and the wine, and season to taste.  Simmer 15 to 20 minutes.

‘Pink’ Sauce for Gnocchi or Pasta

This recipe is adapted from A Passion for Vegetables, by Vera Gewanter.  It’s an amazing sauce for white or green (from spinach) potato gnocchi.  I was skeptical at first, but I’m a convert now.  This version uses commercial tomato paste (unless you want to make your own).  I make my own tomato paste and freeze it in an ice cube tray.

First you make a white sauce, then a red sauce; then the two are stirred together to make the pink sauce.  Fresh sage is more flavorful than dried, but you must strain the red sauce before mixing it with the white (if you use fresh sage).

Ingredients & Equipment:

White sauce:

  • 1 1/2 cups milk, hot
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp unbleached white flour or other starch
  • small saucepan, preferably enameled cast iron
  • whisk

Red Sauce

  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 medium-sized onion, chopped fine
  • 3 Tbsp dry white wine, or more to taste
  • 3 Tbsp Homemade Tomato Paste
  • 1 Tbsp fresh sage (or 1 12 tsp dried)
  • small skillet

Make it Pink


  1. White Sauce:  Heat the milk to scalding point in saucepan.  Remove from heat.  Melt 2 Tbsp butter; add flour and stir to combine.  Cook for a few minutes over medium-low heat.  Don’t let it brown.  After 2 or 3 minutes, raise the heat slightly and immediately pour the hot milk into the sauce, stirring continuously with a whisk so that it doesn’t form lumps.  It will begin to thicken when it is close to a boil.
  2. Red Sauce:  In separate skillet, saute onion in 1 Tbsp butter, adding 1 Tbsp of the wine.  Mix the tomato paste with the rest of the wine, then add to the onion when it becomes transparent.  Add the sage and simmer 3 – 4 minutes.  If sauce gets too thick, add a little more wine or water.
  3. Make it Pink:  Stir white sauce into red sauce; add grated cheese, stir again.  Taste to adjust seasoning.


  1. The New Vegetarian Epicure, by Anna Thomas
  2. Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig
  3. A Passion for Vegetables by Vera Guiana

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