Garlicky Heirloom Tomato Sauce

Vegan Tomato Sauce with Heirloom Tomatoes

Growing up in a household in which the predominant ethnic influence was Italian, I was raised on homemade tomato sauce. (Interesting trivia: The Italian-Americans in Philadelphia refer to it as “gravy.”) As a matter of fact, buying a jar of Ragú was tantamount to sacrilege in my house. That’s really not an exaggeration. Yet as an adult, I never took the time to make my own until recently. Given what I just revealed about my background, you might be surprised to learn that I’ve never actually been much of a tomato fan; I’ve always found the taste to be overpowering and a bit too acidic. However, at the end of August I did a three-day juice cleanse — my first one ever — and I experienced a surprising side effect: Once I broke the fast, I realized I’d developed a whole new appreciation for tomatoes.

So naturally, a couple of weeks ago when I found really nice organic heirloom tomatoes on sale at WholeFoods, I was overcome with inspiration. I bought six pounds and brought them home to make some homemade tomato sauce of my own. I consulted with my mom and Mark Bittman (not personally, of course, just his cookbook) and came up with a tomato sauce so delicious I wanted to drink a whole cup of it, straight up. As it simmered, it filled my house with a mouthwatering aroma, too. Tomatoes still seem to be in season right now, so I’d encourage you to give this a try as soon as possible 🙂

Fresh Heirloom Tomatoes for our Vegan Pasta Sauce

six pounds of heirloom tomatoes


  • 6 lbs. ripe organic tomatoes
  • 10 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 T. Celtic sea salt
  • 6 oz. tomato paste (see inset for an important note)
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped roughly


In a small frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Sautée the garlic until it’s just starting to brown.

Sauteed Garlic for our Tomato Sauce Recipe

Quarter the tomatoes, pull the out the seeds with your fingers, then toss them into your blender and blend on high speed for about a minute. I had to do this in two batches to accommodate six pounds’ worth. If you prefer your tomato sauce to be completely smooth rather than have chunks of garlic in it, add the sauteed garlic and its oil to the blender as well; otherwise, save it for the next step.

Fresh Heirloom Tomato Sauce

Pour your liquid tomatoes into a stock pot. Add the tomato paste, basil and salt to the pot, and if you didn’t already blend the garlic and oil with the tomatoes, then transfer them to the pot as well. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then lower the heat and simmer the sauce for about an hour. Stir occasionally, all the way to the bottom of the pot, to make sure it’s not sticking.

Simmering Homemade Tomato Sauce (Vegan)

That’s it! So simple and so delicious.

I store some in a glass jar in the fridge to use over the next few days, and freeze the rest (in quart-sized Ziploc freezer bags — which are BPA-free! — or in an ice cube tray the way I showed you with the pistachio arugula pesto). It’s easy to thaw the bag of sauce by letting it sit in a bowl of hot (not boiling) water, or defrost the tomato sauce ice cubes in a saucepan over low heat with a tiny bit of water, stirring constantly.

Vegan Tomato Sauce made with Heirloom Tomatoes and Garlic

The Trouble with Canned Tomatoes

Many families who do make their own tomato sauce do it with canned tomatoes instead of fresh ones. This is extremely convenient due to shelf life; obviously, fresh tomatoes are perishable. However, this convenience comes at a price. Tin cans are lined with a resin coating that contains bisphenol-A, commonly known as BPA. Acidic foods in particular, such as tomatoes, break down the resin, causing the can to leach BPA into the food it contains. Unfortunately, BPA is a synthetic estrogen that has been linked to an alarming number of health problems, such that the FDA banned its use in baby bottles this year.  In an article published on Yahoo! Shine, entitled “The Seven Foods Experts Won’t Eat,” University of Missouri endocrinologist and BPA specialist Frederick vom Saal, PhD, shares his advice: “You can get 50 mcg of BPA per liter out of a tomato can, and that’s a level that is going to impact people, particularly the young. I won’t go near canned tomatoes.” Additionally, some brands of canned tomatoes also contain chemical preservatives and a large quantity of sodium, so always check the label.

All of these concerns are valid for any canned food, so it’s a good idea to buy fresh foods and dry goods (beans, lentils, etc.) whenever possible. But if this is not an option, look for tomatoes, broths and other liquid foods packaged in Tetra-Paks or glass jars instead of cans. For example, the brand Bionaturae sells organic, preservative-free tomato paste in glass jars, which you can buy at Vitacost.


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