Quick Marinara Sauce For A Crowd, or “What To Do With Four Pints of Grape Tomatoes” (v, gf)

We had a party* this weekend!!!!!! First we’ve had in, oh, about three years, so I bought way too many groceries to make the food I had on the menu. What was on the menu? Burgers, brats, BBQ chicken, all of the necessary burger fixins, chips, dips, potato salad with cabbage and sesame oil, avocado and corn tomato salad, baked beans and 534845321564 cookies and cupcakes (none of which I baked).

It was a delicious and overindulgent day, and I wound up with four pints of leftover grape tomatoes from the avocado salad…. What in the heck do you make for a two-person household using that many tomatoes? A friend suggested I make a marinara sauce (my first instinct was tomato soup), so I did, thinking I’ll freeze some later. This recipe begins with the usual disclaimer that I was short on time, so I had to improvise my way through the slow-cooking I would have preferred for the sauce. Cue the food processor…..

the innumerable tomatoes mock me



  • 4 pints of grape or cherry tomatoes, preferably sitting on your counter ripening for two days, challenging you to a “you can’t cook me” face-off
  • 3-4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 very large onions, chopped
  • 5+ cloves garlic, or 3 tsp garlic paste
  • 1 1/2 tbsp  dried Italian seasoning (small palmful)
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 2-3 tsp kosher salt (you may prefer more, I try to limit salt)
  • 1 tsp cracked black pepper
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup water or pasta water, if you’re simultaneously cooking pasta and you like a thinner sauce


Heat a heavy-bottomed stock pot over medium heat. Add the olive oil to the hot pot, and swirl to coat. Add onion, garlic, and spices, and cook for 5-7 minutes. Add the washed tomatoes and water, if using, cooking for about ten minutes, or until the tomatoes start to break down from the heat and salt. Add balsamic at this point, and stir. Cover, and cook for 10-15 minutes more, or however long you have.

Remove from heat and uncover, letting the sauce cool for about ten minutes before processing in batches. The benefit of quick-cooking a sauce like this is that it’s light and fresh at the end, which is nice in the spring and versatile. I plan to freeze it in muffin cups and use the fairly neutral sauce in future pastas and soups. I also thought that a quickly browned pound of ground beef or turkey could easily turn into a spaghetti dinner with two or three servings of the sauce, tossed in at the end of cooking time to melt and meld, then be served over pasta.  This sauce is also a great way to use sale tomatoes!

If I’d had more time (Always. Always “if I’d had more time…”), I would have roasted the tomatoes and onions together in a large roasting dish with olive oil before transferring to a stock pot to simmer, and then puree. The flavor would have been richer, but that will be a delicious way to try this sauce in the fall. Enjoy!

Sauteed with cooked ground beef- this was the next day’s lunch. YUM

Some more ideas:

  1. omit balsamic, stir in creme fraiche, or chunks of neufchatel
  2. stir in ribbons of fresh basil after pureeing
  3. stir in Kalamata olives and feta cheese before pureeing, serve over fish
  4. add zucchini or spinach for a nutritional boost
  5. use a head of roasted garlic in place of fresh cloves (DEFINITELY trying this!)


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