This 5-minute tomato sauce has a secret star

On weeknights, Heidi Swanson’s all-purpose sauce is here for you

Published September 10, 2022 4:29PM (EDT)

Food stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop stylist: Milly Fitzsimons. (James Ransom / Food52)
Food stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop stylist: Milly Fitzsimons. (James Ransom / Food52)

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This recipe is a sneak peek from our new "Simply Genius" cookbook — the third in the best-selling Genius family, with the simplest, most rule-breaking recipes yet.

Five-minute tomato sauce sounds like it could very well be a cheat, a gimmick, or an outright lie.

But when Heidi Swanson — founder of the beloved blog 101 Cookbooks and author of the Super Natural series of cookbooks — writes a five-minute tomato sauce, calling it the "little black dress of my cooking repertoire," I trust. And I try it — and it's bright and fresh and alive, despite barely cooking.

Then I scrutinize exactly how she does it, so I can commit it to memory:

The cold pan: Rather than heating the oil first till it shimmers, then adding the garlic and seasonings, like we're so often told to do, Heidi pours them all into a cold saucepan together, stirring over the heat until they start to sizzle and smell good. This little move extracts loads of flavor without burning, and takes all of 45 seconds.

The tomato shortcut: She calls for canned crushed tomatoes, which are already essentially in sauce form, stirs them into the punchy olive oil, then just heats them through. More precious minutes, maybe even hours, saved.

The secret ingredient: In a last swipe of brilliance, she grates in the zest of a lemon, which jolts the tomatoes to life without tasting more acidic or even perceptibly lemony.

Now, as you may recall, there's another Genius tomato sauce out there — Marcella Hazan's, the cover star of the first cookbook and the most popular Genius recipe of all time, in fact. I will still make it forever.

But I will turn to it in different moments, when I have 45 minutes and I want to let tomatoes, onion, and butter blub along on the stove while I putter. Then I end up with a sauce that's sweet, rich, and purely tomato, I'll make Marcella's.

When I want something a little feistier and more savory, to quickly layer onto a pizza or lasagna or eggplant parm — especially when I have no time at all — Heidi's is it.

As I worked on the "Simply Genius" cookbook over the past four years, it was these types of recipes that I unexpectedly needed most — as I molded my cooking around a new baby, then pandemic lockdowns, then a move across the country (then moving two more times).

The recipes in this book — which started out aimed at beginners, and turned out to be just as vital for busy, curious cooks like me — buoyed me through the gauntlet of the past few years, and, most importantly, brought me and my family joy.

It's my deepest hope they do the same for you.

Recipe: 5-Minute Tomato Sauce From Heidi Swanson

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By Kristen Miglore

MORE FROM Kristen Miglore

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Food Food52 Heidi swanson Marcella Hazan Recipe Tomato Sauce Tomatoes