Saffron-Infused Tomato Sauce with Vermouth


Maria Speck has written a second cookbook, Simply Ancient Grains, and it is reason to celebrate. I fell in love with Maria’s cooking and writing a couple of years ago when she published her first book, Ancient Grains for Modern Meals. It’s a book that has become a favorite in our house and taught me a lot about cooking with whole grains. I know I need more delicious grain recipes in my life, you probably do, too. 

I’m sharing a recipe for a tomato sauce infused with the flavors of saffron, bay, and vermouth, that does not actually include any grains (?!). But it is so delicious and  it goes so well with grains (or anything, really) that you will find many uses for it. I’ve made two batches of this and will make it many more times, forever. It is lovely tossed with some whole grain capellini. If you’re going that route, I would also top the pasta with a few spoonfuls of fresh ricotta that has been seasoned with flake salt and red pepper flakes, and loosened a bit with some olive oil. It makes for a wonderful dinner. Maria also suggests mixing the sauce with some cooked quinoa, spreading it in a baking dish, topping it with slabs of feta and some slices of hot pepper and baking the whole thing. This is probably my favorite use, especially when scooped up with some crusty baguette. The sauce would also be delicious spooned over a slice of toast and topped with a fried egg. You get the idea, it is USEFUL. It is the sort of thing that you can make on Sunday night and be eating all week. Which we have done twice now, and it has made for a couple of very delicious weeks.


Insider advanced warning: Maria, who is on a country-wide book tour, will be spending some time in Chicago—with me! And you! Floriole is hosting a reception and book signing on the evening of May 31st that will include a conversation between Maria and me. We’ll talk about all sorts of things, like writing cookbooks, cooking with ancient grains, and the internet. Floriole’s kitchen crew will be making food from the book. It’s going to be rad. Details will be updated here SOON. And tickets will be available on Floriole’s website.

I have had the pleasure of becoming friends with Maria and I can promise you that she is as charming in person as she is on the page. You’ll see.

Saffron-Infused Tomato Sauce with Vermouth (adapted slightly from Maria Speck’s Simply Ancient Grains)

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 shallots, thinly sliced crosswise (2 cups)
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon loosely packed saffron threads
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 cup dry vermouth
  • 2 28-ounce cans whole peeled tomatoes, with their juices, crushed
  • 1-2 teaspoons sugar

Heat a large dutch over over medium heat. Add the olive oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Heat until the oil begins to shimmer. Add the shallots, garlic, bay leaves, saffron, and salt and cook, stirring often, until the shallots soften and turn golden (from the saffron), about 5 minutes.

Add the vermouth and cook, stirring occasionally, until it becomes thick and is mostly evaporated, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juices, 1 teaspoon of the sugar and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Decrease the heat to maintain a steady simmer, cover with the lid askew about an inch, and cook for 20 minutes.

Uncover, stir, and continue cooking at a steady simmer , stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 20 minutes. Remove the bay leaves. Season with the remaining sugar, if desired. Also, taste and add additional salt if necessary.


10 comments to “Saffron-Infused Tomato Sauce with Vermouth”

  1. I love anything with saffron. The only thing I’m changing in this recipe is that I will toast the saffron first in the dry pan, crush it to a powder with the back of a spoon, and then proceed from there. I like the way doing this diffuses the thrilling flavour/aroma/colour of saffron thru out a dish.

  2. Ooh – this sounds great for a special shakshuka!

  3. Evan Krenzien says:

    April 30th, 2015 at 11:01 am

    I have made this recipe and found it delicious except the bay leaves were super fragrant in a perfumey way and a little too overpowering. Any suggested sources for the best type of bay leaves?

  4. Hey Evan! Are you normally sensitive to bay? I buy Turkish bay leaves from the Spice House.

  5. This sounds delicious! Re: bay leaves – could the super-sweet ones be California bay?

  6. I was thinking the same thing, Susan. Sometimes the California bay leaves are a little weird…

  7. This sauce sounds incredible! Love the flavour!

  8. Many many thanks for this beautiful write-up, once more, Tim. Your posts are always full of life which makes them so special. And this one is especially moving to me as I value your feedback on one of my favorite recipes of this new book.

    Also, in reply to @cR above: unlike in my first book, I’m not toasting delicate saffron anymore. I have found in testing that it can dull the scent so I’m not recommending it here. But, as in so much advice on cooking, our own taste buds are the best guide. Do what YOU like and enjoy in your kitchen. And please me know if you try the sauce someday. Enjoy!

  9. Maria Speck – thank you for the reply. I’ve been pulverizing my saffron thinking that I’m distributing the flavor evenly thru out the dish – I’ve never thought about the fact that I may be ALTERING the flavor. Well, next pot of yellow rice I’m keeping it whole – so I can taste then compare/contrast. Thanks again!

  10. I just made this sauce with some fresh pasta and it was fantastic! Topped it with whipped ricotta, toasted panko, and parsley. Definitely a new favorite.

What do you think?