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This homemade tomato sauce recipe has simple ingredients that make big flavor! Here’s how to make this Italian staple.

Tomato sauce
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Sure, you can buy it in a jar. But homemade tomato sauce is superior every time! This tomato sauce recipe is our kitchen staple: it comes out velvety and tangy, bright from the tomatoes and smooth from the olive oil. Based on an Italian grandmother’s recipe, this one uses simple ingredients to make culinary magic. Swirl it into pasta, spread it on pizza, or use it as a marinara dipping sauce and you’ll swoon over the flavor. This one is tops in our hearts because of the velvety texture it imparts on all it touches.

Ingredients for this tomato sauce recipe

This tomato sauce recipe is based on a real Sicilian grandmother: it’s a spin on Nonna’s recipe from the memoir From Scratch by Tembi Locke (an excellent read!). Just like Nonna’s, it uses simple, high quality ingredients, simmered to extract the essence of their flavors. Here’s what you’ll need for this simple homemade tomato sauce:

  • Olive oil
  • Red onion
  • Garlic
  • Crushed tomatoes (San Marzano or best quality)
  • Oregano
  • Fresh basil
  • Sugar
  • Salt
Tomato Sauce Recipe

Finding best quality tomatoes

The variable that most affects the flavor of a tomato sauce? The quality of the canned tomatoes. Low quality canned tomatoes have a bitter, flat flavor: and no amount of olive oil or seasoning can compensate for that. Here are a few notes on finding best quality tomatoes:

  • Look for the San Marzano variety. San Marzano tomatoes are a variety of plum tomato that has less seeds and acidity than most types of tomatoes. This variety originated in Italy but it’s grown all over the world, including the US. It’s slightly more expensive than the typical American canned tomato, but well worth the price.
  • Muir Glen, Cento, and San Marzano are high quality brands. That’s right: there’s a brand called San Marzano too! These are the brands we lean toward (we are not affiliated).
  • Try fire roasted tomatoes if you prefer. Fire roasted tomatoes are tomatoes that are roasted over an open flame before they’re canned, giving them a sweet, lightly smoky flavor. They work wonderfully here, though they’re not required.
Homemade tomato sauce

How to make tomato sauce

This homemade tomato sauce recipe is simple to put together: all you need is time to let the ingredients simmer! It’s true: it’s not a fast tomato sauce recipe. But allowing that time for everything to gently bubble is imperative for getting the best, developed flavor. Here’s how to make homemade tomato sauce:

  1. Sauté the onion and garlic over medium heat: Heat olive oil and cook the onion and garlic gently for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened and fragrant.
  2. Simmer 30 minutes: Add the tomatoes and remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring often.
  3. Blend (optional): Transfer to a blender and blend until smooth. Or, skip this step and leave it chunky if you prefer. Add the salt, sugar, oregano and basil and blend until combined. 
  4. Simmer until thickened: Return to the saucepan and simmer partially covered until thickened to the desired consistency, 15 to 30 minutes. Taste and adjust salt as desired.

Fresh vs dried basil

Do you have to use fresh basil in this tomato sauce recipe? Fresh basil is like gold when it comes to Italian herbs. The fresh, peppery flavor that it imparts is essential to many Italian dishes. But if it’s not the season and you can’t find it, you can substitute dried! Use ½ teaspoon dried basil. The flavor will not be quite as developed, but it still works!

Variations on this tomato sauce

Want to vary the flavor in this tomato sauce? You can add a hint of one or more of these ingredients to change the character of the sauce. Here are some ideas and an idea of where to start on quantity:

  • Balsamic vinegar (start with 1 teaspoon)
  • Red pepper flakes (start with ¼ teaspoon)
  • Heavy cream (start with 1 tablespoon)
  • Grated Parmesan cheese (start with 2 tablespoons)
Tomato sauce recipe

How to serve it

There are infinite ways to serve homemade tomato sauce, of course! Here’s our rule of thumb when it comes to this pasta sauce:

  • Serve 2 cups tomato sauce with 8 ounces pasta. Try this ratio first, then see if you’d like to add more.
  • Top with grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese and red pepper flakes. The Parmesan or Pecorino really make the flavor pop! If you’d making vegan tomato sauce, use vegan Parmesan (purchased or homemade).

Storage info

How long does homemade tomato sauce last? This sauce stores refrigerated for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 3 months.

More sauce recipes

Looking for great sauce recipes? Pick from one of these homemade sauces:

This homemade tomato sauce recipe is…

Vegetarian, vegan, plant-based, dairy-free and gluten-free.

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Tomato sauce

Homemade Tomato Sauce


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5 from 1 review

  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 45 minutes
  • Total Time: 50 minutes
  • Yield: 3 cups 1x

Description

This homemade tomato sauce recipe has simple ingredients that make big flavor! Here’s how to make this Italian staple.


Ingredients

Scale
  • ¼ cup olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes, San Marzano or best quality
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 6 large basil leaves
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Instructions

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat in a saucepan. Add the onion and garlic and cook gently for 5 minutes, until softened and fragrant. Add the tomatoes and remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring often.
  2. Transfer to a blender and blend until smooth. Add the salt, sugar, oregano and basil and blend until combined. 
  3. Return to the saucepan and simmer partially covered until thickened to the desired consistency, 15 to 30 minutes. Taste and adjust salt as desired. (Variations: Stir in red pepper flakes, a splash of cream, grated Parmesan cheese, or a splash of balsamic vinegar if desired.)
  4. Serve 2 cups tomato sauce with 8 ounces pasta, and top with Parmesan cheese, Pecorino Romano cheese, and/or red pepper flakes. Sauce stores refrigerated for 5 days or frozen for 3 months.
  • Category: Sauce
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Italian
  • Diet: Vegan

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Hi, we’re Alex and Sonja Overhiser, married cookbook authors, food bloggers, and recipe developers. We founded A Couple Cooks to share fresh, seasonal recipes and the joy of cooking! Our recipes are made by two real people and work every time.

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1 Comment

  1. Sonja Overhiser says:

    Let us know if you have any questions!