how to make italian tomato sauce for pasta | Family Cuisine

This is a recipe for Italian tomato sauce with herbs and spices. This sauce goes well on pasta, but you can also use it as a marinara sauce with meatballs.

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The real classic Italian tomato sauce – Make from scratch one of the best pasta sauces in the world with just 5 ingredients.

Homemade Italian tomato sauce is as tasty as it is easy to make, and it’s the foundation of so many traditional Italian dishes.

Reading: how to make italian tomato sauce for pasta

Loved by kids and grown-ups, this classic pasta sauce is actually one of the 5 mother sauces in the culinary arts, which are the bases for all the other ones.

italian tomato sauce in a white pan with a wood spoon, next to a grey napkin on the right side, on the left side a small bowl with canned tomatoes, basil leaves and a small glass bottle of extra-virgin olive oil.

What the world calls pasta sauce, in Italian, we call it “salsa al pomodoro” or “sugo al pomodoro”.

Growing up in an Italian kitchen, my mum would prepare it at least 3-4 times a week, so for me making this sauce is a no-brainer. But I know it’s not the case for a lot of people out there.

Some people add a generous amount of sugar, others use tomato puree or passata, and I’ve actually seen a few friends adding ketchup (WHAT?!).

Believe me, if you’re looking for the authentic Italian recipe you don’t need any of the above.

Just 5 Ingredients

If you’re looking for the authentic Italian tomato pasta sauce, this is the right place.

All you need is just 5 ingredients:

  • whole canned plum tomatoes (or fresh tomatoes)
  • red onion
  • basil leaves
  • bay leaf (or a pinch of sugar)
  • extra-virgin olive oil

dark grey woodboard with canned tomatoes in a blue bowl, basil leaves, garlic clove, red onion, bay leaf and extra-virgin olive oil in a small glass bottle

Most Italian mammas and nonnas add a garlic clove. My Italian mum adds it, and I often do that as well.

But it’s totally optional, so if you’re not a garlic fan, simply omit it.

Using the right ingredients is crucial for making the best sauce.

Opt for organic ingredients whenever possible, don’t skip on the fresh basil leaves, and use high-quality extra-virgin olive oil.

Marinara VS Tomato Sauce

First of all, let’s start by saying that there’s a huge difference between these two famous sauces.

Marinara sauce is not cooked, and dried oregano is usually added into the mix.

It’s often called pizza sauce, because, guess what, it’s used for making pizza.

Tomato sauce, on the other hand, is slowly simmered, and onion, basil leaves and a bay leaf are usually added in.

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It’s used as a base for pasta, eggplant parmesan, meatballs, eggs in purgatory, and many other dishes.

Fresh or Canned Tomatoes?

If you’re using fresh tomatoes (which I highly recommend when they’re in season), there are a couple of extra steps to make.

Blanch the tomatoes in simmering water for a couple of minutes, then peel the skin off and proceed with the recipe.

This version of the recipe using fresh tomatoes is basically the famous Napoletana sauce.

The best fresh tomatoes to use are:

  • Roma tomatoes, meaty, easy to peel, and with very few seeds
  • Cherry Tomatoes (ciliegino), are small, round and really sweet
  • Datterino Tomatoes, are also very small and delicately sweet

It’s not easy to find super tasty tomatoes these days, especially if you don’t live in Italy. So I mostly use properly-good canned whole tomatoes.

italian tomato sauce in a white pan with a wood spoon, next to a grey napkin on the right side, on the left side a small bowl with canned tomatoes, basil leaves and a small glass bottle of extra-virgin olive oil.

If you’re opting for canned tomatoes, the best ones to look for is the San Marzano variety.

This variety grows in Italy, in the Campania region, and has been awarded the PDO (protected designation of origin) status.

San Marzano tomatoes have a long shape, bright red colour, easily peelable skin, meaty pulp, and very few seeds.

Their flavour is not too sweet and not too bitter, which makes them incredibly versatile, both for cooking and using them raw.

These are the very best tomatoes to use for making tomato sauce, or the classic marinara sauce for Neapolitan pizza.

Ok, let’s cook it!

This recipe takes a pinch of patience to make, but it’s definitely worth it.

The secret lies in slowly simmering the ingredients for about 20-30 minutes.

They will slowly turn into a rich, creamy tomato sauce but with still a bit of chunky texture, and the right balance of sweetness and savoury.

chopped tomato and halved tomato with a knife on a wood chopping board, on the left side canned tomatoes in a blue bowl, and on the top left side basil leaves, and a small bowl with the seeds removed from the tomatoes.

Step. 1 Start by slicing in half your canned tomatoes lengthwise.

Remove as many seeds as possible, then chop the tomatoes into small chunks and set aside.

Don’t throw the juice in the cans away, as you will need it later.

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tomato sauce recipe step 2, collage of 2 images: first image of white pan with stir-fried onion and garlic in olive oil, second image of white pan with stir-fried onion, garlic, chopped tomatoes, basil leaves and bay leaf.

Step 2. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan ( alternatively, you can opt for a cast-iron pot too).

Add in the onion and garlic and cook for a couple of minutes.

Then add chopped tomatoes, basil leaves and the bay leaf.

tomato sauce recipe step 3: hand pouring reserved canned tomato juice in the white pan together with the other ingredients.

Step 3. Now, add into the pan the reserved tomato juices from the cans.

Fill one of the cans with 80 ml of water (⅓ cup) and pour it into the sauce.

italian tomato sauce in a white pan, next to a grey napkin on the right side, on the left side a small bowl with canned tomatoes, basil leaves and a small glass bottle of extra-virgin olive oil.

Step 4. Let it cook gently over low heat for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.

Once it’s ready, season with sea salt and freshly-cracked black pepper to taste.

Now, cook some pasta, set the table and grate some awesome Parmigiano. Fold the pasta into the sauce, serve, top with cheese and enjoy every single bite!

How do you take the bitterness out?

Let’s start by saying that what makes the sauce bitter is the tomato itself.

Canned tomatoes are usually more bitter than fresh ones, so here are a couple of tricks Italian nonnas use to take the bitterness out.

Simply add a pinch of sugar whilst cooking up your sauce. Even better, add a bay leaf, it will give your sauce the perfect sweetness balance.

Make sure you remove as many seeds as you can from the tomatoes, as they also add bitterness to the sauce.

How to store leftovers

Once ready, use it up straight away, and store the leftover sauce in an airtight jar, in the fridge for up to 1 week. Or freeze in freezer-friendly containers for up to 6 weeks.

A great base for so many dishes!

This is the only basic red sauce you’ll ever need in your life.

It’s conveniently vegetarian, dairy-free, vegan and gluten-free, and a great base for so many Italian dishes (including my favourite Sicilian eggplant spaghetti sandwiches and my famous Sicilian Pasta alla Norma).

It’s an amazing base for vegetarian or meaty sauces. And you can serve it with meat/vegetarian/fish meatballs, lasagne or any other pasta you fancy.

***This recipe was originally posted in September 2017 and updated with more info***

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