Learn how to make homemade tomato sauce any time using this simple, old-fashioned Italian recipe. Only 5 ingredients, and ready in 20 minutes!
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I make tomato sauce from scratch all the time. I really do. I use it for Italian recipes and so many others, too. And guess what? I use canned tomatoes. But not just any canned tomatoes, San Marzano tomatoes.
You may be surprised to learn that it doesn't have to cook all day, either. In about half an hour you'll have a very flavorful homemade tomato sauce that would make any Italian grandmother proud!
And lest you think it is not authentic, I learned how to make if from Lidia Bastianich. (In her cookbook, of course.) And you can't get more authentic Italian than that.
5 reasons you'll want to make tomato sauce from scratch from now on!
- It's so easy, truly. Made in one pan.
- Only a few ingredients and quick cooking time.
- You know what all of the ingredients are, because you made it yourself. You can feel good about serving it to family and friends.
- You can make it in batches and freeze it so you'll always have some on hand.
- Use it in an endless variety of Italian recipes, and all sorts of other recipes, too!
You only need five ingredients
- Canned tomatoes: San Marzano tomatoes to be exact. My favorite brand is Cento. There is no substitute.
- Olive oil: Use a good olive oil here. It is a key component to the silkiness of the sauce.
- Garlic: As much or as little as you like, really.
- Kosher salt
- Crushed red pepper flakes: This is actually optional. If you don't like spice, leave it out.
Why canned San Marzano tomatoes are the best choice
San Marzano tomatoes are a unique variety of tomato grown in the Campania region of Italy, south of Naples. They are so special, that their name is protected by law, a Denominazione d'Origine Protetta or D.O.P. This means that San Marzano tomatoes must be grown in this specific region according to strict standards and traditions to ensure quality. Be sure to look for this D.O.P. designation on the can so you know you are getting the real thing.
The walls of San Marzano tomatoes are thicker, and they have fewer seeds, which makes them sweeter and less acidic than other types. They are ripened on the vine, and not picked for canning until they have reached peak flavor, which makes them perfect for this sauce.
Make homemade tomato sauce in 3 easy steps!
Step 1: Crush the tomatoes by hand
Pour the can of San Marzano tomatoes into a large mixing bowl and crush them by hand. If there are any harder top stem ends, remove them. Fill the can about ¼ full of water and swish around. Set aside.
Step 2: Sweat the garlic and pepper flakes in olive oil
Place a large, deep skillet over medium heat. I always use my Lodge enameled cast iron pan. Add the olive oil to the pan, and once simmering, add garlic and crushed red pepper and stir for one to two minutes until fragrant.
Step 3: Add the tomatoes and simmer until done
Turn the heat up to medium high, add the bowl of San Marzano tomatoes as well as the water in the can to the pan and stir to combine. Once it's bubbling a way at a good clip, turn the heat back to medium and stir frequently with a wooden spoon for about 20 minutes.
Optional add-ins for homemade tomato sauce
The possibility for variations when you make your own tomato sauce from scratch are endless! Try a few of these ideas.
- Add a splash of red or white wine.
- Finish the sauce with fresh herbs like parsley or basil.
- Simmer with dried herbs like oregano or an Italian seasoning blend.
- Try a bit of cream and make it a pink sauce!
What can you make with homemade tomato sauce?
Once you know how to make this old-fashioned tomato sauce at home, you can make so many recipes with it. Here are some of my favorites that use this sauce or slight variations of it.
- Penne all'Arrabbiata is a simple and spicy traditional Italian pasta dish.
- This Zucchini Parmesan is gluten free and made with smoked mozzarella for a unique twist on an old favorite.
- I grew up eating Holubtsi (Ukranian Cabbage Rolls) in my Ukranian family.
- Vegetarian Eggplant Lasagna uses eggplant slices in place of the noodles, yet still provides gooey, cheesy satisfaction.
- Italian Sausage with Polenta and Cannelini Beans is homey and comforting, like a hug from grandma.
Homemade Tomato Sauce
- 28 oz San Marzano tomatoes
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 cloves garlic minced, sliced, or grated
- pinch crushed red pepper or more
- Pour the can of San Marzano tomatoes into a large mixing bowl and crush them by hand. If there are any harder top stem ends, remove them. Fill the can about ¼ full of water and swish around. Set aside.
- Place a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil to the pan, and once simmering, add garlic and crushed red pepper and stir for one to two minutes until fragrant.
- Turn the heat up to medium high, add the bowl of San Marzano tomatoes as well as the water in the can to the pan and stir to combine. Once it's bubbling a way at a good clip, turn the heat back to medium and stir frequently with a wooden spoon for about 20 minutes.
- Something about the wooden spoon helps the tomatoes break down in the sauce better/faster. Who knew? You can use a silicone spatula if you don't have one.