Basic Tomato Sauce
I am a huge believer in culinary literacy. Everyone should know how to make a simple tomato sauce because there are so many ways to use it in the kitchen. The best part? This recipe only takes about 20 minutes from start to finish. Once you master the basic recipe, feel free to play around with other ingredients, like fresh herbs, butter, and whatever else sounds good.
Here’s my go-to recipe.
Watch Andrew make his basic tomato sauce:
Want to make your basic tomato sauce better? Make your own tomato puree.
Canned tomatoes definitely work here. However, if you have access to fresh tomatoes in season, you will taste the difference. It’s really not that complicated and makes a HUGE difference in the final product. I grow my own tomatoes, but when it comes to making my own sauce, buying them in bulk from a farmer’s market is the way to go. They don’t need to be pretty, per se– just buy a lot of them, and in this case, buy larger tomatoes.
The Easiest Way to Make Fresh Tomato Puree
Here’s a great tip for making fresh tomato puree, all you need is a box grater and ripe tomatoes. Make a big batch when tomatoes are at their peak and freeze for use all year long.
First, cut your tomatoes in half and scoop out the seeds.
Next, place a box grater over a large plate. Grate the tomatoes all the way down to the peel. I like to do a ton of tomatoes all in one sitting and freeze in quart containers to use all year long. These can be used in other sauces, chili, you name it. Your freezer is your friend!
Tips for Giving your Tomato Sauce More Flavor:
Sautee garlic and onions in oil. Make sure the oil isn’t too hot, which will scorch the garlic and create a bitter flavor.
Add a pinch of red pepper flakes or chiles. This isn’t intended to make the sauce spicy (unless you want that, then go hog wild– I’m not going to stop you), rather it will punch up the flavor, adding a bit of heat to balance of the acid.
Sprinkle in a little sugar. Tomatoes are sweet all on their own, but a pinch of sugar really makes the flavor pop.
Add some fresh basil– you can just add whole leaves, they will cook down and are absolutely delicious.
Dried oregano helps round out the flavor. Dried herbs are more concentrated than fresh, so a little goes a long way.
Once everything is sweated, add the white wine, tomato paste and pureed tomatoes. Simmer for 20 minutes and you’ve got something really special.
Do I really need sugar in my tomato sauce?
I personally find tomatoes to be plenty sweet, but a pinch of sugar does amp up the flavor just slightly. But I’m talking a literal pinch– use sugar like a seasoning. Please note: the longer you cook your sauce, the sweeter it will get.
If you want to add meat to your tomato sauce:
By all means, do! If you like to preserve the bright, acidity of the tomato, it’s best to cook the meat and the sauce separately. Cooking the meat in the sauce will make it sweeter and tamp down the acidity. I say cook separately and combine just before serving.
Should you add butter to your tomato sauce?
I do not believe it’s necessary. However, one of the most famous Italian culinarians, Marcella Hazan (aka the Julia Child of Italian cooking) made marinara with butter famous. The richness cuts through the acidity of the tomatoes resulting in creamy, velvety sauce that helps bind sauce to the pasta. I say experiment and see how you like it. There are no wrong answers here!
Tips for cooking pasta:
Cook your noodles in a large volume of rapidly boiling salty water to al dente, typically about 8 to 10 minutes (be sure to check manufacturer’s instructions).
Drain pasta quickly and if you need to hold it, cool under cold running water and drain well, tossing with olive oil and storing for a few hours at room temperature in a large bowl covered with plastic wrap.
If you’re serving with noodles, transfer the cooked pasta into a large bowl. Add the sauce, and toss to fully coat the pasta. Serve family style, garnishing with fresh torn basil leaves and grated parmesan. Grate your own! Always tastes better than the pre-grated stuff.
Andrew Zimmern’s Simple Tomato Sauce Recipe
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 medium onion, minced
- 1 basil sprig
- Pinch of crushed red pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- Kosher salt
- Pinch of sugar
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- One 28-ounce can tomato puree, preferably Italian
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add the garlic, onion, basil, a pinch of chile flake and oregano. Cook over medium heat for 3 minutes. Add the wine and cook for 1 minute. Season with salt and sugar. Add the tomato paste and tomato puree. Stir to combine and simmer over moderately low heat for 20 minutes. Taste the sauce and season with salt and pepper as needed.