Wondering how to make tomato sauce from scratch? It’s one of the easiest sauces to produce and one of the most useful. There are tons of variations and tomato sauce recipes available, but here’s how I do it. Note that tomato sauce, like most sauces, is more of a process than an actual recipe. Expect to tweak and change how you prepare your sauce, that’s one of the joys of cooking.


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cooking tomato sauce in the pan

Tomato Sauce Recipe:

WHAT YOU NEED:

  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 3* cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 1 28 ounce can of whole tomatoes or 1 quart of of home canned tomatoes**
  • 1 cup of red wine
  • olive oil
  • dried or fresh herbs – basil, oregano and marjoram are classics in tomato sauce

*You can use more of less garlic to suit personal preference. Three is a good starting point, add or subtract from there.

** It’s easiest to make tomato sauce with canned tomatoes but it can certainly be done with fresh tomatoes, especially if it’s the middle of summer and your tomato plants are growing like crazy.  If you do use fresh tomatoes, the sauce may take longer to reduce and  you’ll need to peel them first or plan to process your sauce with a blender or food processor.

If using commercially canned tomatoes, San Marzanos are the gold standard, if you can find the real deal. These days, I can all the tomatoes we use from our garden and a local farm. This flat of canned organic tomatoes from Azure Standard is a great deal and a good way to stock up your pantry if you don’t want to can your own.

WHAT TO DO:

FIRST – chop garlic and onion so they are finely minced. Pour olive oil generously into a stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Once the oil is warm, add the onion and sautee until it’s fragrant and transparent. At that point, add the garlic and saute for a minute. Garlic cooks fast and burns easily, so it only takes a minute to become aromatic and release it’s flavor.

SECOND – pour in the cup of wine, then use a wooden spoon to gently loosen any onion or garlic that might have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Bring to boil and allow to simmer for three minutes. The alcohol will cook out of the wine as the sauce simmers and leave behind a deep, rich flavor that brings out the tomatoes.

THIRD – add whole tomatoes to the simmering wine, bring to boil.

FOURTH – reduce to a low simmer and allow to cook at least 4 hours, preferably 6-8. As the sauce cooks, the tomatoes will slowly break down. Gently press them with the wooden spoon occasionally if you wish or if you need to speed the sauce up a bit.

You really can’t simmer tomato sauce too long, it just keeps getting better. If time allows, you can refrigerate it over night and simmer for a second day.

The sauce is done when it has reached the desired consistency and flavor. This is a very personal call, and also depends on how you’ll use the sauce. A chunkier sauce is better for things like spaghetti while a smoother sauce may be better for lasagna. Or vice versa, if that’s how you prefer it!

  • add herbs near the end of cooking if you wish – oregano and basil are a staple in tomato sauce.
  • if you want a thick but chunky sauce, use a potato masher to gently break up the tomatoes
  • for a smoother sauce, use an immersion blender at the end of cooking
  • salt and pepper the sauce to your liking, along with any other herbs or spices
  • adding a tablespoon of butter towards the end of cooking gives the sauce a slightly creamy, richer flavor
  • to thicken sauce and enhance the depth of the tomato flavor, add a tablespoon of tomato paste towards the end of cooking.

It’s easy to make homemade tomato sauce and there is an infinite number of options for customizing the flavor and texture. Taste your sauce frequently during cooking and you’ll have a better idea of how the flavors develop. This will make it easier to adjust things to your liking.

Once cooked, you can use it immediately, of course. You can also freeze tomato sauce or can it to use later.

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