How to Make the Perfect Tomato Sauce

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Can you make an authentic Italian tomato sauce? Of course, you can, so let me tell you all the secrets now. This is the most common low-calorie sauce for pasta as well as for meat dishes.

When you say salsa al pomodoro or tomato sauce, you refer to a wide range of different preparations here in Italy. Basically, it is made of coarsely chopped tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil. Some add sautéed garlic and onions, which usually make it more flavorful. 

In Italy, we make it during the summer when tomatoes are ripe; therefore, you are the luckiest if you can grow your own tomatoes. I use my grandparents’ ones as they look after their tomato plants as if they were precious jewels. 

Is tomato sauce the same as tomato soup or pappa al pomodoro?

Not at all; they might be similar, but actually they are totally different. One of the most common toppings for pasta, tomato sauce is made of tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, onion, basil, salt, and a touch of sugar to balance out the sourness of the tomatoes. Tomato soup, pappa al pomodoro, is a typical dish from Tuscany; it consists of the same ingredients as tomato sauce, but stale bread and a little broth are added. It’s a really delicious rural dish.     

What is tomato sauce made of?

Only four good quality ingredients go into tomato sauce: ripe tomatoes, yellow onions, fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil, and salt. You may add a little sugar if the tomatoes are too sour.

It’s all about the tomatoes

You have already experienced this, haven’t you? When you eat out, tomato sauce never tastes the same, and it is always different from yours. I do not mean it is better or worse, it is simply different. Since the ingredients are the same, what does this mean? 

The type and quality of the tomatoes and the cooking process are responsible for the final results. Everyone has their own way of preparing it and their own secrets, so you may encounter over 1000 types of tomato sauces and 1000 different tastes. The ingredients and the herbs play an important role in the final results, but the order in which they are added and how they are cooked may affect the final product. 

What are the best herbs to use?

The most common recipes only add basil, while others also add parsley. Onions give off a stronger flavor, but some add garlic as well. Shallots or leeks may also be used (do not use them at the same time as the taste won’t be pleasant). 

Why do you put baking soda in tomato sauce?

Baking soda balances the sourness of the tomatoes. When in contact with the tomatoes, it will develop foam. It is the result of a chemical reaction of the baking soda which reacts with the acid and releases anhydride. Add only the right quantity; otherwise, your sauce will get an unpleasant bitter aftertaste. 

 Do you need to peel tomatoes for sauce?

Tomatoes should be peeled; moreover, keep in mind that canned, whole peeled plum tomatoes, tomato sauce, or fresh tomatoes will result in very different sauces. In fact, when we slice or chop tomatoes, we break their cell structure, which releases pleasant flavors. Use what you prefer or what you have on hand. 

I usually buy canned, whole peeled plum tomatoes at the supermarket. I make sure there are only tomatoes and no other ingredients. In Italy, Mutti is the best because its tomatoes are naturally sweet. In the US, there are many different brands, but San Marzano is a favorite with those who cook Italian food regularly. 

What is the difference between ketchup and tomato sauce

I often watch videos on YouTube where pasta or other grains are tossed with ketchup. I have never tried it, but as an Italian, I prefer homemade tomato sauce to ketchup. Pasta is best paired with tomato sauce, which enhances the natural taste of good tomatoes along with some simple additional ingredients.  

Can you add milk to tomato sauce?

No recipes add milk. This may make the sauce creamier, but this is not part of the Italian tradition as tomato sauce should not be creamy. If you like a smoother sauce, you could add a few spoonfuls of ricotta cheese, but this is both an exception and is unusual.  

What can you use tomato sauce for?

According to the following methods, prepare plenty of tomato sauce in advance; heat it in a pan, drain the al dente pasta, and toss well. Garnish it with some basil leaves. Tomato sauce is well paired with long or short, dry or fresh pasta. It is up to you!   

Authentic tomato sauce with fresh tomatoes (prep time: 10 min; cooking time: 30 min)

Ingredients for 4 people

  1. 2.2 lb (1kg) organic San Marzano plum tomatoes 
  2. A small yellow onion 
  3. 6-8 basil leaves 
  4. Extra virgin olive oil
  5. Salt
  • If using fresh tomatoes, wash and sear the tomatoes in a pan for a few minutes, let them cool down, peel, and cut them into halves. Remove the seeds. 
  • Coarsely chop the tomatoes and pour them into a pot. Sauté them over medium-high heat so that the liquid evaporates; then lower the heat. If it gets too thick, add a little water. 
  • Peel and dice the onion; 
  • In a pot, heat a tablespoon of oil over low heat and brown the onion for 5-6 minutes;  
  • Add salt and 1/4 teaspoon of sugar if it tastes sour; 
  • Add the washed and dried basil leaves;
  • Cook for 20 minutes or more if you like a thick sauce with a strong flavor;
  • When it is done, pass it through a food mill if you like a smoother sauce. 


  • Add 2 medium carrots and 1 stalk of chopped celery along with the diced onion
  • Add chopped a small bunch of chopped parsley

Tomato sauce with canned, peeled plum tomatoes (prep time: 10 min; cooking time 30 min)

Ingredients for 4 people

  1. A can of peeled plum tomatoes, about 15 oz (450g)
  2. A clove of garlic 
  3. 10-12 leaves of basil 
  4. Extra virgin olive oil
  5. Salt and sugar if needed 
  • Coarsely crush the tomatoes, and put them into a pot with the liquid; 
  • Add salt, a little sugar, and the peeled garlic; 
  • Cover with a lid and cook over low heat for 30 minutes;  
  • Let it cook down a bit and garnish with the basil and a little oil; 
  • Pour it over very hot pasta, toss well, and serve very very hot. 

Fast tomato sauce (prep time: 10 min; cooking time: 10 min)

Ingredients for 4 people

  1. 6 very ripe red pear tomatoes  
  2. A clove of garlic
  3. 6-8 basil leaves 
  4. Extra virgin olive oil
  5. Salt
  • Wash and sear the tomatoes for a few minutes; let them cool down; peel and dice them; remove the seeds; 
  • Put the diced tomato into a pan with the oil, garlic, salt, and basil; 
  • Cook over medium-high heat without a lid for about 10 minutes; 
  • Top the pasta with sauce and sprinkle with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese; 

Marinara tomato sauce (prep time: 10 min; cooking time: 30 min)

Ingredients for 4 people

  1. 28 oz (794g) of peeled plum tomatoes 
  2. A clove of garlic 
  3. 1 teaspoon of dried oregano 
  4. 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  5. 1 small bunch of parsley 
  6. Extra virgin olive oil
  7. Salt and sugar if necessary 
  • Brown the garlic in a pan with the oil and remove it: 
  • Put the coarsely chopped tomatoes and their liquid into the pan, add oregano, pepper, red pepper flakes, and the salt; 
  • Cover with the lid and cook for 15 minutes; 
  • Remove the lid and cook for 5 minutes more; add the finely chopped parsley; 
  • Drain and season the pasta; toss it well and serve hot.  

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