How to make a perfect Italian tomato sauce

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You know tomato sauce, don’t you? Everyone knows it. Can you make the genuine Italian tomato sauce?

I’ll tell you all the secrets right now!

It is the most common seasoning for pasta, but also for some kinds of meat dishes, or anything you please.

Here in Italy, we are used to making it during the summer when the tomatoes are ripe; you are the luckiest if you can grow your own tomatoes. I use my grandparents’ ones, they look after their tomatoes plants as precious jewels.

Someone makes plenty of tomato sauce and preserves it in glass jars yearlong. It is hard work, but it is worth the effort.

When you say “salsa al pomodoro” (tomato sauce), you may mean a crazy wide range of different preparations here in Italy. Let’s shed some light over it.

It is a seasoning made of coarsely or more finely chopped cooked tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil with a quite liquid texture. Sautéed garlic and onions usually make it more flavorful.

A simple low-calorie seasoning for pasta (but not only for it) takes a little to time to be ready; always scrumptious.

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.

The former is one of the most common seasonings for pasta, and it is made of only tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, onion, basil, salt, and very little sugar (to taste) to balance the sour taste of the tomatoes. The latter is a typical dish from Tuscany: it consists of the same ingredients as the 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: ripe tomatoes, yellow onions, fresh basil, extra vergin olive oil, and salt. You may add very little sugar if the taste of the tomatoes is too sour

What does tomato sauce taste like?

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 issimply different. As the ingredients are the same, what does this depend on?

Type and quality of the tomatoes and cooking process are responsible for the final result. Everyone has got their own way of preparing it and their own secrets, so you may encounter over 1000 types of tomato sauce and 1000 different tastes!

The ingredients and the aromatic herbs play an important role in the final result, but the order they are added and how they are cooked may be meaningful too: some flavors of the singles ingredients disappear when combined with the others, and new ones give off.

What aromatic herbs may be perfectly paired with tomatoes?

The most common recipes want only the basil, some other add also parsley.

Onion ensures a stronger taste, but someone adds garlic as well. Shallots or leaks may be also used (do not use them at the same time, the taste won’t be pleasant).

Why do you put baking soda in tomato sauce?

Baking soda (yes, the one you take when you find it difficult to digest something) balances the sourness of the tomatoes. In contact with the tomatoes, it will develop a foam: it is the result of the chemical reaction of the baking soda which reacts with the acid and releases anhydride. Do not exaggerate with the 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 tinned whole peeled plum tomatoes, tomato puree or fresh tomatoes result in very different sauces. In fact, when we slice or chop the tomatoes, we break their vegetables cells which releases particularly pleasant  flavors.

It is a matter of final taste, but there is not an ultimate rule, have your own attempts and choose what you like the best.

I usually buy tinned whole peeled plum tomatoes at the supermarket-I make sure there are only tomatoes and no other ingredients: according to my opinion, Mutti is the best because its tomatoes are naturally sweet. I use both the tomato and the liquid which I add a little at a time during the cooking.

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 Italian I prefer home-made tomato sauce to ketchup.

The preparation of these two seasonings makes the difference. Much richer than tomato sauce, with a very strong and spicy taste, ketchup consists of tomato puree, onion, clove, nutmeg, hot paprika, ginger, vinegar from wine, flour, sugar and salt. They are really different, but I still think that pasta is best paired with tomato sauce which enhance the natural taste of this delicious Italian product. 

Can you add milk to tomato sauce?

No recipes want milk. It makes the sauce creamier, but this is not part of the tradition: tomato sauce does not have to be creamy. Anyway, if you like a smoother sauce, you may add some spoons of ricotta cheese for an unforgettable result. 

How can you use tomato sauce for?

Prepare plenty of tomato sauce according to the following methods in advance and heat it in a pan, drain pasta al dente and toss well. Garnish with some leaves of basil.

Tomato sauce is well paired with long, short, dry, or fresh pasta. It is up to you!   

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

Ingredients 4 people

  • Ripe organic San Marzano tomatoes (plum tomatoes): 1kg
  • A small yellow onion:
  • Basil: 6-8 leaves
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  1. Wash and sear the tomatoes for a few minutes, let cool down, peel, and cut them into halves. Remove the seeds;
  2. Peel and slice the onion (cut it according to your taste: coarse pieces won’t melt in the sauce, you you will feel them in your mouth);
  3. In a pot, heat a little oil over low heat and brown the onion for 5-6 minutes; 
  4. Coarsely chop the tomatoes and pour them into the pot. Crash them with a wooden spoon and stir well. Sauté over high medium heat to dry the liquid, then lower the heat not to burn the sauce. If it gets to thick, add a little water.
  5. Add salt and the tip of a teaspoon of sugar if it tastes sour;
  6. Add the washed and dried basil leaves;
  7. Cook for 20 minutes (or more if you like a thick sauce with a strong taste);
  8. When it is done, pass it through a food mill, if you like a smoother sauce.

Sauce with peeled plum tomatoes (prep time:  10 min; cooking time 30 min)

Ingredients 4 people

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

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

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

Ingredients 4 people

  • 600g of peeled plum tomatoes
  • A clove of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
  • 1 fresh red chili pepper
  • 1 small bunch of parsley
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and sugar oil necessary
  1. Brown the garlic in a pan with the oil, and remove it:
  2. Prepare the pepper (remember: do not touch your face to avoid irritation): remove the stalk and the seeds, dice it;
  3. Put the coarsely chopped tomatoes and their liquid into the pan, add oregano, pepper, the salt;
  4. Cover with the lid and cook for 15 minutes;
  5. Remove the lid and cook for 5 minutes more; add the finely chopped parsley;
  6. Drain and season pasta, toss very well and serve hot. 

Neapolitan raw tomato sauce (prep time; 10 min; no cooking)

Ingredients 4 people

  • 4-5 very ripe long tomatoes (type San Marzano)
  • A clove of garlic to taste
  • Basil: 10 leaves
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • A pinch of chili pepper powder 
  • Salt
  1. Prepare the tomatoes: wash them under running water, do not peel but cut them into halves and remove the seeds; dice and put them into a serving bowl;
  2. Season with oil, chili pepper powder, and gargle top taste;
  3. Let stand for about 30 minutes;
  4. Remove the garlic, season with salt (so the tomatoes will not release their liquid dueling the resting time): pour pasta and toss well;
  5. You should heat the pasta in a pan: in Italy we say “pan fry” to combine all the tastes: a wonderful flavor will give off.

Tomato sauce with celery and carrot (prep time 10 min; cooking 25 min)

Ingredients 4 people

  • Ripe organic San Marzano tomatoes (plum tomatoes): 1kg
  • Onion: 1
  • Medium carrots: 2
  • Celery: 1 stalk
  • Basil: 6-8 leaves
  • Parsley: a few twigs
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt


  1. Finely chop the onion;
  2. Wash and clean the carrots and the stalk of celery.
  3. Dice them into tiny pieces.
  4. Wash, peel and cut the tomatoes into coarse pieces.
  5. Heat the oil (3 or 4 tablespoons) in a large pot, add the vegetables and then the tomatoes.
  6. Season and simmer, without the lid, for about one hour over medium heat.
  7. When it is cool, push the sauce through a food mill and collect it into a pot with very little oil, chopped basil and parsley.
  8. Recook until reduced by 1/3.
  9. Use it or save it for the coming winter months.

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