Authentic Italian tomato sauce - Make from scratch one of the best pasta sauces in the world with just 5 ingredients.
Homemade Italian tomato sauce is as tasty as it is easy to make, and it's the foundation of so many traditional Italian dishes.
Loved by kids and grown-ups, this classic pasta sauce is the most popular sauce in Italy.
It's actually one of the 5 mother sauces in the culinary arts, which are the bases for all the other ones.
What the world calls pasta sauce, in Italian, we call it "salsa al pomodoro" or "sugo al pomodoro".
Growing up in an Italian kitchen, my mum would prepare it at least 3-to 4 times a week, so for me making this sauce is really easy.
However, I know it's not the case for a lot of people out there.
Some people add a generous amount of sugar, others use tomato puree or passata, and I've actually seen a few friends adding ketchup (WHAT?!).
Believe me, if you're looking for an authentic Italian recipe you don't need any of the above.
ITALIAN TOMATO SAUCE INGREDIENTS
If you're looking for the most authentic Italian tomato pasta sauce, this is the right place.
All you need is just 5 ingredients:
- Canned whole peeled tomatoes (or fresh tomatoes): For best results use San Marzano tomatoes. Scroll down for more info.
- Red onion: red onion adds sweetness and flavor to the sauce. You cna replace it with garlic or use both.
- Basil leaves: fresh basil leaves are also a key ingredient, so don't replace them with dried basil leaves.
- Bay leaf: this is the secret ingredient that takes the bitterness away from tomato sauce. No need to add sugar!
- Extra-virgin olive oil: I like to use single-origin Italian extra-virgin olive oil. However, any good quality EVOO will work!
Most Italian mammas and nonnas add a garlic clove. My Italian mum adds it, and I often do that as well.
But it's totally optional, so if you're not a garlic fan, simply omit it. For a milder flavor, add it whole and discard it before serving.
Using the right ingredients is crucial for making the best tomato sauce.
Opt for organic ingredients whenever possible, don't skip on the fresh basil leaves, and use high-quality extra-virgin olive oil.
MARINARA VS TOMATO SAUCE
First of all, let's start by saying that there's a huge difference between these two famous sauces.
Marinara sauce is not cooked, and dried oregano is usually added into the mix.
It's often called pizza sauce, because, guess what, it's used for making Naepolitan pizza.
Tomato sauce, on the other hand, is slowly simmered, and onion, basil leaves and a bay leaf are usually added in.
FRESH OR CANNED TOMATOES?
To make Italian tomato sauce from fresh tomatoes (which I highly recommend when they're in season), there are a couple of extra steps to make.
- Blanch the tomatoes in simmering water for a couple of minutes.
- Peel the skin off and proceed with step 1 of the recipe.
This version of the recipe using fresh tomatoes is basically the famous Napoletana sauce.
The best fresh tomatoes to use are:
- Roma tomatoes: meaty, easy to peel, and with very few seeds.
- Cherry Tomatoes (ciliegino): they are small, round and really sweet.
- Datterino Tomatoes: also called mini Piccadilly tomatoes, they are small and delicately sweet.
It's not easy to find super tasty tomatoes these days, especially if you don't live in Italy. So I mostly use properly-good canned whole tomatoes.
If you're opting for canned tomatoes, the best ones to look for is the San Marzano variety.
This variety grows in Italy, in the Campania region, and has been awarded the PDO (protected designation of origin) status.
San Marzano tomatoes have a long shape, bright red colour, easily peelable skin, meaty pulp, and very few seeds.
Their flavour is not too sweet and not too bitter, which makes them incredibly versatile, both for cooking and using them raw.
These are the very best tomatoes to use for making tomato sauce, or the classic marinara sauce for Neapolitan pizza.
ITALIAN RECIPE FOR TOMATO SAUCE
This recipe takes a pinch of patience to make, but it's definitely worth it.
The secret lies in slowly simmering the ingredients for about 20 minutes.
They will slowly turn into a rich, creamy tomato sauce with a bit of chunky texture, and the right balance of sweetness and savoury.
Step 1 - Prepare the Tomatoes.
Start by slicing in half your canned tomatoes lengthwise.
Remove as many seeds as possible, then chop the tomatoes into small chunks and set aside.
Don't throw the juice in the cans away, as you will need it later.
Step 2 - Stir-fry The Veggies.
Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan ( alternatively, you can opt for a cast-iron pot too).
Add in the onion and garlic and cook for a couple of minutes.
Then add chopped tomatoes, basil leaves and the bay leaf.
Step 3 - Add the Tomato Juice.
Add into the pan the reserved tomato juices from the cans and some extra water.
Step 4 - Let the Sauce Cook.
Simmer gently over low heat for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.
Once it's ready, season with sea salt and freshly-cracked black pepper to taste.
Fold the pasta into the sauce, serve, top with cheese and enjoy every single bite!
In most cases what makes the sauce bitter is the tomato itself.
Canned tomatoes are usually more bitter than fresh ones, so here are a couple of tricks Italian nonnas use to take the bitterness out.
Add a bay leaf into the sauce whilst it simmers, it will give your sauce the perfect sweetness balance. If you don't have bay leaf at hand, add a pinch of sugar.
Make sure you remove as many seeds as you can from the tomatoes, as they also add bitterness to the sauce.
Try to use ceramic-coated pans or cast iron pans, because aluminum-coated pans may leave a metallic acidic taste to your sauce.
Store the leftover sauce in an airtight jar, in the fridge for up to 1 week. Or freeze in freezer-friendly containers for up to 6 weeks.
HOW DO YOU SERVE TOMATO SAUCE?
This is the only basic red sauce you'll ever need in your life.
It's conveniently vegetarian, dairy-free, vegan and gluten-free, and a great base for so many meaty and vegetarian Italian dishes. Here are a few serving suggestions:
- Pasta: use it as a base for many traditional pasta recipes such as Sicilian eggplant spaghetti sandwiches, shrimp linguine and Sicilian Pasta alla Norma.
- Meatballs: serve it with chicken meatballs, polpette (Italian meatballs), polpettone, lasagne, or any other pasta you fancy.
- Fish: poach white fish fillets (such as cod, halibut and seabass) directly in the sauce. You can add olives, bell peppers, or capers for extra flavor.
- Eggs: poach the eggs in the sauce to make the popular Italian dish "eggs in purgatory".
DID YOU TRY THIS RECIPE?
Please let me know how you liked it! Leave a comment below and share a picture on Instagram with the hashtag #thepetitecook!
Looking at your pictures always makes me smile *and super hungry*!
Authentic Italian Tomato Sauce
- 2 cans organic whole plum tomatoes, (400gr each)
- 2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium-small red onion, finely minced
- 1 garlic clove, gently crushed (optional)
- 4 fresh basil leaves
- 1 bay leaf, or a pinch of sugar
- sea salt and black pepper to taste
- Cut each whole canned tomato in half, remove seeds and juice, roughly chop into chunks, and set aside. Set aside any remaining sauce in the cans.
- Heat a medium pan with the extra-virgin olive oil and the garlic (if using) over medium-low heat.
- Add in the onion, and gently stir-fry it together with the garlic for about 5 minutes. Cook until the onion is translucent and the garlic golden, then add in the tomatoes. Depending on your taste, discard the clove at this stage or when the sauce is cooked.
- Add in a couple of basil leaves and a bay leaf (or a pinch of sugar), season with sea salt and freshly-cracked black pepper to taste, and gently cook all the ingredients for a further 5 minutes.
- Pour in the reserved juices from the cans. Add ⅓ cup (80 ml) of water in one of the cans, and pour it over the sauce.
- Cover the pan with a lid, and cook over medium-low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- The sauce is ready when it reaches a nice creamy but still chunky texture, and has just the right balance of sweetness and savoury when you taste it.
- Remove the sauce from the heat, add in the remaining fresh basil leaves, adjust seasoning if necessary, and serve with your favourite pasta.
The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.