The LBD of tomato sauce. This homemade Italian red sauce is so versatile and classic. With a taste superior to jarred sauce, this easy spaghetti sauce recipe doesn’t take all day to cook. Love.
When you hear the words “homemade spaghetti sauce”, what image pops in your head?
An Italian grandma stirring a gigantic stockpot of sauce for hours on end?
Or does a jar of spaghetti sauce heated in the microwave and tossed with hot pasta come to mind? That’s spaghetti sauce made at home, after all.
Which is it?
Can I really make homemade Italian red sauce?
Not only can you make an old-fashioned Italian spaghetti sauce easily and successfully —you can even make it on a weeknight! Without stirring for hours. Or being or needing a grandma.
My friend, you’re going to make a sauce that has been known to make intelligent people pour it in a bowl at the end of a meal and sop it up with bread and cheese.
Ok —be honest: is it worth it to make homemade sauce?
I’m no dummy. Trust me - I know it’s way easier to crack open a jar of your favorite jarred spaghetti sauce (and Rao’s Marinara is mine). I also know that making homemade spaghetti sauce sounds daunting — especially on those days when you’ve had “a day.” Here’s some reasons to go homemade:
- The smell - with more of us working from home, there’s nothing stopping you.
- The leftovers - you’ll have sauce for another meal or two (at least!)
- The satisfaction -there’s nothing like sitting down to a plate of pasta with homemade sauce, some red wine and sharing the experience with the people you love
Chopping an onion and pureeing some canned tomatoes is as difficult as this spaghetti sauce gets. And takes as little as 45 minutes!
The art of sauce making
Start with the best canned tomatoes you can find and afford. (Or you have a garden, go for it! Peel those babies and use them in the sauce)
The best canned tomatoes come from San Marzano which is right outside of Naples. San Marzano tomatoes are sweeter, have less acid and fewer seeds making them perfect for sauce. Check the label for "certified San Marzano" as well as a certification number/tag. For more info on finding actual certified San Marzano tomatoes in your grocery store, check out my Tomato Bisque post with the whole scoop.
Place the tomatoes in a blender and pulse a few times until you get the texture you want. The longer you run the blender, the thinner the sauce will start out to be. I like it a little chunkier but completely embrace those who don't. You get to choose!
Next, heat up your olive oil over medium heat and add the chopped onion. Give it a chance to soften and get a good tan. You want it golden but not too dark. At this point, add the garlic for just a bit. You are flavoring the oil and onion but you don't want to brown the garlic. I always add more garlic because it's garlic and life is short. If you don't love it, don't put as much. Just promise me you won't leave it out all together. And if you do, don't tell me.
Time to add some tomato paste. You want to stir it around and eventually, the paste will relax with a big old sigh into the onions and garlic. Once you like the look of it, lower the heat and then add your seasonings including the sugar. You want the sugar to slightly caramelize but not burn. Sometimes, I even take the pan off the heat for this step because it's plenty hot.
Add the pureed tomatoes and time to take a breather while the sauce simmers for about 45 minutes. Sometimes, I add some fresh basil if I have some. Taste the sauce throughout the cooking to adjust the seasoning and heat.
Go cook up some pasta or allow it to thicken up and use it for pizza. Or drink it out of the bottom of the bowl. I won't judge. And if you make it, let me know in the comments below especially if you have any questions!
The Italian Starter Pantry
Some ingredients to keep on hand for Italian recipes include:
- 28 oz cans of Italian whole plum tomatoes
- 6 oz cans of tomato paste
- Good olive oil
- Tubes of triple concentrated tomato paste (for times when a tablespoon or two is needed)
- Fresh or frozen cubes of parsley
- Fresh or frozen cubes of basil
- Red wine (both for cooking and drinking while cooking!)
- Dried spices like crushed red pepper, oregano, thyme, garlic powder
Slow cooker tomato sauce
Go right ahead! Use the saute setting on your appliance for the onion, garlic and caramelizing the tomato paste. Cook it low and slow (on the 3-4 hour setting). Don’t add extra water or wine as enough moisture will be created during the cooking process.
Saucing pasta Italian-style
In Italy, they sauce things lightly and gently to allow the pasta, meat or star ingredient to shine, something that I respect and totally agree with. My mom tosses the drained and cooked pasta with a couple of coffee-sized cups of sauce right back in the pasta pot.
That’s a memory ingrained for life!
Spaghetti sauce isn’t just for spaghetti
This is an Italian red sauce (as my kids call it) that you can do just about anything with. (Ok - for you teachers - I know that statement isn't grammatically correct.) But it's true whether it ends with a preposition or not.
This recipe is worth doubling (or tripling) because having it in the freezer guarantees a lasagna (coming soon!), stuffed shells, or meatballs can be on the week’s menu.
For a few:
Make the recipe as is and freeze what’s left for another meal.
For a crew:
Double or triple the ingredients is ok but don't double the salt or the crushed red pepper. Start with a 1 ½ ratio if doubling the recipe and go from there. Better to salt as you go and for the crushed red pepper, the heat intensifies over time. Unless you want an arrabiata sauce, then go for the heat!
If you find the sauce isn't as well-rounded in flavor or is on the hotter side, add a little water (start with ¼ cup) to the sauce along with a pat or two of butter. The taste can vary depending on your tomato of choice.
Other favorite pasta sauces
Homemade Italian Red sauce
- 1 28 oz can whole, peeled Italian tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, see note
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped, ½ cup
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ cup red wine, optional - see note below
- 3 oz tomato paste, or ½ of a 6 oz can
- 2 tsp kosher salt, to start
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- crushed red pepper, to taste - try ¼ teaspoon to start if you like heat.
- water , as needed (in ¼ cup increments)
- fresh basil, optional
- Place tomatoes in a blender with their juices and pulse until desired consistency reached.
- Heat olive oil in a 4qt. saucepan (or larger if doubling) over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent and rich in color, about 5 minutes. Briefly add garlic for 30 seconds until you smell it.
- Add red wine here, if desired. Cook for at least two minutes until wine is incorporated. See note below.
- Reduce heat to medium-low and add tomato paste. Swirl around until softened and combined with onions about 2 minutes. Add spices ending with sugar and quickly combine because you don’t want the sugar to burn but to caramelize just a bit.
- Quickly add pureed tomatoes and simmer over low heat for about 45 minutes. Check the seasoning after 30 minutes or so. Add more salt/pepper or a little more sugar if the tomatoes are more on the acidic side.
- Taste and adjust for seasoning.
- The sauce will thicken which is what you want. You are looking for a rich, red, sauce with kick-butt flavor. You can leave it as it and use it w/meat or as a pizza sauce.
- Check flavor and consistency after 30 minutes. The sauce can be thinned down with ¼ cup of water.
- You also can add some red wine (½ cup) right after the onions and garlic are added.
- Make my homemade meatballs using this sauce.
- You can cook down and use as dipping sauce for focaccia, a pizza sauce or even your favorite appetizer (I see you, frozen mozzarella stick lovers!).