Everyone should have a quick, easy, basic tomato sauce recipe in their cooking repertoire, and this is mine. Seriously, stop buying jarred, premade tomato sauce. You don’t have to when making tomato sauce is this easy. Keep a batch of this recipe on hand in the freezer, and you’ll always be ready to turn it into a meal: spaghetti and meatballs, pizza, lasagna, and more.
Like many of my staple recipes, this one came from my grandmother, although I’ve modified it slightly as I’ve made it so very often. Like most Italians, I have very strong opinions about tomato sauce, preferring my own over nearly everyone else’s. Part of the reason is that everyone makes his or her sauce just a little bit differently.
For example, some families use a soffritto or mirepoix as a base to flavor the sauce, whereas others only use onion and garlic. I actually take it a step further and just use garlic. Some like to add both oregano and basil, but my perfect version just uses a heavy amount of basil.
The best sauces are made with tomatoes and herbs fresh from your garden or farmers market, but to make this sauce really convenient, you have to look at packaged tomatoes. And in my opinion, even the brand that you buy influences the taste of your final sauce. For a long time, the only brand I could use was Tutturosso, because it was the one my family used when I was growing up, but I’ve since transitioned to any brand with San Marzano tomatoes. Recently, I’ve been trying to make another change to brands that use glass jars or Tetra Paks to avoid the BPA that can come from canned tomatoes.
Once you’ve selected your favorite brand, now comes the question of whether to use whole or crushed (pureed) tomatoes. I’ve always used crushed, but some feel that crushing tomato seeds can make the sauce bitter. I’ve never had a problem with this, but perhaps it is again just what I’ve always been used to. If you choose to use whole tomatoes, you should crush them with your hands before adding them to the sauce.
Grandma’s Basic Tomato Sauce
1 tablespoon fruity olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
24-28 oz. tomatoes (fresh or packaged, crushed or whole)
1 teaspoon dried basil (or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil)
Sugar, salt, and pepper to taste
In a large Dutch oven (I always use the largest pot I own with the highest sides, to reduce the chance of the sauce spitting all over my stovetop as it simmers), heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté for one minute. Slowly stir in the tomatoes and basil and bring to a simmer.
Taste the sauce for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed. If tomatoes seem too acidic, add a pinch of sugar. If you used packaged tomatoes with salt already added, you may not need to add any seasoning at all.
Simmer over low heat for 30-45 minutes or until sauce is thickened.