Tomato sauce you make from scratch is homey and delicious — and so surprisingly easy!
There are three basic styles of tomato sauces. Long simmering tomato-based pasta sauces achieve a rich, complex flavor. Barely cooked tomato sauces have a lighter flavor more recognizable of fresh tomatoes, but a little bit of cooking softens the tomatoes and brings out their sweetness. Uncooked sauces are bright and refreshing, and are best made with thoroughly ripe summer tomatoes.
1. Long and Luscious Tomato Sauce
Here’s how to make long-simmered tomato sauce — the classic spaghetti sauce that’s delicious any time of year. As it simmers and the liquid slowly cooks off, the sauce thickens and the flavors build and meld together. Any other vegetables you add to the sauce will become richer and sweeter the longer they cook.
During the summer, turn a bumper crop of ripe tomatoes into a long-simmered tomato sauce. And when fresh tomatoes are out of season, it’s perfectly fine to use canned tomatoes.
Cooking time can range from two hours to all day, depending on how thick and caramelized you like your sauce. If it begins to get too dry, add a little wine, water, tomato juice, or broth.
Make a big batch, eat some for dinner, and pour the rest into freezer-safe containers for the coming months. Then, simply thaw as needed; you can add any fresh herbs, spices, veggies, or meats desired. See how to turn Sunday tomato sauce into a week’s worth of dinners.
VIDEO: How to Make Tomato Sauce
See how Chef John makes his basic go-to tomato sauce. This is his all-purpose pasta sauce: the base for meat sauces and lasagnas — and whenever the calls for tomato sauce, this is the one! Chef John’s first tip: the sauce can only be as good as the tomatoes you’re using.
2. Short and Sweet Tomato Sauce
Barely-cooked tomato sauce is best when tomatoes are at their ripest. Briefly cooking the sauce helps retain the tomatoes’ fresh, tart-sweet taste, but also heats them long enough to add depth of flavor. Caramelize some onions, sauté garlic, and simmer herbs long enough to infuse the sauce with their flavors.
3. Raw and Refreshing Tomato Sauces
To make raw tomato sauce, use fresh tomatoes at their peak of ripeness, when they are sweet and juicy and bursting with flavor. The process is easy:
Peeling is optional, but seed your tomatoes and chop them. Alternately, cut the tomatoes into quarters, seed them, and then grate them with a cheese grater for a smoother, juicier sauce.
Fresh raw tomato sauce only needs to be seasoned with extra virgin olive oil, fresh herbs (basil or parsley are best), and some salt and pepper. If you like, toss in some toasted pine nuts for texture and richness.
Raw sauce can be eaten right away–tossed with pasta, spooned over grilled meats and vegetables, mounded on lightly toasted or grilled bread, spread on pizza crust, or whatever else sounds good to you. And if you’ve got a little time, let your raw sauce sit for a few hours to give the flavors a chance to blend and deepen.
Related: 19 Ways To Win Tomato Season
Ready for some tomato sauce-making tips? We asked Leigh Anne Wilkes of Your Homebased Mom to share her tomato sauce techniques.
Here’s Leigh Anne in her own words:
Making your own fresh tomato sauce has a few steps involved but it is not a difficult process. The end result is so worth the effort. And I love that I can control my sugar and salt content when I make my own tomato sauce.
When that bumper crop of tomatoes hits, it is the perfect time to make your own tomato sauce and then to freeze it for the rest of the year.
Using tomatoes that are at their peak of ripeness will yield the best sauce. I tend to use roma tomatoes for my sauce but will also throw in whatever other tomatoes are ripe in the garden at the time (i.e., early girl, beefsteak, etc.) The more watery pulp a tomato has the longer you will want to cook the sauce to thicken it up.
It does take a fair amount of tomatoes to make tomato sauce. To get 6-8 cups of tomato sauce I will use about 6-7 pounds of tomatoes. So about 1 pound of tomatoes per cup of sauce.
The first step is to remove the stems from the tomatoes. I use a sharp paring knife to remove them.
The next step is to peel the tomatoes. It’s easier than you think. You will need a pot of boiling water and three bowls. One bowl full of ice water, a bowl to put the peeled tomatoes in and a bowl for the peels.
First, bring your pan of water to a low boil and place 4-5 tomatoes into the water. Leave them in the water for about 30 seconds or until the skin of the tomato begins to crack. Don’t leave them in too long or they will begin to turn to mush.
Remove the tomatoes from the water and place them into the bowl of ice water. This will stop the cooking process. Let them cool for a few seconds and then remove the skins. If the skin of the tomato does not crack it will probably still come off easily. You may need to just puncture it with the end of the knife and then the peel should come right off.
Place them in one of your bowls and continue the process until all your tomatoes are peeled.
VIDEO: How to Peel, Seed, and Dice Tomatoes
Now you are ready to make your sauce. I use my blender to puree my tomatoes. I like my sauce fairly smooth, not any chunks. If you want a chunkier sauce you can just dice up the tomatoes and then start cooking them. They will cook down more as they cook so allow for that. You can also use an immersion blender to puree your tomatoes.
Next put your puréed tomatoes into a pan and heat on the stove. You can season the sauce with a little sugar and salt at this point if you would like. I usually add in 1-2 Tbsp of sugar and 1/2 tsp of salt. The amount of time you cook the sauce will depend on how thick you want your sauce and how watery your tomatoes were. I cooked mine for about an hour and it reduced by one third. The shorter the cooking time, the fresher the taste and the thinner the sauce.
Your sauce is now ready to use! I like to put it into quart size freezer bags and freeze for use during the winter.
Homemade Tomato Sauce Recipe
- 6-7 pounds of fresh, ripe tomatoes (roma, early girl, beefsteak etc.)
- 1-2 Tbsp sugar, optional
- 1/2 tsp salt, optional
- Remove stems of tomatoes. Place 4-5 tomatoes at a time into a pan of boiling water for about 30 seconds until the skins begin to crack.
- Remove tomatoes from pan and place them into a bowl of ice water.
- After they have cooled for a few seconds remove the skin from the tomato.
- Place tomatoes into a high power blender (1/2 at a time) and blend until desired smoothness.
- If you’d like a chunkier sauce, just dice tomatoes before cooking.
- Place tomatoes puree or chunks into a pan and heat on the stove. Cook at medium heat, at a low simmer until desired thickness is achieved.
- 6-7 pounds will yield approx. 6-7 cups of sauce. How long your simmer the sauce for will affect the yield.
Explore our collection of Tomato Sauce Recipes.
With all that tomato sauce, you’re gonna need some recipes. May we suggest a few 5-star standouts?
- Brenda’s Pepperoni Chicken Rollups
- Manicotti Alla Romana
- Sicilian Brasciole a la Lena
- Baked Ziti I
- Stuffed Shells I