tomato sauce

Back to Basics: Simple Italian Tomato Sauce

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tomato sauce

I say tomaaato, you say tomawwwto….

However you say it, the tomato is  pretty awesome.  When you eat them at their peak of freshness, they are truly spectacular – juicy, sweet and oh so versatile.  You can make them into a salad, a soup, a sauce, put it in a sandwich, on a pizza, or just pop the baby ones in your mouth.

One of my fondest memories of my dad involved tomatoes (weird, huh?).  When I was little, we used to spend hours playing in the backyard during the hot summer months. When my dad would come home from work, he would come straight to the garden (via the kitchen because he always had a hunk of bread and a small bottle of olive oil in his hands!) and my sister and I knew not to say a word until he did his “thing”.  He would first go and grab a basil leaf and tuck it behind his ear; then he would head straight to the tomato plants. He would grab the biggest tomato, tear it in half with his hands, smear all of it’s juicy goodness all over the bread, drizzle it with olive oil and start chowing down.  Then, as that big smile crossed his face, he would lean down and kiss us both on the cheek.  He smelled gloriously like basil, tomato and olive oil…what I always thought a real Italian man should smell like!.  I remember how happy that simple ritual made him …maybe it was the simplicity of visiting the garden after a hard days work, or maybe it was the true pleasure of eating what you grow.  I still, to this day, always think of my dad when I smell basil!

So many memories come from this glorious fruit.  The whole process of putting up tomatoes is an Italian rite of passage (see this post on how it all goes down!).  But. this is just the beginning of a really good sauce.  Now, you need to cook it.  With a few simple ingredients and a few simple steps, you have every Italian’s number one condiment:  Sauce!

1/3 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil

Pinch of red pepper flakes

4 crushed garlic cloves

1 chopped onion, about 3/4 – 1 cup

1 teaspoon fresh chopped oregano, divided, or ½ teaspoon dried

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil, divided, or ½ tablespoon dried

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 28-ounce cans of whole tomatoes *

Splash of red wine, if needed

A handful of freshly grated Parmegiano Reggiano cheese, about 1/4 c (or stick the rind of cheese into the sauce as it cooks and then pull it out at the end…all of the cheese flavour comes out into the sauce)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter (or a splash of cream) – optional but adds depth of flavour

*  you can substitute two large jars of freshly canned  tomatoes or the equivalent of chopped garden tomatoes (like the picture below)…or a combination of any or all of these.


1.  If you have garden tomatoes at their peak, cut them into smallish pieces (chop your onion too!)


2.  In a large pot with a lid, pour in olive oil and add onion, most of the oregano and basil  if you are using dried (just save a little bit for the end – and if you are using fresh, put it in at the end), salt and pepper. Turn on the burner and slowly bring up the heat to high. When the onions start to cook and turn golden,  reduce the heat.  Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for five minutes.


3.  Add the tomatoes (if you’re using canned tomatoes, crush with your hand or use a pair of kitchen shears to cut into smaller chunks by putting the scissors into the pot holding the handle upwards to cut…if you are using fresh tomatoes,   you can also use a potato masher if you like).  Don’t break them up too small, as you will have the option later to leave it chunky or puree it.

4.  Turn the heat to medium high and stir until they start to boil. Then reduce to simmer, partially cover and simmer 1 hour.  If you feel like the sauce is thickening too fast, add the splash of red wine to loosen it a bit.


5.  As it cooks it will begin to break down on it’s own.  After the first hour, remove from heat and add the reserved herbs (or all of the  herbs if you are using fresh) and Parmesan cheese (if you’re using the rinds, put them in at the beginning of the cooking process and take them out here); cook for another 15  minutes.   Add the butter to round out the flavors. Season with salt and pepper.


6.  If you like it chunky, you can serve it like this.  If the seeds bother you, you can seed the tomatoes at the beginning of the process (some people swear that the seeds make the sauce bitter…I’m just too lazy to remove them!).  And if you don’t like how they look, just put it all in a food processor or a high power blender.


…then it will look like this.  If you add some cream, it becomes a rose sauce.  If you add chicken stock. it becomes soup.  If you add bacon/pork jowl and hot peppers, it becomes Amatriciana sauce…

Just oozing awesomeness!!