Recipe: Garlic Tomato Sauce

About the recipe

To me all pasta sauces should be made from scratch. It doesn’t matter if its tomato, alfredo, pesto, vodka, or any other kind of sauce. Fresh pasta sauce makes all the difference in the world when working with pasta. The preservatives put into these (canned) sauces edit the flavor dramatically. I like my sauce without high fructose corn syrup. What’s nice about a homemade tomato sauce is how versatile it is. You can add virtually any spice or vegetable to it (popular choices are celery, carrot, onion, garlic, bell peppers, and mushrooms). This makes tomato sauce from scratch a great healthy choice (and a good way to trick kids into eating their vegetables). Since this is my first tomato sauce being posted (and the first recipe in general) I am going to keep it basic. This garlic tomato sauce is fantastic over pasta with meatballs. If you aren’t a big garlic fan don’t worry. If you cut it down it still tastes great.

Ingredients

1 28oz Can Crushed Tomatoes
1 15oz Can “Tomato Sauce”
1/4 cup White Wine*
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Water
6 Cloves Garlic
1/2 Spanish Onion
1/2 tsp Fennel Seed
1 tsp Basil dry
1 tsp Oregano dry
1/2 tsp plus a pinch of Salt
1/2 tsp plus a pinch of Pepper
1/4 tsp Paprika
1/8 tsp Red Pepper Flake

Estimated Prep and Cooking Time: About 2 hours
Servings: 8 depending on how much sauce each person takes

 ingredients for tomato sauce
The Usual Suspects

Notes

* designates an optional ingredient.

Can of tomato sauce is in quotes because the ingredient on a list sounds like cheating. It’s not what you think. I don’t mean a can of Ragu or Prego. Next to the cans of crushed tomatoes in the supermarket you will see a cans of tomato paste and “tomato sauce”. The can of “tomato sauce” is nothing more than tomato paste and water. I used to use tomato paste + water in this recipe. I switched to this “sauce” because I like the ratio of tomato paste to water. If you taste it and it reminds you of unseasoned pizza sauce that’s because many fast food pizza places use it as a base for their pizza sauce.

Always use whatever ingredients are fresh and available. I prefer to use fresh herbs but when I went to the market today they didn’t look good. For that reason I used dry ingredients today. Likewise they didn’t have a Spanish onion so I got a sweet one.

Cooking Process

Begin by chopping the onion and mincing the garlic. Place them to the side. Open both the can of crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce.

 minced garlic
Minced Garlic

In a small sauté pan put the fennel seed and set the burner to medium low. This will toast the fennel.  By toasting the fennel you release the oils in them making them more flavorful. Leave it toasting until the fennel becomes fragrant stirring occasionally. About 6 minutes.

toasted fennel seed
Toasting Fennel

Take a large sauce pot and put in enough extra virgin olive oil to cover the bottom. Make sure the sauce pot used is not non-stick. The acidity of the tomatoes will wear away the non-stick surface. Heat until shimmering and add the onion. After a few minutes lower the heat slightly and add a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir occasionally.

Onions and olive oil
Just after adding the onion to the extra virgin olive oil

If you browse different tomato sauce recipes online you will see a debate over the use of sugar. Many people claim using sugar in a tomato sauce recipe is blasphemy. Others say the sweetness is necessary to take some of the acidity out of the tomatoes.  I personally don’t use sugar but I do think the acidity needs to be cut. Instead of using sugar I get the sweetness from the onions.

cooked onion and olive oil
The onions (with salt and pepper) are ready for the next step

The darker the onions get (the more caramelized they become) the sweeter the sauce will be. Continue to cook the onions until they are at the desired sweetness level (I like a golden brown). Immediately add the minced garlic, toasted fennel, and red pepper flake. Cook for about 4 to 6 more minutes stirring occasionally. Do not let the garlic get too dark or it will become bitter. A light golden brown is where the garlic needs to get.

cooked onion, garlic, fennel, red pepper
Onions with the garlic, fennel seed, and red pepper flakes

Add the can of crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, and the white wine to the pot. Fill the can of crushed tomatoes with water about half way. Try to get as much of the tomatoes into the water as possible. Add the water to the pot. Add the paprika, 1/4 tsp pepper, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp oregano, 1/2 tsp basil, and 1/2 tsp parsley. Raise the temperature of the pot to medium and stir occasionally. Continue stirring occasionally until the sauce reaches a soft boil.

first set of spices
The sauce after adding the 1st round of spices
 boiling tomato sauce
The sauce with a soft boil

Once it reaches a soft boil add the other 1/2 tsp oregano, basil, and parsley.  Cover the sauce and place the temperature on low to simmer. Stir the sauce every 15 minutes for an hour.

Once it has been an hour it is time to taste the sauce. Careful because it will be hot. Edit the sauce based on the taste. This is usually when I add the other 1/4 tsp salt and pepper. If it is missing flavor add more herbs as necessary.  Stir and cover again. Let sit for another 15 minutes and taste it again. Continue this process until you are happy with the taste. Be careful not to over season because as the sauce cooks it will become more concentrated. Let it cook for a 15 to 30 minutes more uncovered stirring occasionally.

After Spices have been added
The sauce during the taste test phase

Once finished Serve over pasta with parmesan cheese and herbs if desired.  This recipe makes a lot of sauce. I usually store the leftover sauce in a glass jar in the fridge. Tupperware will store the sauce great as well.

Garlic Tomato Sauce
Finished sauce ready to be served or stored.


  • Thank you for posting this as your first recipe. It’s very reminiscent of the sauce my mom would prepare on Sundays during my childhood. I was perfectly content to just dip pieces of crusty, chewy Italian bread into that sauce… No doubt yours would live up to that simple standard.

    • I hope it does. You will have to try it and let me know.

  • The Great Zatorrius

    I swear you make me wish I wasn’t lazy and would take the time out to try this. It seems extra simple. *sigh* maybe one day right?? Also, if this is the sauce that I was lucky enough to try (or an improved version) this stuff needs to be canned and sold ASAP!

    That is all!

  • Elsa

    I had this for lunch today with my favorite mac noodles, and I absolutely DEVOURED the whole bowl! Thank you Chef 🙂

  • Sunshine

    How do you feel about pre-minced garlic over fresh?

    • I have no issue with it. I use different garlics for everything. For example, I tend to use garlic powder in BBQ. I usually use the pre-minced garlic on my garlic bread. Its the perfect size and it roasts well in the butter. Just depends on the dish I am making. The water (or oil) in the jar can be useful as well since it has a nice garlic flavor to it.

  • kat

    Have you tried Marcella Hazan’s simple tomato sauce? I love her sauce! It’s my go-to sauce because it only needs 3 ingredients! I did a post on it, please check it out and let me know what you think! I’m new to this blogging thing and I love checking out foodie blogs!
    http://shecooksandheeats.wordpress.com/2011/07/16/i-want-me-some-meatballs-and-spaghetti/

    • I had never actually seen Hazan’s recipe before. I might have to try it at some point. I would have to add some fresh basil to it though as I love tomatos and basil. I am new to food blogging as well. You might have noticed I only have a few posts. Thanks for checking my blog out. I will check yours out soon.