The best homemade tomato sauce – leave the jars behind with this EVERYDAY healthy, delicious, quick and easy sauce on your table in 15 minutes!
This Tomato Sauce recipe is a dream come true! It’s astonishingly quick and easy to make with a simmer time of only 10 minutes, can be made with fresh or dried ingredients to fit your pantry and schedule and is make ahead and freezer friendly. Best of all, this homemade tomato sauce boasts rich, bright tomato, basil and garlicky flavors, laced with oregano, thyme, red pepper and my secret ingredient that makes it taste like it’s been simmering for hours. This luscious red sauce is perfect for topping your favorite pastas, spaghetti and meatballs, baked ziti, penne, manicotti, chicken Parmesan, sub sandwiches, or any recipe that calls for jarred tomato sauce. In short, your search for the best tomato sauce recipe stops here! Once you start making this easy homemade recipe, you’ll never buy jarred pasta sauce again!
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How to make tomato sauce recipe video
WHAT IS TOMATO SAUCE?
Tomato sauce is an easy to make, tomato-based sauce made with tomatoes, onions, garlic, and herbs. It is commonly used on pasta like spaghetti, in pasta bakes like ziti, in Italian-American dishes like chicken Parmesan or spaghetti and meatballs or as a dipping sauce for breadsticks.
While most of us have probably used jarred tomato sauce at one time or another, this easy homemade tomato sauce takes the cake! It’s the ideal replacement for jarred sauces in all your recipes and is so easy you won’t think twice about making it.
Tomato sauce Recipe
I have made this tomato sauce recipe countless times over the years and finally decided it needed its very own post. When I made it again on Sunday to go with my Italian Turkey Meatballs (coming soon), my husband said, “This is homemade? It’s amazing!” He couldn’t believe it was homemade because he literally turned his back and it was ready and because it tasted like it had been simmering for hours. That’s the kind of shortcut recipe you need in your back pocket!
You may be wondering: Don’t you already have a marinara recipe? What’s the difference? This homemade tomato sauce recipe is similar to my marinara sauce but I use this one more when I want a quick and easy recipe that’s luscious, rich, and fabulous in minutes. This recipe skips the sofrito, is a little thicker with more of a fresh tomato taste and is equally delicious with dried herbs and powders as it is with fresh ingredients. Essentially, it’s my lazy day marinara – but it doesn’t taste like it! Any recipe that calls for marinara can also use this tomato sauce recipe.
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS
Simple, pantry friendly ingredients. The best kind of recipe is one you can make any night of the week without running to the grocery store, am I right? You only need four basic pantry ingredients to make this fabulous tomato sauce: quality canned crushed tomatoes, chicken bouillon, sugar and Italian seasonings – that’s it! You can use fresh garlic and onions if you have them on hand, but you don’t have to!
Easy. You don’t even have to chop the onion and garlic. We are talking the ultimate quick and easy recipe here. Sometimes we just need a recipe for those busy or lazy days. Just crank open a can of tomatoes, and dump in the rest of the ingredients. Of course, if you want to sauté fresh onions and garlic you can do that too.
Quick. Not only do you not have to chop any ingredients, this recipe only requires a 15 minute simmer instead of hours like some recipes but the flavor will blow your mind! By using vibrant, intense, sweeter San Marzano crushed tomatoes, we eliminate the long simmer needed to sweeten the tomatoes and the chicken bouillon is a shortcut, concentrated flavor bomb which makes your easy tomato sauce taste like it’s been simmering for hours. It can be our little secret.
Better than store bought. The beauty of this tomato sauce recipe is that even though it requires less than 15 minutes to make it still tastes 1000X better than any jarred pasta sauce out there! It’s vibrant, rich, aromatic and full of rich tomato flavor and herb goodness with layers of complex yum thanks to plenty of adept seasonings.
Less Expensive. You can make double or triple this easy tomato sauce for the same price as quality store brands.
Make it your own. One of the bonuses of homemade tomato sauce is you can customize it to make it perfect for YOU! Want it garlicky?, add more garlic. Want more basil?, add more basil. Want it spicy?, add more red pepper flakes. You can even get creative and add freshly grated Parmesan, balsamic, heavy cream, pesto, etc.
Make Ahead and freezer friendly. You can make this tomato sauce days in advance and refrigerate (tastes even better!) or freeze until you’re ready to use. Also, feel free to double or triple the recipe in a large pot and freeze some for later so you’ll always have the best tomato sauce at your fingertips.
Goes with everything! Use it with classic recipes like meatballs, manicotti, spaghetti etc. or get creative and make parmigiana, subs, meatball sliders, or serve it over grilled proteins, etc. because makes everything better!
Now, let’s make some!
Tomato Sauce recipe INGREDIENTS
This homemade tomato sauce recipe is made with just a few pantry friendly ingredients, you will need:
- San Marzano tomatoes: Please only use San Marzano tomatoes for a sauce that never tastes too acidic. These tomatoes are a variety of plum tomatoes and considered the gold standard AKA the best tomatoes in the world to use in Italian sauces. They originate from the rich volcanic soils of Naples, Italy and are highly prized for their sweet, intense tomatoey flavor and lower acidity. I recommend the brands San Marzano and Muir Glen. San Marzano tomatoes are usually sold whole so you can either pour them into a bowl and crush them with your hands first, use a food processor, or crush them with a potato masher as they simmer. If you see other brands claiming to be San Marzano tomatoes, take an extra step and check to see if they are DOP-certified – usually visible on the front or the back of the can. This is a protective seal that guarantees authenticity.
- Aromatics: Feel free to use either half a fresh yellow onion and freshly minced garlic or for the ultimate quick, lazy day, easy tomato sauce, use garlic powder and onion powder. Obviously fresh is best and smells incredible, but the powders do a pretty great job as well. My husband (with a discerning palate) can never tell when I’ve use which!
- Herbs and Seasonings: A shortcut sauce doesn’t mean we shortcut any flavor! This easy tomato sauce recipe is seasoned with basil, parsley, oregano, rosemary, thyme, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. You can use either fresh herbs or dried, whatever you have on hand. The red pepper flakes won’t make the pasta sauce spicy, just liven it up a bit.
- Sugar: Tomatoes are highly acidic so they need to be balanced by some sugar. The amount of sugar will vary (even between the times you make the recipe), depending on personal taste and the acidity of the tomatoes.
- Chicken Bouillon: My secret ingredient! Bouillon might sound like an odd ingredient, but I have tried making this tomato sauce with and without it, and it is far superior with the bouillon – just think salt with flavor! The bouillon mimics the complex flavor of a sauce that has been reducing all day. You can use granulated chicken bouillon, better than bouillon or bouillon cubes. If you use cubes, you will need 2. Crush them up without dissolving in water before adding to the sauce.
Is tomato sauce gluten free?
This recipe is gluten-free as written because there are no ingredients that should contain gluten. To be safe, use certified gluten free ingredients to ensure zero cross contamination. To keep it gluten free, serve with your favorite gluten free pasta.
Canned or Fresh Tomatoes in Tomato Sauce
This recipe will also work well with fresh tomatoes when they are in season. When tomatoes are not in season, please stick with canned tomatoes because they are picked at peak ripeness. Off-season fresh tomatoes, on the other hand, can be bland and flavorless. Please note that fresh tomatoes contain more water and will require a longer simmering time to thicken.
how to make tomato sauce with FRESH TOMATOES
Here are some tips for making tomato sauce with fresh tomatoes:
- As discussed, please use San Marzano tomatoes if you can.
- You will 43 ounces tomatoes (2.6 pounds) weighed after they have been peeled, seeded and chopped.
- Blanch, peel and seed your tomatoes first, then working in batches, chop them in the food processor for a chunkier sauce or process further for a soother sauce.
- Fresh tomatoes will require a longer simmering time than canned to reduce to a thick consistency. If you use a different tomato variety other than San Marzano tomatoes, they will likely be more watery and require even longer to simmer.
- If your sauce is too watery, simply simmer it longer to reduce and thicken to your desired consistency.
- Depending on how sweet or acidic your tomatoes are, you may need to add more or less sugar to the tomato sauce. Start with less and add more to taste at the end.
HOW TO MAKE TOMATO SAUCE
You will love that our homemade tomato sauce recipe is exponentially more delicious than the minimal effort required! It only takes 10 minutes of hand’s-on prep if using fresh garlic and herbs or practically zero prep if using dried herbs/powders – just dump and simmer. Here’s how to make it (full recipe ingredients and measurements in the recipe card at the bottom of the post:
- Step 1: Sauté Aromatics. Skip this step if you are using powders, otherwise, sauté the onions in some olive oil until softened, then add the garlic and sauté one additional minute.
- Step 2: Add Tomatoes and Herbs. Add the rest of the ingredients: crushed tomatoes, sugar, chicken bouillon and seasonings.
- Step 3: Simmer. Bring the sauce to a simmer over medium-high heat then decrease to a gentle simmer for about 15 minutes. Simmer for longer for a thicker sauce or add water to thin.
- Step 4: Adjust to Taste. Make it sweeter, tangier, spicier, etc. until it’s just how you like it.
TIPS FOR MAKING THE BEST Tomato sauce
This recipe is easy to make, but for the best tomato sauce, follow these tips and tricks:
- Use quality tomatoes: This recipe uses so few ingredients that it’s crucial you use high-quality San Marzano tomatoes. I recommend the brand Muir Glen. Of course, use whatever you can get your hands on.
- Use fresh ingredients – or don’t: Use fresh onions, garlic basil for the ultimate sauce, or use dried/powdered substitutes when needed. I have made this recipe countless times with shortcut powders and it still wows every time.
- Sauté the onions until softened: If using fresh onions, make sure they are softened before you add the rest of the ingredients. The simmer time is so short that the onions won’t soften further and you don’t want to be left with crunchy onions in your sauce.
- Check your herbs: Dried herbs and spices have long shelf lives, but they do eventually go off. Sniff your herbs and spices before adding them to the tomato sauce. If they have a strong scent, they’re good to go! If you can hardly smell them or if they smell off, they should be replaced.
- Add water to thin: After 10 minutes, your sauce will be quite thick which means the flavors are deliciously concentrated. To thin, simply stir in water until it reaches your desired consistency.
- Make the sauce your own: This recipe is easy to adapt to your personal taste until the sauce is perfect for YOU. For a tangier sauce, add balsamic vinegar; for a less tangy/sweeter sauce, add additional sugar; for a spicier sauce, add additional red pepper flakes; use more garlic or less garlic, etc.
Simple Steps to Avoid an Acidic Sauce
- Use quality tomatoes: This is the first step in creating a balanced sauce. As stated above, look for quality San Marzano Italian tomatoes because they are naturally sweeter and less acidic. You can also create your own less acidic crushed tomatoes by pureeing fire roasted diced tomatoes.
- Add some sugar: Tomatoes are a living thing, so they will vary in acidity. Be prepared to add a little sugar to taste at the end of cooking. If you use San Marzano tomatoes, however, you will likely not need any.
- Add carrots: You have a few options when it comes to using carrots to sweeten the sauce. 1) Sauté one chopped carrot with the onions, 2) add ¼ cup shredded carrot to the sauce to simmer or 3) add one whole, peeled, stemmed carrot to the sauce while it’s simmering. The whole carrot releases its flavor and naturally absorbs any acidic flavors from the tomatoes. If using carrots, start with less sugar in the recipe because both can actually make the sauce too sweet!
- Choose the right pot: Whenever making tomato sauce, it’s important to not use reactive cookware like aluminum or nonstick pans. The acid in the tomatoes can mix with the metal and results in an unpleasant metallic taste. It also can accelerate the aging process of the non-stick surface since the acid will slowly cause it to blister. Beware of cast-iron as well because acidic ingredients can erode the seasoning and even make foods taste metallic. Since this recipe is such a quick simmer, it’s not a big concern, but keep it in mind for future recipes.
- The winning pots to cook tomato sauce in: Choose stainless steel or enameled cast iron. Stainless steel is nonreactive, staying chemically stable even when you use it for cooking or storing acidic foods and porcelain enamel as seen in this recipe is a type of glass that’s resistant to both acidic and alkaline foods.
HOW DO YOU THICKEN Tomato SAUCE?
Tomato sauce naturally thickens after just a 10 minute simmer. If it is thin for whatever reason, here are few ways to thicken it:
- Reduce sauce: continue to simmer until reduced and thickened to desired consistency.
- Add dried mushrooms: Shiitake or other dried mushrooms are excellent thickening agents for tomato sauces. Chop them or grind them into powder before adding to the sauce. They will hydrate in 10 minutes or so when simmered and suck up any excess liquid in the process.
- Thickening agent: whisk together 1 tablespoon cornstarch with 2 tablespoons water to make a paste, then whisk into sauce. You never want to mix cornstarch directly into a hot sauce/liquid without making a slurry first or it will never dissolve. Simmer to desired consistency. Repeat if needed.
RECIPE VARIATIONS AND ingredient SUBSTITUTIONS
There are countless ways you can customize this tomato sauce recipe, so please feel free to experiment and get creative! Depending on my mood, what I have on hand, and what I’m using the recipe for, I’ll often mix and match the below ingredients. For example, I may use onion powder with fresh basil and some heavy cream. Here are some examples to try:
- Use fresh tomatoes: Increases the prep time quite a bit, but go for it if you’re feeling ambitious. Blanch, peel, seed and crush fresh San Marzano tomatoes in a food processor and proceed with the recipe. See section on using fresh tomatoes above.
- Use diced tomatoes: Substitute the crushed tomatoes with three 15 oz. cans fire roasted diced tomatoes pureed in your blender. Use fire roasted Muir glen brand if you can.
- Add other Italian style seasonings: Swap the proportions of the herbs listed in the recipe such as adding more thyme and less oregano or add additional herbs altogether such as marjoram or fennel. You could also add Italian seasoning, if desired.
- Use fresh herbs: Fresh basil, oregano, rosemary and thyme instantly elevate your tomato sauce! Use all fresh herbs or mix fresh with dried as needed. You will need 3X the amount of fresh herbs to dried.
- Make it garlicky: For the garlic lovers! Add even more garlic if you don’t want to not be kissed tonight.
- Make it spicy: turn the tomato sauce into marinara arrabbiata by adding additional red pepper flakes, even up to 1 teaspoon!
- Add heavy cream: Heavy cream is often added to traditional Bolognese sauces to make them extra decadent and to tame the acidity. You can stir in just ¼ cup or turn the tomato sauce into a rose sauce but stirring in ½-1 cup heavy cream.
- Add balsamic: I often will add up to 1 teaspoon quality balsamic vinegar. It enhances the sweet tanginess.
- Make it cheesy: Stir ½ cup of freshly-grated Parmesan into the sauce just before serving.
- Add a Parmesan cheese rind: Save/freeze your Parmesan cheese rind for recipes like this! Add the rind to the tomato sauce to simmer for extra umami rich flavor. The rind will soften but won’t melt so it’s easy to scoop out.
- Add sun-dried tomatoes: Sauté ½ cup sun-dried tomatoes with the onions for sun-dried tomato sauce.
- Add vegetables: Add any veggies you like! Make a sofrito with carrots and celery or add larger carrots, bell peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, etc. for a veggie tomato sauce.
- Add protein: Sauté the onions with ground beef, Italian sausage, turkey sausage, chicken sausage, chopped chicken, etc. You can also add any cooked leftover protein to the finished tomato sauce and warm through.
- Make it buttery: Who doesn’t love butter? If you really want an indulgent sauce, stir in a couple tablespoons of butter to melt before serving.
- Adjust consistency: For a thicker tomato sauce, simmer for longer; for a thinner tomato sauce, thin with water. For a smoother sauce, use a hand-held immersion blender or process the marinara in the blender in batches (taking care to leave a corner open, covered with a paper towel so steam can escape).
WAYS TO USE TOMATO SAUCE:
Tomato sauce can be served in SO many delicious ways! Here are a few ideas:
- Pasta: Serve it with pasta such as spaghetti, rigatoni, rotini, penne, cavatappi, ravioli, etc.
- Baked Italian dishes: Use it in your favorite baked pasta recipes such as lasagna, zucchini lasagna, manicotti, baked ziti, baked penne, tortellini al forno, eggplant Parmesan, and more.
- Spaghetti sauce: Instantly turn it into spaghetti sauce by adding ground Italian sausage, ground beef, turkey or chicken.
- Vegetable marinara: Add chopped zucchini, mushrooms, carrots, bell peppers, etc. to the sauce.
- Grilled proteins: Serve it over grilled fish, chicken or meatloaf or as a dipping sauce.
- Parmigiana: Use it to top your favorite chicken Parmesan recipe, grilled chicken Parmesan or eggplant Parmesan.
- Pizza: Use it as pizza sauce in any of your favorite pizza, stromboli or flatbread recipes such as margherita pizza.
- Subs and sandwiches: sauce up your Meatball subs, chicken Parm sandwiches, etc.
- Dipping sauce: It’s delicious to dunk in everything from calzones and breadsticks to grilled cheese sandwiches, pizza pinwheels, pretzels, pretzel bites, mozzarella sticks, zucchini sticks, zucchini chips, toasted ravioli and more!
HOW TO STORE Tomato SAUCE
Transfer leftover tomato sauce to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
How to reheat tomato sauce
Gently heat tomato sauce in a large sauce pan over medium-low heat until warmed through, adding a splash of water if needed to thin to desired consistency. Don’t heat the sauce at too high of a heat or it will splatter everywhere.
CAN YOU FREEZE tomato SAUCE?
Yes! This homemade tomato sauce freezes exceptionally well, so go ahead and make a double or triple batch and always have homemade marinara at your fingertips. Store leftover sauce in freezer bags or freezer-safe containers to up to 6 months. Please note that tomato sauce will likely stain plastic containers so if you choose to freeze in a plastic container, make sure it’s one you don’t mind getting stained. To thaw, place in the fridge overnight.
CAN YOU PREP tomato SAUCE IN ADVANCE?
Absolutely! In fact, I think it tastes even better after the flavors have time to meld together in the fridge. Tomato sauce will last up to 5 days in the fridge. Store in an airtight container for best results.
CAN I DOUBLE THIS RECIPE?
Easily! You can double or triple this recipe and store it for later. Make sure to use a large enough pot such as a Dutch oven so it doesn’t spit everywhere as it simmers.
FAQ FOR HOMEMADE tomato SAUCE
Marinara sauce is a type of tomato sauce; so, they can be the same thing, but tomato sauce can also mean a lot of other complex variations. Both include olive oil, tomatoes, garlic and herbs but tomato sauce can also include meat stock, wine, ground meat, olives and capers, etc.
Technically, spaghetti sauce is anything you put on spaghetti from tomato sauce to Alfredo to Bolognese. The typical red spaghetti sauce we think of, however, is our slang for tomato sauce served over spaghetti. So now you have the best homemade spaghetti sauce masquerading as tomato sauce.
Pizza sauce and tomato sauce are not the same thing although they do contain many of the same ingredients. They differ slightly in flavor and cooking technique – tomato sauce is simmered and pizza sauce is not precooked; this affects the consistency, complexity and versatility of the sauces.
Yes, tomato sauce can be used for pizza as long as it is thick enough. Pizza sauce is made of many of the same ingredients as tomato sauce but often tomato sauce is more complex because the ingredients are sautéed and simmered together. When using tomato sauce for pizza, make sure it is simmered to a thick enough consistency because a watery sauce can make your pizza crust soggy.
Tomato sauce is used for many dishes such as pasta, pizza, sub sandwiches, soups and more. It’s a versatile sauce that can be added to with vegetables or different proteins.
Absolutely! You can keep the sauce meatless to go with meatballs or chicken Parm or brown Italian sausage or ground beef with the onions and then simmer the meat with the sauce. When adding meatballs, I slightly undercook them, then add them to the simmering sauce to finish cooking, so they soak up more flavor.
Yes, this tomato sauce is fantastic in every Italian dish!
Making tomato sauce from scratch is very quick and easy. First, sauté the onions until softened followed by the garlic in some olive oil. Add the crushed tomatoes, sugar and Italian seasonings. Simmer the sauce for 10 minutes to reduce and for the flavors to meld.
Simmer the sauce uncovered so it will reduce more quickly. Make sure to use a deep enough pot so it doesn’t splatter everywhere.
Please note that this recipe has not been tested or approved for actual canning so I cannot recommend that you pressure can or water bath can this sauce for long-term storage preservation. The safest way to preserve leftover sauce is to transfer it to an airtight container and freeze it for up to 3 months.
Looking for More Italian Sauce Recipes?
- Homemade Marinara Sauce
- Bolognese Sauce
- Healthy Alfredo Sauce
- Piccata Sauce
- Sun-Dried Tomato Alfredo Sauce
- Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto
Tools Used in This Recipe
Easy Tomato Sauce
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- 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
- ½ yellow onion, diced (or ½ TBS onion powder)
- 4-6 cloves garlic, minced (or 1 tsp garlic powder)
- 1 28 oz. can San Marzano whole tomatoes with juices*
- 1 15 oz. can San Marzano crushed tomatoes in puree (fire roasted if possible)
- 2 teaspoons chicken bouillon (see notes)
- 3 tablespoons minced fresh basil (or 1 TBS dried)
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley (or 2 tsps dried)
- 1 tsp EACH dried oregano, dried rosemary (lightly crushed)
- 1/2 tsp EACH dried thyme, salt
- 1/4 tsp EACH pepper, red pepper flakes
- water as needed
- Combine the rest of the ingredients in the large saucepan. Bring to a vigorous simmer then reduce to a gentle simmer for 15 minutes, stirring often. If adding the tomatoes whole, use a potato masher to crush them occassionally until they reach desired consistency. Add water as needed to reach desired consistency.
- Make it your own! Season to taste with sugar for sweeter, balsamic for tangier, red pepper flakes for spicier and/or salt and pepper.
- For a smoother sauce, use an immersion blender or transfer sauce to the blender in batches and puree, taking care to leave a corner of the lid open so the steam can escape or else it will explode. I cover the exposed corner loosely with a paper towel.
Tips and Tricks
- San Marzano tomatoes: Are a must for non-acidic tomato sauce prized for their sweet, intense tomatoey flavor and lower acidity. I recommend the brands San Marzano and Muir Glen. San Marzano tomatoes are usually sold whole so you can either pour them into a bowl and crush them first, use a food processor if you like your sauce finer or crush them with a potato masher as they simmer.
- Tomato warning: If you see other brands claiming to be San Marzano tomatoes, take an extra step and check to see if they are DOP-certified – usually visible on the front or the back of the can. This is a protective seal that guarantees authenticity.
- Acidic sauce: If your sauce tastes too acidic after simmering, double check your tomatoes – you should never have this problem with authentic, whole San Marzano tomatoes.
- Chicken Bouillon: My secret ingredient! The bouillon mimics the complex flavor of a sauce that has been reducing all day. You can use granulated chicken bouillon, better than bouillon or bouillon cubes. If you use cubes, you will need 2. Crush them up without dissolving in water before adding to the sauce.
- Fresh tomatoes: see post for instructions to use fresh tomatoes.
- Choose the right pot: Whenever making tomato sauce, it’s important to NOT use reactive cookware like aluminum or nonstick pans. Choose stainless steel or enameled cast iron.
- Recipe variations: See post for all sorts of variations like adding heavy cream, freshly-grated Parmesan, Parmesan cheese rind, vegetables, Italian sausage, ground beef, vegetables, etc.
- Make ahead: This sauce is perfect to make head because it tastes even better the next day.
- Scale recipe: You can double or triple this recipe and store/freeze it for later. Make sure to use a large enough pot such as a Dutch oven so it doesn’t spit everywhere as it simmers.
HOW TO STORE and reheat
- To store: Transfer leftover tomato sauce to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- To freeze: Store leftover sauce in freezer bags or freezer-safe containers to up to 6 months. Please note that tomato sauce will likely stain plastic containers. To thaw, place in the fridge overnight then reheat per directions.
- To reheat: Gently heat tomato sauce in a large sauce pan over medium-low heat until warmed through, adding a splash of water if needed to thin to desired consistency. Don’t heat the sauce at too high of a heat or it will splatter everywhere.
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