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Italian Tomato Sauce

An Italian Tomato sauce recipe that has been in our family for years!

This recipe for Italian Tomato Sauce is a recipe that Jack has been working to perfect over the last few years. For Jack, a good Italian tomato sauce is a very personal thing and it brings back fond memories of his childhood. To this day, he clearly remembers the amazing smells coming from the pot of tomato sauce that was always cooking on the stove anytime he visited his Italian grandparents. He’s been working hard to recreate that wonderful memory in our own kitchen!

There are so many different ways to make an Italian Tomato Sauce and depending on whom you ask – and where their family originally came from – you will find different family recipes. Some use different types of tomatoes, some with or without meat, some cooked for a long time giving the sauce a deep, rich taste and others cooked for just a short time for a light fresh taste. Some families even refer to their Italian tomato sauce as “Sunday Gravy.”

Originally inspired by a version of Italian tomato sauce that he grew up with, Jack credits his Aunt Mary for this recipe, plus some additional influences from the sauce that Jack’s father used to make. For this recipe, we used some San Marzano Pomodoro tomatoes that Jack grew in our garden last summer and canned. However, if fresh tomatoes aren’t available, we think some of the best San Marzano Pomodoro canned tomatoes are made by Cento and Pastene and both brands are readily available at most local grocery stores.

Mangia!

Update: For information on how to can tomato sauce, we suggest that you visit the Ball Canning website here.  Here is another interesting link about canning tomato sauce which suggests that the  pressure method should be used to ensure safe canning of any homemade tomato sauce.  Alternately, freezing homemade tomato sauce may be another option for long-term storage.

Italian Tomato Sauce
 
Serves: 1½ quarts
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
 
An important first step to note when making this sauce is to bring the olive oil up to temperature very slowly with the garlic, herbs, and spices, and cook for about five minutes to brown the garlic. This is a step that Jack has seen referenced in a number of great Italian cookbooks and although not clearly stated why, we believe this slow heat-up process allows the oil to be infused with the seasonings providing a really delicious base to your sauce.
Ingredients
  • ⅓ cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 4 crushed garlic cloves
  • ¾ cup chopped onion (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh chopped oregano, divided, or ½ teaspoon dried
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil, divided, or ½ tablespoon dried
  • 1 teaspoon fresh chopped mint, divided
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 28-ounce cans of whole tomatoes or two quarts of freshly canned garden tomatoes
  • ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesano Reggiano cheese
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Instructions
  1. Before you begin, pour your two cans of tomatoes into a bowl and crush with your hand. Don’t break them up too small, you want large chunks.
  2. In a large heavy bottomed pot with a lid, on a burner with no flame, pour in olive oil and add red pepper flakes, garlic, onion, most of the oregano, basil and mint (save a little bit of each for the end), sugar salt and pepper. Turn on the burner and slowly bring up to hot. When the onions and garlic start to cook, stir and heat for five minutes.
  3. Remove the pot from the burner and place a heat diffuser over the burner. Place the pot over the heat diffuser and add the tomatoes. Turn burner to medium high and stir until they start to boil. Then reduce to simmer, partially cover and simmer 90 minutes.
  4. After 90 minutes, remove from heat and add the reserved herbs and Parmesan cheese. Add the butter to round out the flavors. Stir again and serve.
Notes
The old saying about the sauce tasting better the next day reheated is true. It gives the flavors a chance to blend and mellow out.

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  1. This is a recipe my Nonna would be proud of! The last time I made this I used your basic sauce pot on a flat top electric stove without a diffuser because I don’t have one. I’d like to cook this in my Dutch Oven and now have a coil electric stove. I saw above about using cans. Will that work with this kind of stove? Also do I flatten the can from top to bottom or just squeeze the heck out of it? Better yet can I not use them and not worry about burning it in a Dutch Oven?

    • Thanks Nikki! Even with the Dutch oven, we’d still recommend using a diffuser or crushed cans on your electric stove top to avoid any chance of sticking and burning. Just remove the top and bottom of the can and then flatten it sideways. Please let us know if you have any other questions! Martha

  2. I was this think about adding some sausage to this sauce ? What u guys think?

  3. Dear Martha and Jack,
    First of all, thank you for taking the time to write down a recipe that took so long. I am often unwilling to give away my recipes, but I would rather make better cooks than keep them in the dark.
    Anyway, my question to you two is this; other than water, what would you suggest to help thin this sauce out just a wee bit?
    Thank you for your time,
    Jon

    • Hi Jon – Thank YOU for your very nice comment! If you need to thin the sauce a bit after it is cooked, we’d recommend a mild white or red wine, or beef stock. But try adding as little as possible – wine or stock will definitely change the flavor profile of the sauce if you add too much! I hope that helps! Martha

  4. This has become my all-time favorite tomato sauce! It turns out absolutely PERFECT every single time I make it. I typically make up a very large batch & share with relatives who rave about it. I also use it as a base for making enchilada sauce and marinara for pizza and breadsticks. The slow heat up method really does make a big difference too. I’ve opted to add bay leaves which adds a nice touch. My family and I absolutely LOVE IT! Thank you so much Martha & Jack for sharing this truly fabulous recipe!

  5. I have always been told that if you heat garlic too fast in the oil…or get it too hot…it will turn bitter. At least that is what my italian grandmother told me when teaching me to cook. Just for your information.

  6. josef rueschli :

    with a sharp knife, I cut the stem end off and only a very thin slice off of the opposite end of each of our home grown, water washed clean, Roma tomatoes, then place them in a pot of boiling water for a few minutes, to make it easier to remove the tom. skin, then, after removing the tom. skins, place the skinned tom. into the largest s.s. pot with: EVOO, sliced garlic, dried/or fresh Basil, and dried/or fresh leaves of mint. reduce the skinned tom. over low heat to a desired thickness, and then hot pack the sauce into clean, sterilized quart jars. note: add one tbl of white wine vinegar to each jar of tom. sauce, fill jar with reduced tom. sauce to within 1/2 inch of the jar rim this is our traditional Italian family way of making our kitchen/table sauce, partially developed over the years, with the help of our Grandma . hope you try and eat it with your favorite pasta. josef
    .

    • Thank you!

    • josef rueschli :

      different grandma’s tell different stories, ours would take the end of the year garlic, place the skinned garlic in a small chafing dish along with olive oil, a sprinkle of dried Oregano and then place the chafing dish inside of our old stove, and leave it until the olive oil would just start to bubble (low simmer ?). it is still a favorite part of an antipasta that is regularly requested and which we serve….different tastes ?? josef

  7. I cannot thank you enough for this recipe. I have tried so many, but this is the absolute BEST ONE EVER!!!. Thank you so much. My search is over.

  8. Thank you for the recipe! I will make it today.

    If you add ground beef, would you brown it along with the garlic and onions or brown it separately and then add along with the tomatoes?

    • Hi Kathy – My husband Jack and I just talked over your question…our recommendation would be to brown the ground beef first – before you do anything – and drain most of the fat that renders from the beef (you can leave a few tablespoons of the drippings for flavor but since there is already a fair amount of olive oil in the sauce, you don’t want the beef to add too much fat to the sauce). Then follow the directions as written – and add the cooked beef with the tomatoes. Hope that helps! And we hope you enjoy the sauce!

      • Thank you Martha!
        Kathy recently posted…30+ Recipes for Malted Milk LoversMy Profile

        • This was the best sauce I’ve ever made! I browned the ground beef first and then removed it and just about all the oil fromthe pan. Before browning it, I seasoned it with salt, pepper, oregano, basil and Italian seasoning. I only added the beef in the last 30 minutes.

          It made a very thick, beefy sauce. A little too beefy for me so I will make another batch of sauce and combine them. I think that will make it just about perfect with plenty for the freezer.

          Thank you for positing the recipe!

          Kathy

  9. I am so excited to try this recipe! Thanks for sharing! How long will the sauce keep in the freezer?

    • Hi Jamie – If it’s stored in an air-tight container or bag – I’d say up 3-6 months depending on how reliable your freezer is. Hope that helps!

  10. I just cooked your tomato sauce and it is the best-tasting sauce I have ever made!!! My whole kitchen smells wonderful. Not only is it tasty, but it is so easy! Wow!

  11. I found this recipe and made it for my boyfriend’s birthday dinner. Everyone loved it so much I have come back to make it again. It’s so great you will want to make more than one batch at a time! The directions were great and so easy to follow. I didn’t have a heat diffuser, so I used a little square cooling rack and it worked perfect. Thank you so much for sharing this recipe!!

  12. I just made this sauce in preparation for making your lasagna. The sauce is really good. I did leave out the mint and I puréed it at the end with an immersion blender to breakup the tomatoes a little more and to thicken the sauce a little more.

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