An authentic and delicious Italian Tomato Sauce that has been passed down through generations.

Italian Tomato Sauce

This recipe for Italian Tomato Sauce is a recipe that my husband Jack spent years perfecting. For Jack, knowing how to make a great Italian Tomato Sauce is a very personal thing – and it brings back fond memories of his childhood.

To this day, Jack clearly remembers the amazing smells coming from a pot of tomato sauce that was always simmering away on the stove anytime he visited his Italian grandparents. He worked hard to recreate that wonderful recipe in our own kitchen – and this is it!


Italian Tomato Sauce - A Family Feast

In fact, ever since posting this Italian Tomato Sauce recipe here on A Family Feast back in 2013, we’ve had so many readers write to us to tell us how much they love this sauce. And, many of our readers have told us that they now consider this their ‘go-to’ Italian tomato sauce recipe. (Note: We haven’t made any changes to the recipe over the years, we just included some updated photos today!)

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 many 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 or Marinara. (Click on those links – we have our own version of those recipes too!)

Italian Tomato Sauce

What’s the difference between Italian Tomato Sauce vs. Sunday Gravy vs. Marinara Sauce?

  • For Jack, an Italian Tomato Sauce is a tomato-based sauce that simmers for a long time on the stove so that the flavors really deepen and develop. (This recipe is a delicious example!)
  • A Sunday Gravy recipe is a tomato sauce cooked along with a variety of meats including meatballs, spare ribs, sausage, and pork chops, so the sauce picks up additional flavor from the meat.
  • Finally, Marinara is also a tomato-based sauce, but it’s a quickly-cooked sauce, yielding a bright, fresh tomato flavor.
  • And – since we’re talking about all types of tomato sauces – we also have a Roasted Tomato Pizza Sauce recipe AND an Easy No-Cook Pizza Sauce recipe you might be interested in checking out too.  Pizza sauces typically have a bold flavor that is meant to both complement and shine through the flavors of the dough, cheese and toppings on a pizza.

Italian Tomato Sauce


Today’s recipe is originally inspired by a version of Italian Tomato Sauce that Jack grew up with, and he credits his Aunt Mary for this recipe, plus some additional influences from the sauce that Jack’s father (aka Grampa) used to make. If you happen to be growing San Marzano Pomodoro tomatoes in your garden – definitely use those!  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.


homemade Italian tomato sauce

P.S. We freeze our Italian Tomato Sauce in gallon zipper seal bags for long-term storage, laying the bags flat after filling and squeezing out any excess air. Freeze the bags flat on a sheet pan, then once frozen you can fit them more easily in your freezer.  For information on how to can a high-acid food like 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.

You may also like these other Italian family classics:

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Italian Tomato Sauce

Italian Tomato Sauce

  • Author: A Family Feast
  • Prep Time: 15 mins
  • Cook Time: 1 hour 30 mins
  • Total Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
  • Yield: 1 1/2 quarts
  • Category: how-to
  • Method: stovetop
  • Cuisine: Italian


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.


  • 1/3 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


  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.


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.

Keywords: Italian Tomato Sauce


An authentic and delicious Italian Tomato Sauce that has been passed down through generations. So good, it's sure to become your family's go-to sauce recipe!


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  • Jeannette wrote:

    Very very good. Thank you!

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks Jeannette!

  • Connie wrote:

    I am drooling over the picture, but I can’t find the recipe? Help! Thanks…cms

    • Martha wrote:

      Please scroll down to the bottom Connie! Thanks!

  • Bruce wrote:

    Your 20 Italian dishes section will not allow me to print any recipes, they just come up blank page. So how can I print them?

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Bruce – That page is a collection of links to our Italian Family Classics recipes on the site…so if you see a recipe you’d like to print, just click on the title right above the photo and it will bring you to the post with the printable recipe. (At some point in 2014 we are hoping to put them all into an e-book so it’s easier to view them all in one place!) Hope that helps in the meantime. Thanks for stopping by today! Martha

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Bruce – I received your reply about the blank page and this is the first I’ve heard of this issue. Thank you for letting me know! Would you let me know what browser and version you are using to view our site/recipes and to print? I don’t see the issue on my end but would like to test it further I would like to get in touch with ZipList which is how our recipes get published to let them know of the issue. Very sorry for the inconvenience! Martha

      • Martha wrote:

        Thanks Bruce! I am able to recreate the issue in IE myself and will contact ZipList about the issue! In the meantime, if you are willing to view our site using Firefox or Chrome as your browser, you should be able to view and print the recipe without a problem. Thank you for letting me know about the issue and again, my apologies for the inconvenience. I hope I am able to work with ZipList on a fix! Happy Holidays – Martha

  • Lois Lettini wrote:

    I have been using Centro cherry tomatoes for other dishes, but NOT my Sunday meat sauce. They are much less expensive for the large can than the San Marzano tomatoes. Can I substitute these for sauce and what would be the difference in taste? They seem to be of very high quality and taste good. I love good sauce and believe the tomaotes are the key to it.

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Lois! San Marzanos are considered the ‘gold standard’ for a good sauce but I’m sure the cherry tomatoes will still result in something delicious! We haven’t made this recipe using the Cento cherry tomatoes so I can’t speak specifically to how it will taste. Please let us know how it comes out and thanks for visiting our site!

      • Lois Lettini wrote:

        Thank you for your prompt reply. I am going to try it this Sunday and I will let you know. Because, as with the others on this site, it is the tomatoes that make the difference in the sauce. One only has to learn the hard way about THAT!!

  • Jenni wrote:

    Hi! I have made your sauce tonight for dinner and it was delicious! Just can’t figure out why it didn’t thicken up? Any suggestions? Thanks 🙂


    • Martha Pesa wrote:

      Hi Jenni! You could try adding some tomato paste and cooking it down longer. Hope that helps! Martha

  • Chris L wrote:

    Thanks for this recipe! After perusing the web for a LONG time I finally settled on this recipe and I am in the “simmering” stage right now. The house smells awesome. I am going to put a jar in the fridge to use after a couple of days, and the remainder is going to be canned for winter use (I tripled the recipe and used fresh garden tomatoes! Although I did add most of a can of San Marzano tomatoes as they were left over from another recipe earlier this week). I cannot wait to try it! Only change I made was to add a carrot and stalk of celery which I will remove after simmering. Have never added parmesan directly to the sauce, buy I think it is a great idea.

    Leaving out the cigar ash…….

    Thanks again!

    • Martha Pesa wrote:

      We hope you enjoy the sauce Chris! Your garden tomatoes will be delicious for this sauce – we’ve been doing the same these last few weeks! (And agree…we can’t vouch for the cigar ash…LOL!) Thanks for writing to us! Martha

  • Paul wrote:

    I have fond memories of Sunday mornings, my dad at the stove, a cigar dangling out of his mouth, as he made a large pot of sauce for the week. I’m eager to try Jack’s version and I will let you know whether or not butter and mint (two ingredients my dad never used) are a satisfactory substitute for the cigar ash- my dad’s secret ingredient!

    • Martha wrote:

      Paul – you’ve made both Jack and me laugh this morning! We hope you enjoy the recipe! Thanks so much for stopping by! Martha

  • Elissa R wrote:

    I’m trying to stay away from canned food, and your recipe sounds so delicious, is there a way I can make this with fresh organic tomatoes???

    • Martha wrote:

      Yes! Fresh organic tomatoes can be used for this recipe!

  • Bekki wrote:

    I came across your post from pinterest. This looks divine! I can’t wait to give it a try next week on pasta night. I read in one of the comments that you canned the sauce. I was wondering if you pressure canned or used a water bath? I have been looking for a new recipe to put up for the year so I can have some variety in my sauces.

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Bekki! We use the water bath method! Thanks for visiting and we hope you enjoy the sauce!

  • Gen wrote:

    I have tried several time to make sauce but have not been too successful. I can’t wait to try your recipe. Would love to be able to can our own sauce. Thanks so much for posting!

    • Martha wrote:

      I hope you have good luck with this sauce Gen! Thanks for visiting our site!

  • Bella wrote:

    Do be careful about the San Marzanos. If you want the real ones that come from the region around Naples, make sure you see the “DOP” designation on the label and the seal of the consortium. Not all Cento San Marzanos are DOP (in fact perhaps none of them are anymore)… they are merely San Marzanos that are grown somewhere in Italy, but not necessarily in the Neapolitan area which produces the genuine and protected tomatoes. For the real taste of Italy, make sure you are buying the genuine product. If this doesn’t matter to you, than a “whatever” San Marzano is just fine. I would say your garden grown home canned tomatoes would be miles better than a whatever Cento San Marzano! My compliments!

    • Martha wrote:

      Thank you so much Bella!

  • Allisynne wrote:

    I put my sauce in the oven at 325 degrees after it comes to a simmer on the stove. That way, you don’t have to worry about the bottom burning. If you spray the sides of the stock pan first, it will be much easier to clean. Will it burn around the top sides of the pan? Yep…but since it cooks down, it won’t impact the sauce with a burned flavor.

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks Allisynne! Great idea!

  • Wendy T wrote:

    I want to make this recipe for a get-together with a bunch of friends, and one of my friends is vegan. Would omitting the cheese and butter ruin the flavor of the recipe? Is there something I could use to replace the omitted ingredients? Thank you!

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Wendy! The butter rounds out the flavors and the parmesan has a unique taste all its own…you can definitely make the sauce and omit the two. It won’t taste exactly the same but we think it will still be a good sauce! Unfortunately, I don’t have substitution suggests for you. Thanks for visiting our site!

  • Chris wrote:

    Hi Martha and Jack, I am excited to try your sauce recipe, but I am a bit concerned about the mint. I have never heard of adding mint to sauce. Do you taste it much in the end?

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Chris! You can leave it out if you prefer but it actually adds a nice subtle flavor that complements the basil really well. It’s not a strong flavor in the sauce at all! Thanks for visiting our site!

      • Mary wrote:

        I use a cooling rack rather than diffuser …I use it under the pot…works great have been doing it for years when I simmer or cook anything for a period of time
        [email protected]

        • Martha wrote:

          Great idea Mary! Thanks for letting us know!

  • wendi vartabedian wrote:

    Will this sauce freeze well?

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Wendi! Yes – this sauce will freeze well. We’ve frozen it in a zipper seal bag or a plastic container and it freezes fine! Martha

  • Dianna wrote:

    Can you use fresh tomatoes?

    • Martha wrote:

      Yes – you can use fresh plum tomatoes for this sauce. You would need to remove the skin first. Here’s how:

      Bring some water to a boil; then cut an X in the bottom of each tomato before putting it into the boiling water. Leave in boiling water until the skin starts to peel (just a minute or so). With a slotted spoon, remove them to an ice water bath to cool quickly. Once cool enough to handle, remove to a sheet tray. Skin will peel right off. Pinch green stem and twist and pull. What is left will all be usable for the sauce. Plum tomatoes have few seeds so don’t worry about trying to seed them.

      Hope that helps! Thanks for visiting our site! Martha

      • Talia wrote:

        How many tomatoes should you use ?

        • Martha wrote:

          Hi Talia – It depends on the size of your tomatoes – that’s why we suggest going by weight. Kitchen scales are inexpensive and a great tool to have in your kitchen.

  • Winnie wrote:

    I am eager to make this sauce as it is different from any in my collections of tomato sauces. I believe it will be our favorite! Hopefully I will be able to can some this summer! Homemade sauce is much healthier and tastier than those bought in a store.

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks Winnie! We hope you enjoy the sauce!

  • tanya wrote:

    There is nothing like homemade sauce!! It sort of kills me to buy in when I know it’s easy to make. I love trying out new recipes! This will be pinned and tried for sure!

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks Tanya!

  • Tabetha wrote:

    Can you can this tomato sauce? If you have, what are the instructions? This sounds delish!

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Tabetha – You can definitely can the tomato sauce once it has been cooked! We don’t have canning instructions on our site (yet – we might do a post this summer) but Jack suggested this website – it’s the one he followed this past year when we canned some of our tomatoes!
      Hope this helps! Martha

      • Darcy wrote:

        Canning tomato sauce is different than just plain tomatoes. Because there are onions and cheese and herbs in it you will need to use a pressure cooker to can it. To determine the processing times for the sauce you must check processing for every item in the sauce and process for the item that has the longest time and adjusting for altitude. Honestly, I would just freeze this sauce. In freezer ziplocks or in canning jars with appropriate head space.

        • Martha Pesa wrote:

          Thanks Darcy!

        • Martha Pesa wrote:

          Thanks again for your comment Darcy! I’ve updated our post with a link to an article that also suggests that pressure cooker canning might be the safer option for canning homemade tomato sauce. We’ve not had any issues ourself with canning this sauce at home – but then again we used the jars up fairly quickly! Thanks again for your advice – appreciate the info! Martha

          • Mary wrote:

            I see that you mention canning the sauce in a pressure cooker that concerns me. The pan must hold at least four quart jars too be considered a canner. Canning time includes heat up and cool down time. Pressure cookers can not be used to can in. This is a if safety issue.

          • Martha wrote:

            Thanks Mary – There seems to be some confusion as to whether or not a water bath vs pressure canning is the best for a high acid item like tomato sauce. We are not experts, therefore we recommend that you (and all of our readers) follow the experts’ canning guidelines – such as those found on Ball’s website here:

  • Amanda P. wrote:

    Is the heat diffuser absolutely needed? I don’t have one but want to make this sauce. 🙂

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Amanda! The heat diffuser isn’t absolutely necessary but it will help prevent the sauce from sticking and burning in the bottom of your pot. My husband suggests that you put a few crumpled pieces of aluminum foil over your stove burner and then put the pot on top of that. Or – be sure to stir the sauce frequently and use a very heavy-bottomed pan to avoid any burning while the sauce cooks. Hope that helps! Martha

      • Amanda P. wrote:

        Great thank you! I usually cook my sauces with a cast iron skillet so that should be heavy bottomed enough. Will still do the crumpled foil though, that’s a great idea. 🙂 Thanks!

        • Martha wrote:

          Amanda – I just realized that I misunderstood my husband’s suggestion when I responded to your question this morning!! You can use crushed aluminum cans (NOT foil – foil won’t be sturdy enough) – what Jack used to do before he had the diffuser was peel the paper label off a can, and remove both ends, then crush the can and use that under his pots. So sorry for the confusion – next time I will let him respond! Thanks again for visiting our site!

    • Florence wrote:

      I have a gas stove…I just grab one of the grates off another burner and use that.

      • Martha wrote:

        Great idea Florence!

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