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Italian Tomato Sauce

homemade Italian tomato sauce

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” – you can see Jack’s family recipe here.

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.



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 is another option for long-term storage – which is what we do when we make this this tomato sauce.

Italian Tomato Sauce - A Family Feast

Italian Tomato Sauce

  • Prep Time: 15 mins
  • Cook Time: 1 hour 30 mins
  • Total Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
  • Yield: 1 1/2 quarts


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.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

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    Leave a Comment


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

    • 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

      • 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!

        • 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!

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

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

    • 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

      • Hi,
        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.

        • Thanks Darcy!

        • 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

          • 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.

          • 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:

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. Can you use fresh tomatoes?

    • 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

  6. wendi vartabedian :

    Will this sauce freeze well?

    • 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

  7. 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?

    • 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!

  8. 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!

    • 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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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!

  11. 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!

  12. 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.

  13. 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???

  14. 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!

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

  15. 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!

    • 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

  16. 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 🙂


  17. 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.

    • 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!

      • 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!!

  18. 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?

    • 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

    • 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

      • 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

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

  20. Very very good. Thank you!

  21. 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

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

  23. 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,

    • 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

  24. 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!

  25. 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.

  26. 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

  27. 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.

  28. 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!

        • 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!


  29. 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!

  30. 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!

  31. 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!!

  32. 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.

  33. Hi, I haven’t made this yet but plan on tomorrow, what I would like to know is I have fresh tomatoes and not canned, how many should I use? I would also like to can these, have you done this before, and if so could you give me the amounts and canning times, if not no worries I can copy recipe and figure it out from another site, looks good. Thanks in advance Jackie

    • Hi Jackie – Yes – you can absolutely use fresh. You would use the equivalent weight of fresh as the canned in the recipe (so about 3-1/2 to 4 pounds of fresh) – but you will want to remove the skins from the tomatoes before adding them to the sauce. For canning – I’d suggest visiting this site: (We actually freeze the sauce in plastic bags ourselves and then just thaw as we need it.)

  34. Fantastico! This is an amazing recipe! A wonderful melding of flavors and it made my house smell like a Tuscan kitchen. I made this for the base sauce of the classic lasagna recipe on this site and can’t wait to use it for this recipe. But after tasting the sauce alone, I’m also flooded with many other ideas on how to use it!

  35. Hello,
    thank for your recipie. This really helped me in presenting a variety of foods. And of course I will try it.

    Chef Herlan from Indonesia

  36. Thanks for this! I don’t have time to prepare tomatoes from scratch, but starting with the canned tomatoes still makes it totally doable and super delicious!

  37. It’s early on a Sunday morning, and I’m ready to make this sauce again. Just wanted to let you know it’s become my go-to recipe. I love the addition of mint. Today I’ve finally printed it off, so if the unthinkable happens and the power goes out, I’ll still have the sauce recipe.

  38. I have seen it posted so many times but have to ask. What brand of olive oil do you use? Many cooks say use a “good brand” but don’t say which brand they think is good. Just curious. Thanks!!!

    • Hi Ellen! Great question! You might be surprised to learn that we buy the Kirkland brand Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Costco – it is from Italy, and it’s the one that is sold in the 1-liter bottles, usually starting around this time of the year when the Fall harvest is imported to the US. (We stock up on it because it does sell out!) Costco also sells a Greek olive oil and an organic olive oil under the Kirkland brand but we don’t care for those – just the Italian.) It has a great, peppery taste and it really is one of our favorites. As an alternative, we also sometimes buy the Lucini brand EVOO – and that is sold in supermarkets. Hope that helps!

  39. I made this last night, and it was absolutely delicious. This will be my go to recipe from now on!

  40. I use your recipe regularly for any and all pasta dishes and it is a family favorite for sure. I am working on a post for my blog with my lasagna recipe, would it be okay to link to your blog for the sauce? Let me know.


  41. What is a heat difuser? I have an electric stove with a glass top. What could I use? Don’t want to mar surface of stove. Could this be cooked in a crock pot?

    • Hi Judy – It looks like you could use a heat diffuser made for induction cooktops on a glass cooktop. (Like this one on Amazon: – it has a smooth surface and it is meant to prevent the direct heat from a burner from burning the sauce. We’ve only made the sauce as written – you probably could make this in a slow cooker but the timing will be much longer. Hope that helps!

  42. I tried the lasagna & your sauce recipe and it was great
    The whole family loved it for Sunday Dinner. Good quality
    Ingredients like Ricotta,fresh mozzarella & fresh Basil makes a difference & extra delicious. Thank you I have to try making The meatballs.

  43. Hello Martha & Jack, We absolutely love this recipe! I have made this 5 times in the past few weeks. We had so many Italian Red Pear Tomatoes from the garden, I chopped them up and followed the recipe. I put one grate on top of the other, great idea I read in the comments here. Love the butter, makes it so rich. Thank you so much, so glad I found your recipe here!

  44. hello, my tip from my mon me 74years old ,she would heat olive oil med heat dry herbs need to release their oils .they go in first ,then tomato paste stir to break it down and combine wit oil, garlic next fresh only ,then tomatos crushed by hand . WE would add some pork and or beef neck bones that have been browned in oven wit da meat balls ,and as a treat farmers ribs bone in , hey do ya know why oil is put in pasta water, So it doesn’t boil over …A large deep pot is also a god idea.nice site have a blessed New Year !!!!

  45. Hi again we never add sugar to our sauce . some grated carrot added to oil with dry herbs will take its place … also the tomato paste is usually sweet so are canned Italian tomato San Marzano taste them , sometimes a cheap brand of Italian style tomato will be acidic in that case a sprinkle of baking soda on top will eliminate it enjoy !