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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!

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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

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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.

Mangia!

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.

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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

Description

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

  • 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

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.

Keywords: Italian Tomato Sauce

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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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    Comments

  • Jonathan wrote:

    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

    • Martha wrote:

      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

  • Anna Simmons wrote:

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

    • Martha wrote:

      Absolutely Anna! Sausage would be delicious as well as meatballs, etc.

  • 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!

  • Nikki wrote:

    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?

    • Martha wrote:

      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

  • 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!

  • 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 🙂

    Jenni

    • 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

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