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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!


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.

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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


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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  • Gabriella wrote:

    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!

    • Martha wrote:

      We’re glad you found us too Gabriella – so happy you enjoyed the recipe. Thank you for taking the time to write to us today!

  • R. Guerrero wrote:

    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.

    • Martha wrote:

      We’re so glad you enjoyed the recipes – and we hope you love the meatballs too!

  • Judy M wrote:

    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?

    • Martha wrote:

      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!

  • Mimi wrote:

    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.


    • Martha wrote:

      Sure Mimi – no problem!

  • Krisinda wrote:

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

    • Martha wrote:

      Thank you so much! So glad you enjoyed the sauce!

  • Ellen wrote:

    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!!!

    • Martha wrote:

      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!

  • Jane Tucker wrote:

    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.

    • Martha wrote:

      So glad you are enjoying the recipe as much as we do Jane! Thanks for writing to us today!

  • Jen Knoedl wrote:

    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!

  • Chef Herlan wrote:

    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

    • Martha wrote:

      You’re welcome Chef! Hope you enjoy the sauce!

  • Donna wrote:

    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!

    • Martha wrote:

      Thank you Donna! So glad you enjoyed the sauce as much as we do! (And we hope you enjoy the lasagna too!) Have a great evening!

  • Jackie wrote:

    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

    • Martha wrote:

      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.)

  • Cindi wrote:

    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.

    • Martha wrote:

      We’re glad you like the sauce Cindi!

  • Alizia wrote:

    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!!

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks Alizia! So glad you all enjoyed the sauce! Thank you for taking the time to write to us today!

  • Barb wrote:

    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!

    • Martha wrote:

      Thank you so much Barb! We’re very glad you enjoyed the sauce as much as we do!

  • Jamie wrote:

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

    • Martha wrote:

      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!

  • Kathy wrote:

    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?

    • Martha wrote:

      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!

      • Kathy wrote:

        Thank you Martha!

        • Kathy wrote:

          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!


          • Martha wrote:

            So glad you enjoyed the sauce Kathy – and thanks for taking the time to write back to us about adding the ground beef!

  • Angie wrote:

    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.

    • Martha wrote:

      Wow Angie – Thank you! We’re so glad you like the sauce!

  • josef rueschli wrote:

    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

    • Martha wrote:

      Thank you!

    • josef rueschli wrote:

      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

      • Karaine wrote:

        Sounds good Josef. 🙂

  • Kitty wrote:

    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.

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks Kitty! Your grandmother is absolutely correct!

  • Click1st wrote:

    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!

    • Martha wrote:

      Thank you – we’re glad you are enjoying the recipe!

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