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a ladle full of deep red tomato pasta sauce

How to Make Simple Classic Italian Tomato Sauce for Pasta

If you need a quick and easy tomato sauce for pasta this recipe is the most essential (and delicious) of them all.  Made with basic pantry staples — a jar (or can) of high-quality San Marzano (or Mutti brand tomatoes), extra virgin olive oil, onion, garlic, and a little carrot, this tomato sauce is wholesome and delicious. We make a lot of pasta as you may know, but it may surprise you to learn that this particular recipe is often our go-to sauce when we’re really busy, or when we’re low on groceries. I like to MealPrep it and make enough sauce to be eaten for two or three days at a time because we don’t only just use it for making pasta. We also make a tasty “fake pizza” dipper with it (which kiddos also really love). For those of you who are new to cooking or have little kitchen helpers, I’ve included step-by-step recipe photos at the end of the post. 

Does it Really Matter What Kind of Canned Tomatoes to Use in Pasta Sauce?

If you care about flavor, choosing the best tomatoes to use for making a simple tomato pasta sauce matters a lot. Canned and jarred tomatoes run the spectrum when it comes to quality. Some brands contain an entire day’s worth of sodium, unnecessary preservatives, and flavorless tomatoes. While others (like the jar of whole San Marzano tomatoes in the photos above), rely on the high quality of the tomatoes and contain just 3 ingredients: San Marzano tomatoes, San Marzano tomato juice, and a single leaf of basil with zero added salt (so technically, it contains just 2 ingredients since San Marzano tomato juice comes from San Marzano tomatoes♡). That’s pretty incredible when you consider the list on the back of many canned tomatoes in the grocery store.

When you’re choosing a can of tomatoes to make a simple tomato sauce, look at the label to identify how many ingredients it has and whether it has added salt (and how much), citric acid, etc. Also, look to see where the tomatoes come from. Good volcanic soil in the Mediterranean climate produces superior tomatoes, and even if they’re not San Marzano D.O.P tomatoes, you can still find excellent tomatoes like Mutti tomatoes from the region of Parma, Italy. Canned and jarred tomatoes with the least amount of ingredients will always be your best bet because it means that the producer is counting on the quality of the tomatoes without needing to add fillers or flavor enhancers.

Simple Classic Italian Tomato Sauce Ingredients

There are only 5 ingredients in the pasta sauce (not counting salt) making it a really simple weeknight meal option that the whole family will love and any parent can feel good about serving their kiddos. Plus, it’s vegan and delicious enough for dinner parties when you have a mixed group of eaters just be sure to serve the grated Parmigiano or Parmesan on the side.  Feel free to spice it up with crushed or whole red peppers or add fresh or dried herbs like oregano, Italian spice blend, or marjoram for a different flavor. 

  • 1 (19 to 20-ounce) jar of San Marzano whole tomatoes, gently crushed (or your favorite canned tomatoes) (540g)
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (25-40g)
  • 1/2 small yellow or white onion, finely diced 
  • 1/2 small carrot, diced
  • 1 fresh basil leaf 
  • salt to taste
  • crushed red pepper (optional)

How to Make Simple Classic Italian Tomato Sauce for Pasta

I make this classic Italian sauce the same way Mama A makes hers. It’s the most basic and simple of all Italian tomato sauces, but don’t let that fool you because when you use good ingredients, it makes one of the best pasta sauces there is. It’s also a great sauce for MealPrep so go ahead and double, or quadruple the recipe and freeze it in portions or refrigerate it for weeknight meals that are wholesome and hassle-free. As I mentioned above, this tomato sauce can be used for homemade pizza, or to make fast and healthy “fake pizza”. Fake pizza for us consists of slices of toasted baguette, that we use to scoop up the reheated sauce (to which I add fresh oregano or dried Italian spice blend) and top it off with a slice of fresh whole mozzarella. 

  1. Cook the onion, carrots + garlic. Heat the olive oil and the smashed garlic over medium heat until fragrant and the clove is lightly blistered (about 1 to 2 minutes). Add the diced onion and carrots, stir and cook until the onions are translucent and the carrots are tender (about 5 minutes) and add the crushed tomatoes. Pour about 2 to 3 tablespoons of water into the tomato jar (or can) and swirl it around to get every last bit of tomatoes to release from the sides and pour this into the pot. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and add salt to taste. 
  2. Simmer the sauce. Cover the sauce with a lid left slightly ajar and continue cooking over low heat for about 25 minutes total, stirring occasionally. After just about 15 minutes of cooking time have passed, remove the lid and continue cooking for the remaining 10 minutes or so, or until the sauce is slightly reduced, glistening, and deep red in color. Remove the garlic clove and serve with your favorite pasta like tagliatelle, pappardelle, rigatoni, spaghetti, penne, or fettuccine and Enjoy.

Other Ways to Use this Classic Tomato Pasta Sauce

This sauce obviously pairs well with pasta, but it also works well in any dish calling for a tomato sauce or used as a dipper. Here are a few of our favorite ways to use this tomato sauce.

How to Cook Pasta Like a Pro Every Time

If you’ve eaten a forkful of pasta at your favorite restaurant you may have wondered why it can sometimes be so much richer and velvety (even tastier) than the stuff you make at home. Restaurants typically use more fat (and sometimes dairy) than you’d ever imagine cooking with at home. And one of the biggest differences between your spaghetti and theirs mostly comes down to cooking techniques and the quality of ingredients used. In order to bring out the best texture, flavor, and maximum pasta goodness, follow the guidelines below.

  • Don’t pre-cook your pasta noodles. In most cases, try to time the pasta so that the sauce is ready just before (or well in advance of) the noodles and not the other way around.
  • Add starchy pasta cooking water to the sauce. Just before the noodles are finished cooking to “al dente” doneness, add a little starchy water to the sauce and stir.
  • Don’t over-salt the cooking water.  If the pasta cooking water is too salty, it’ll make your final sauce too salty when it gets added. Alternatively, if the pasta water is not salty enough, the noodles will be bland.
  • Cook the pasta directly in the sauce at the end and toss. When you can, it’s good to finish cooking the noodles directly in the sauce for 30 seconds to 2 minutes.  But this is not a technique to be used when making Pasta alla Carbonara because egg yolks are involved.
  • Don’t add any cheese while the sauce is boiling, simmering, or otherwise cooking.  Adding grated cheese to a pasta sauce while it’s cooking, causes the cheese to separate and become stringy.  The fat in the cheese will separate leaving the sauce oily. Instead, remove the sauce or pasta from the heat and add the cheese after 15-20 seconds. Alternatively, in some recipes, you may serve the grated cheese at the table instead of adding it directly to the pasta.
  • Skip the dairy. Butter and cream aren’t necessary to create a smooth velvety texture to pasta, although in the right amounts and in the right sauce the addition can be delicious. If you’re using dairy to enhance the flavor, go for it, but if you’re just trying to create a better mouthfeel, use the techniques above and you can’t go wrong.
  • If the sauce is tomato-based use Mutti brand tomatoes (or the best San Marzano DOP tomatoes). My recommended canned tomato brand to use for all your tomato-based pasta sauces is Mutti. These are the best 100% Italian (non-GMO, no additives or preservatives added), tomatoes from near and around Parma, Italy. These tomatoes are available in the US (and other global markets including China. In Italy, if your family doesn’t grow and can their own tomatoes, or buy them from a local producer, Mutti is a staple found in just about every cupboard here. The reason is simple. These tomatoes are delicious with intense real tomato flavor. We have access to an abundant variety of high-quality canned San Marzano DOP tomatoes that we love and buy, but we still always keep Mutti on hand. They’re consistently great-tasting. This is important when I’m developing and sharing recipes. I want the Biting audience to have the best possible results when replicating a dish at home. Using a consistent brand that’s available to me and you make the most sense. I’m not paid by Mutti. for the endorsement. They are just one of the best brands out there, and using them absolutely will make all the difference in your homemade pasta or pizza sauce.

Let’s get started!

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deep and bright red glistening tomato pasta sauce in the pot

How to Make Simple Classic Italian Tomato Sauce for Pasta


  • Author: Kelly
  • Total Time: 35 minutes
  • Yield: 4 to 6 Servings 1x
  • Diet: Vegan

Description

If you need a quick and easy tomato sauce for pasta this recipe is the most essential (and delicious) of them all.  Made with basic pantry staples — a jar (or can) of high-quality San Marzano (or Mutti brand tomatoes), extra virgin olive oil, onion, garlic, and a little carrot, this tomato sauce is wholesome and delicious. We make a lot of pasta as you may know, but it may surprise you to learn that this particular recipe is often our go-to sauce when we’re really busy, or when we’re low on groceries. I like to MealPrep it and make enough sauce to be eaten for two or three days at a time because we don’t only just use it for making pasta. We also make tasty “fake pizza” dipper with it (which kiddos also really love). For those of you who are new to cooking or have little kitchen helpers, I’ve included step-by-step recipe photos at the end of the post


Ingredients

Scale
  • 1 (19 to 20-ounce) jar of San Marzano whole tomatoes, gently crushed (or your favorite canned tomatoes) (540g)
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (25-40g)
  • 1/2 small yellow or white onion, finely diced
  • 1/4 small carrot, diced
  • 1 fresh basil leaf
  • salt to taste
  • crushed red pepper (optional)


Instructions

  1. Cook the onion, carrots + garlic. Heat the olive oil and the smashed garlic over medium heat until fragrant and the clove is lightly blistered (about 1 to 2 minutes). Add the diced onion and carrots, stir and cook until the onions are translucent and the carrots are tender (about 5 minutes) and add the crushed tomatoes. Pour about 2 to 3 tablespoons of water into the tomato jar (or can) and swirl it around to get every last bit of tomatoes to release from the sides and pour this into the pot. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and add salt to taste. 
  2. Simmer the sauce. Cover the sauce with a lid left slightly ajar and continue cooking over low heat for about 25 minutes total, stirring occasionally. After just about 15 minutes of cooking time have passed, remove the lid and continue cooking for the remaining 10 minutes or so, or until the sauce is slightly reduced, glistening, and deep red in color. Remove the garlic clove and serve with your favorite pasta like tagliatelle, pappardelle, rigatoni, spaghetti, penne, or fettuccine and Enjoy.

Notes

  • If you’re eating this sauce with pasta right away be sure to add a spoonful or two of pasta cooking water to the sauce just before the noodles have finished cooking. This helps the sauce bind to and coat the noodles making it extra delicious.
  • To make the bowl of pasta taste even better you can always add freshly grated Parmigiano or Grana Padano, or Parmesan to taste.
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Category: Sauces + Spreads + Dips
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Italian

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 1/4 cup

Keywords: vegan pasta sauce, vegan tomato sauce, easy pasta sauce recipe, easy tomato sauce recipe, basic pasta tomato sauce, Italian pasta tomato sauce, easy pasta sauce recipe, easy tomato sauce recipe, basic pasta tomato sauce, Italian pasta tomato sauce

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How to Make Simple Classic Italian Tomato Sauce for Pasta step-by-step recipe photos 

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