This easy tomato sauce recipe is so flavorful and robust! Great on everything from pasta to pizza to meatballs. It’ll be a family favorite!
Ok, I have a confession to make. Up until pretty recently, I was using jarred tomato sauce.
I know! Scandalous.
When I was a kid growing up, my mom always made her own. But it was just “a little of this, a little of that,” no actual written recipe.
And when I became a mom, my kids were so stinkin’ picky. It didn’t just have to be jarred sauce, it had to be a certain brand name, one that began with a “P” and ended with a “rego.”
But they’re older now and they appreciate things like homemade tomato sauce more.
So I got to work and came up with this one!
This tomato sauce tastes very much like their favorite store-bought, but it’s thicker, richer, and heartier. It also has a robust, slow-cooked flavor that you only get with homemade.
Table of Contents
- What is tomato sauce?
- What’s great about this tomato sauce recipe
- What does it taste like?
- Special equipment
- How to make homemade tomato sauce
- How to serve tomato sauce
- Frequently asked questions
- A few more of my favorite Italian recipes
What is tomato sauce?
Sometimes it’s called spaghetti sauce or pasta sauce, sometimes red gravy or red sauce, sometimes marinara sauce or pomodoro sauce.
We are calling this tomato sauce because it’s made from tomatoes (duh) but it’s cooked lower, slower, and longer than marinara, and it doesn’t have any meat like Sunday gravy normally does.
What’s great about this tomato sauce recipe
- Tastes amazing: There’s a bright, fresh flavor here, but also a deep, earthy complexity from the way it’s cooked.
- Few ingredients: You only need a few basics to make it.
- Easy to make: Real-deal Italian sauce like your Nonna made, in just a little over an hour.
- Healthy: Homemade beats store-bought every time. This is lower in fat, sugar, and sodium, plus it’s made with fresh veggies so there’s lots of fiber and nutrition.
What does it taste like?
This sauce has a bright, fresh flavor that’s a little tangy and very tomato-ey. There’s also a pleasant hint of sweetness from the carrots and onions.
And because we are browning the tomato paste, there’s a real rich complexity to it that really lets you know it’s homemade.
Extra-virgin olive oil lends the best flavor to this sauce, in my humble opinion.
I like a sweet onion best, such as Maui or Vidalia. Chop it roughly, it will break down a lot as the sauce cooks. You can also blend the sauce if you like it smoother (that’s what I’ve done here).
Carrots, like onion, provide natural sweetness. I like to buy the pre-grated kind. They’re a huge time-saver!
You can also add a bit of sugar, if you like things sweeter. And a bunch of fresh basil is really nice too.
If you have a parmesan rind laying around, throw that in as well! I didn’t, so I used a little ground parm on top instead.
One small can of tomato paste adds a ton of flavor to this sauce! It’s purely tomatoes, but highly concentrated.
Balsamic vinegar is made from grapes but it’s aged in a number of different species of wood barrels. This process gives it an incredibly complex flavor.
It also lends sweetness and acidity.
If you prefer a less sweet, more earthy sauce, you can use red wine instead.
Just look for regular crushed tomatoes, with no extras like garlic or basil. We’ve already got that covered!
My favorite brands are Cento and Tuttorosso.
- Measuring spoons: For measuring out the seasonings.
- Large pot: I prefer an enameled cast-iron Dutch oven. Heats evenly and it’s very easy to clean!
- Wooden spoon: For stirring and scraping the fond from the bottom of the pot.
- Hand blender: This one is optional, but I like to puree the sauce to a smooth consistency after it’s done cooking.
How to make homemade tomato sauce
This recipe comes together in just 3 easy steps.
Step 1: Saute the veggies
Heat the olive oil in the pot until shimmering, then add the onion, carrots, and seasonings.
Saute these ingredients, stirring, over medium heat, until they’re soft and tender.
Step 2: Brown the tomato paste
Next, clear out a little spot in the middle of the pot for the tomato paste.
Cook the tomato paste, along with the veggies and seasonings, until it becomes a shade or two darker in color. This will bring so much incredible flavor to your sauce!
You should also notice a bit of a brown film forming on the bottom of the pot. This is exactly what you want!
Step 3: Deglaze the pan
Deglazing the pan will lift that brown film (aka: fond) up off the bottom of the pot and into the sauce.
Splash in the balsamic vinegar, and use your wooden spoon to scrape the fond up.
Step 4: Add tomatoes
The final step is to add the crushed tomatoes and allow the sauce to simmer, low and slow.
Turn the heat down as low as possible, pop a lid on the pot (slightly ajar so some steam can escape), and let things simmer. I like to give it at least an hour to really develop the flavors.
Don’t forget to give the sauce a stir every so often, so things don’t burn on the bottom.
And if it’s getting too thick, add water. I add as much as 42 ounces of water, depending on how long I’m leaving the sauce to simmer and reduce.
Before you ladle it out onto whatever you’re serving it on, give it a taste.
Is it too acidic? Does it need sugar? Or baking soda (see below)?
Would you like it better if it was spicier? If so add a little more crushed red pepper.
You might also want to add some parmigiano reggiano, off the heat. This can give a more savory, nutty, almost funky taste to the sauce.
Adjust the seasonings to your own personal taste!
And hit it with that hand blender to make it extra smooth.
How to serve tomato sauce
You can also make Sunday gravy with it. Saute sausage, meatballs, and soup bones first, then add the veggies and seasoning to the fat that’s rendered, and continue with the recipe instructions from there.
Frequently asked questions
The short answer is no, but a low and slow cook will yield the richest, most robust flavor.
One hundred percent!
Cook the veggies, seasonings, and tomato paste on the saute setting. Then turn down the heat to simmer, deglaze with balsamic, and add the crushed tomatoes.
Yes, but you’ll first need to saute the veggies and seasonings, brown the tomato paste, and deglaze the pan before adding everything to the crockpot.
Simply add water until the sauce reaches the consistency you prefer.
Add either a pinch of baking soda, or a tablespoon or two of sugar, depending on your taste.
Baking soda will help to neutralize the acid without adding any sweetness.
Using a pressure canner is the safest way, but if you don’t have one, a water bath will work. Because this tomato sauce contains vinegar, it should have a high enough level of acidity to be safe.
Ladle the hot sauce into sterilized jars, then wipe the rims clean and screw on fresh lids. Submerge the jars in boiling water for 40 minutes, then remove them and allow them to cool. The lids should suction down, making a popping sound. This lets you know you have an airtight seal.
If processed correctly, this tomato sauce should keep at room temperature (unopened) for about a year.
Once opened, the jars should last for about a week in the fridge, or 6 months in the freezer.
Thaw at room temperature and reheat in the microwave or in a pot on the stove.
I usually get about 6 servings out of a batch, depending how long it cooks and how thick it becomes.
The nutritional info in the recipe card below reflects a serving size of 1/6th the batch. This does not include pasta or anything like that, it’s just for the sauce only.
A few more of my favorite Italian recipes
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Homemade Tomato Sauce
- 3 tablespoons (42 g) extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 (110 g) onion, medium, roughly chopped
- 5 ounces (141.75 g) carrots, grated
- 1 teaspoon (3 g) garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon (2 g) onion powder
- 1 teaspoon (2 g) Italian seasoning
- 1 teaspoon (6 g) kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon (1 g) dried oregano
- 1/8 teaspoon (0.25 g) crushed red pepper flakes
- 6 ounces (170.1 g) tomato paste
- 3 tablespoons (48 g) balsamic vinegar
- 28 ounces (793.79 g) crushed tomatoes
- water, as needed
- 1 tablespoon (12 g) granulated sugar, or to taste
- 1 sprig fresh basil, optional
- parmesan cheese, optional garnish
- Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat until shimmering.
- Add the onion, carrots, garlic powder, onion powder, Italian seasoning, salt, oregano, and crushed red pepper to the pot.
- Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are soft and tender (approx. 5 minutes).
- Clear a space in the middle of the pot and add the tomato paste.
- Cook the tomato paste, stirring, until browned (approx. 3 to 5 minutes).
- Deglaze the pot with balsamic vinegar, scraping with a wooden spoon to bring the fond up off the bottom of the pot and into the sauce.
- Add the crushed tomatoes and fresh basil (if using) to the pot, turn the heat down to low, place a lid slightly ajar on the pot, and allow the sauce to simmer for at least one hour.
- Taste, adjust seasonings as needed, puree with a hand blender (if desired) and serve.