Make this classic Italian tomato sauce recipe for an incredibly rich tomato sauce that can be served with pasta or meatballs and spread onto pizza bases or parmas and you’ll never buy a store-bought jar of ready-made Italian pasta sauce again. Quick and easy, it tastes like it’s been simmering for hours. The key ingredient: a can of tomatoes.
This quick and easy Italian tomato sauce recipe for pasta, meatballs, pizza, and parmas will make you a deliciously rich homemade tomato sauce based on the classic Italian tomato pasta sauce made in kitchens all over Italy every single day – with just a few tiny tweaks I’ll explain below.
This recipe gets used in my juicy Italian meatballs recipe, my spaghetti with meatballs recipe and my recipe for Italian-Australian chicken parmigiana or chicken parma, as we call the breaded chicken cutlets topped with tomato sauce and mozzarella.
Before I tell you about my rich Italian tomato sauce recipe, I have to tell you that in Italy there is no such thing as one all-purpose tomato sauce, rather there are tomato sauces, passatas and tomato pastes that each have different uses and I’ll come back to that in a future post.
But we are not in Italy and we don’t have access to an abundance of beautiful, plump, ripe Italian tomatoes to make our own passata, let alone fresh Italian basil most of the time, so my rich Italian tomato sauce recipe serves us very well.
My recipe is actually quite similar to the classic Italian tomato sauce recipe for sugo al pomodoro – the same tomato pasta sauce that our long-time readers might remember Maria, the caretaker of the trullo we stayed at in Alberobello, Puglia, teaching Terence after his lessons in making orecchiette.
I’ll tell you more about Maria’s sugo al pomodoro and this homemade Italian tomato sauce recipe below. My recipe is the first in a series of posts on some of our favourite classic Italian-style recipes.
Now before I tell you about our Italian tomato sauce recipe, I have a favour to ask. Grantourismo is reader-funded. If you’ve cooked our recipes and enjoyed them, please consider supporting Grantourismo by supporting our epic Cambodian cuisine history and cookbook on Patreon, which you can do for as little as the price of a coffee. Or you could buy us a coffee and we’ll use our coffee money to buy cooking ingredients for recipe testing.
Another option is to use links on our site to buy travel insurance, rent a car or campervan or motorhome, book accommodation, or book a tour on Klook or Get Your Guide. Or buy something on Amazon, such as these cookbooks for culinary travellers, James Beard award-winning cookbooks, cookbooks by Australian chefs, classic cookbooks for serious cooks, travel books to inspire wanderlust, and gifts for Asian food lovers and picnic lovers. We may earn a small commission but you won’t pay any extra.
Lastly, you could browse our Grantourismo store for gifts for food lovers, including food themed reusable cloth face masks designed with Terence’s images. Now let me tell you all about my Italian tomato sauce recipe.
Italian Tomato Sauce Recipe for Pasta, Pizza, Meatballs and Parmas
This quick and easy Italian tomato sauce recipe will make you an amazingly rich homemade tomato sauce that you can use for pasta, meatballs, pizza, and parmas. It’s based on the traditional Italian tomato pasta sauce that’s cooked every day in homes all over Italy – with just a few teensy tweaks.
I’ve been making this Italian style tomato sauce as long as I’ve been cooking Italian food, which is about as long as I’ve been cooking full stop, and it’s based on the tomato pasta sauce my uncle used to make – an uncle who used to test if his spaghetti was ready by flinging a strand up to the ceiling and seeing if it stuck!
It’s hard to beat Maria’s sugo al pomodoro recipe which I linked to above. That was easily the best Italian tomato pasta sauce we’d ever eaten in our lives. Which is saying something, considering that prior to that Puglia trip we’d criss-crossed Italy many times over more than a decade, both for holidays and work, researching and writing guides.
That means we’d tasted thousands of Italian tomato-based pasta sauces in Italy, not to mention the countless times we’d eaten Italian food abroad, as well as cooked by Italians and Italian-Australians back home in Australia. It was that good!
But it’s impossible to recreate Maria’s sugo al pomodoro as it was made with Maria’s own home-grown ingredients. Almost everything came from Maria’s Alberobello farm, from the massive bunch of 9-month old vine-ripened cherry tomatoes that she hung up in our kitchen to the olive oil she gave us, made from olives in her own orchard, which she pressed herself.
If the ingredients for Maria’s Italian tomato sauce recipe didn’t come from her own farm, it came from just outside our kitchen door, from the garden of the Alberobello trullo we were staying in. Mid-way through demonstrating her sugo al pomodoro recipe, Maria popped outside to pick some fresh basil and some oloro or fresh bay leaves off a laurel tree.
That’s hard to beat, unless you live in Italy – or have your own farm in a Mediterranean style climate where you age your own home-grown tomatoes, grow your own basil, and make your own olive oil from olives in your own orchard, and so on.
Sadly, we don’t have any of those here in tropical Cambodia! Which is why outside Italy – or Mediterranean Europe or Australia – I use this easy Italian tomato sauce recipe that I’ve been making for decades, and it’s the next best thing.
This Italian tomato sauce recipe has the simplicity of Maria’s sugo al pomodoro for starters. I’ve noticed over the years that so many homemade tomato pasta sauce recipes have a tendency to include so many ingredients – all kinds of dried herbs, loads of spices and other seasonings, cheeses, and so on.
Which is perfectly fine if you’re making a cheesy herby tomato pasta sauce recipe, but it shouldn’t be called an Italian tomato sauce recipe. If you read Terence’s story about his cooking lesson with Maria you would have noticed that she questioned the ingredients Terence used in his tomato pasta sauce.
Simplicity is what Italian cooking is all about, because recipes don’t need to be overly complicated when you have such fantastic fresh ingredients that are full of flavour and you follow cooking Italian techniques.
So what are my tweaks to the classic Italian tomato pasta sauce recipe? I’ll tell you in my tips below.
Tips to Making this Italian Tomato Sauce Recipe
Just a few tips to making this Italian tomato pasta sauce recipe. Let’s start with the tomatoes. I’ve skipped fresh tomatoes altogether as it’s not always possible for many of us to get fresh tomatoes of the quality available in Italy. We certainly can’t get them here in Cambodia.
I also wanted to show you how quick and easy it is to make an incredibly rich Italian tomato pasta sauce. There’s no need to simmer the sauce for hours. The not-so-secret secret is to cook it quickly on high heat. Whereas if you use fresh tomatoes that aren’t great, it’s going to take you some time to reduce the tomatoes.
Spend any time with Italian home-cooks like Maria and you’ll learn that fresh is always best – except when it comes to tomatoes. That’s not to say that tinned tomatoes are necessarily better than fresh tomatoes. In most cases in Italy, they’re not.
But a good Italian canned tomato brand will can top quality tomatoes at their peak, preserving their sweetness and robust flavours, which can be hard to match unless you’re growing your own tomatoes or can source the best quality tomatoes, such as the vine-ripened tomatoes that Maria gave us. Even Maria tossed a tin of tomatoes into her sugo al pomodoro – well, three quarters of a tin.
My recipe calls for two tins of tomatoes, as well as a little tomato paste, which Maria’s sugo de pomodoro definitely doesn’t include to make up for the fact that I don’t have access to beautiful aged vine-ripened tomatoes and you might not either.
If you can’t source good quality canned Italian tomatoes – look at them and taste them from the tin and you’ll quickly be able to ascertain the quality; if they’re not a vibrant red colour and are more orange-red with a little yellow-green and they taste a tad acidic, then they’re not going to be great – then add the optional sugar and maybe a little extra salt.
Next up is my post on using this tomato sauce with Italian-style meatballs and not just any meatballs but the juiciest most flavourful Italian-style meatballs you’ll ever make.
Italian Tomato Sauce Recipe
- 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 6 garlic cloves peeled and lightly pounded in a mortar and pestle
- ½ tsp chilli flakes
- 1 large whole onion peeled, finely diced
- 2 400 g cans crushed tomatoes best quality you can source
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp sugar – optional
- 1 tbsp fresh basil leaves torn or roughly chopped – optional
- To a large frying pan or skillet, over medium-high heat, add the extra virgin olive oil and heat, then add the garlic cloves and fry for a minute or so until fragrant, then add the chilli flakes, stirring well with a wooden spoon or spatula to combine.
- When the garlic cloves start to brown and sizzle and splutter, remove the cloves and set them aside but do not discard.
- Immediately add the finely diced onions to the pan and fry, stirring only occasionally so the onions don’t burn and adjusting the heat as necessary, until they’re soft, almost translucent and aromatic.
- Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and sea salt, and stir to combine well. If you’re a garlic lover, return the garlic cloves to the sauce now; if you’re not, leave them out.
- Turn the heat to high so the sauce is bubbling. It will reduce fairly quickly on high heat, so stir the sauce occasionally.
- When the tomato sauce is thick and luscious, turn the heat to low, taste, and adjust the seasoning, adding more salt if needed; if it’s a little acidic, add some sugar. If you’re a fan of basil, add the leaves now and stir to combine.
- If serving with pasta or meatballs – add the cooked pasta and/or meatballs to the pan and simmer a little before plating. Otherwise, remove from the heat, leave to cool, then transfer to a jar and refrigerate for later use. It’s fantastic spread onto pizza or parmas.
Please do let us know in the comments below if you make my Italian tomato sauce recipe, as we’d love to know how it turns out for you.