Homemade pasta sauce with fresh or canned tomatoes is truly delicious and it’s really flexible based on the ingredients you have on hand. Make a big batch and can it up for later and you’ll know exactly what’s in yours.Jump to Recipe
I’ve been telling people for years how simple pasta sauce is to make. You can do it about a thousand different ways and it still works out fine–you can barely mess it up (though I bet a few of you will try). 😉
Prego/Ragu lovers out there, I’d suggest you keep hunting for a recipe if that’s the flavor you’re after because this version is made of just what needs to be there: good tomatoes, olive oil and just a few herbs.
Prego is nasty y’all.
How to use fresh or canned tomatoes
To use fresh tomatoes:
This is my favorite way to make homemade pasta sauce! Use ripe, fresh tomatoes. You’ll need to blanche them in hot water to remove the skins (steps to follow) then remove the seeds and pulp. This is really important so your sauce isn’t watery. Then coarsely chop, mash with your hands or use a food processor to get them almost pureed (or really small) before cooking.
To use canned tomatoes:
Choose a good quality San Marzano tomato. That’s not a brand, it’s a type of tomato. There are lots of brands who make them. Get two or three big 35 ounce cans. The tomatoes will be whole inside, just use kitchen shears to cut, or your hands to mash the tomatoes up smaller. The kids love helping with this! Make sure to check your tomatoes for added salt. You will need to adjust how much salt you add to your sauce if your tomatoes have been salted.
How to use dry or fresh herbs
I’m a HUGE supporter of fresh herbs for homemade pasta sauce if you can. You really only need basil, garlic and onions for a delicious sauce but I do occasionally add thyme, oregano and fresh parsley. They are totally optional.
For dried herbs you can use garlic and onion powder, and dried basil but you’ll want to use a lot less than fresh–at least half as much. I’d recommend starting small and adding it as you go. You can always put in more but you can’t take it out. Italian seasoning is also good to use if you have that on hand.
Tips for a thick sauce that’s not watery
- You’re going to have to simmer the crud out of it. It’s not abnormal for me to simmer mine for two hours low and slow.
- Use a pot that’s shallow and wide. The more surface area that’s exposed to the air, the more that will evaporate.
- Make sure you removed the pulp and seeds from your tomatoes so you’re only working with the “meat”. You won’t get every single seed but do the best you can.
- Remember to stir often while your sauce is simmering. Keep it on fairly low–because tomatoes will scorch/burn on the bottom if you leave it unattended too long without stirring.
Pasta sauce step by step
Step 1: If you’re using fresh tomatoes you’ll need to blanche them. (Canned tomato users can skip down to step 2) Heat a large pot of water to boiling. (1) Cut a small, shallow “X” in the top of each tomato (not the stem end). Drop the tomatoes gently into the water in batches for 30-45 seconds until the skins just start to peel. (2) Transfer them to a sink of cold water.
(3) Peel away the skins and cut out the core. (4) Use your thumbs to scoop out the seeds and pulp, and transfer the tomatoes to a large bowl.
Step 2: Blend or crush the tomatoes to your desired texture. I use a food processor to make mine pretty close to a puree. If you leave your tomatoes large they will take much longer to break down when you’re cooking it. At this point your tomatoes will look watery and pale pink. Don’t worry.
Step 3: Finely chop onions and garlic. Use a large pot (one that’s shallow and wide is best) or a high sided skillet and add a few tablespoons of olive oil then the onions and garlic and cook 1-2 minutes until just softened, then add the tomatoes. If you are using dried spices, we can add those to the tomatoes when we put them in the pot.
Step 4: Add herbs of your choice, salt and a dash of sugar if desired. Simmer over low, stirring often for at least one hour. Taste your sauce for seasoning. Continue cooking to your desired level of thickness. For me, it can take up to two hours. The sauce will have reduced a bit, and be darker red.
How to fix things if your sauce is “missing something”
It’s hard for me to tell you for sure what yours might be missing. Every tomato is different, every herb and seasoning different strengths. Here are my suggestions though:
- Start by taking a small amount (1/2 cup or so) of your main sauce out and put it in a small bowl.
- Sprinkle in small amounts of salt, stir and taste. Does that help? If so, you know your main pot needs more salt.
- A dash of sugar (optional) helps with the acidity if yours is too bitter.
- Try adding bits of garlic powder, onion powder or more basil as needed until your small bowl meets your expectations then add those ingredients your main pot a little at a time until it tastes the same.
How to can your pasta sauce
Disclaimer: To can your sauce, always refer to your local extension office for altitude adjustments and to verify the process.
Bring sauce to boiling, and transfer to clean pint jars. Add lids and rings and process according to your pressure canner’s steps: 20 minutes at 10 pounds pressure depending on altitude. Tomatoes are not safe to boiling water bath can without proper acidification according to new research.
Makes about 3 1/2 pints.
How to make and can homemade pasta sauce
- 5 pounds fresh tomatoes about 20 medium fresh ones or 3, 35-ounce cans canned whole tomatoes
- 3 tablespoons olive oil good quality
- 1 large onion, diced white or yellow, shallots work too OR 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 5 garlic cloves, minced OR 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley (optional)
- 1/4 cup fresh oregano (optional)
- 2 teaspoons sea salt start with 1 teaspoon and add more as needed
- 1 teaspoon sugar (optional) if your tomatoes are too acidic
- Bring several quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Slice a shallow "X" in the end opposite the stem of the tomatoes. Drop in to boiling water until the skins just start to peel–about 30 to 45 seconds and transfer to a sink of cold water to cool slightly.
- Peel away the skins, cut the core out and use your fingers to remove the seeds and pulp from the tomatoes. Place in a large bowl. If you are using canned tomatoes, open the can and use your hands to break up the tomatoes in to smaller pieces and set aside.
- Transfer the tomatoes to a food processor and process until smooth or with very few chunks (process less if you want chunks). Set aside.
- Chop the onions and garlic and set aside. In a large, heavy pot (not cast iron) heat the olive oil over medium heat 1 minute and add the onions and garlic. Sautee 1-2 minutes then add the tomatoes. They will be very watery and pale pink at this point. See Note 1 for when to use dried spices.
- Add the basil and any other herbs if you are using them. Add 1 teaspoon of salt or start with a little less and stir to combine. Bring to a gentle simmer then reduce the heat to low. Stir constantly, 1-2 hours or until thickened to your preference. Taste after 1 hour and adjust seasonings as needed.