Mom's Tomato Sauce

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This basic sauce is classic and tasty all on its own, or can become the starter for any variety of tomato-based sauce. It's simple to make, and the key is using good-quality ingredients.

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 20+ minutes

Serves: 4

Dietary guidance: v v 

Tags: pasta · italian · sauce ·


1 can good-quality whole peeled or chopped tomatoes. I like Pomi, Muir Glen Organic, or anything that contains San Marzano tomatoes. Normally I wouldn't use chopped tomatoes, but the Pomi ones are pretty nice.
3-4 large cloves of garlic, chopped fairly finely
1 smallish yellow onion, also chopped into small pieces
fresh herbs - flat-leaf parsley, basil, and oregano are the trinity.
(You can easily get by with just the parsley, however.)
red wine or cooking marsala
olive oil
salt & pepper


1. Coat the bottom of your saucepan with olive oil, and heat over a medium flame. Add garlic, allow to season the oil, and then add onions. Sweat the onions until softened.

2. Add tomatoes, use spoon to break up if they're the whole peeled kind. Add a fair dollop of red wine at this point (if you're using a big wooden spoon, maybe 3 spoonfuls). Add herbs, and salt and pepper to taste.

3. Let simmer for at least 20 minutes. (Towards the end, if you find you need more liquid, add a little of the starchy water from your pasta pot.) A minute or two before finishing add another dash of red wine for extra flavor.

Serve with real Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino cheese. The kind in the block that you grate yourself. It's totally worth it.

+ WITH MUSHROOMS: If making a mushroom sauce, add your chopped mushrooms with the onions and let them sweat together.

+ WITH HOT PEPPER: If you're making spicy sauce, I've found the best time to add the hot pepper is with the onions so that even just a little bit of pepper will really penetrate the sauce well. Use whole dried peppers so that you can shake out the (indigestible and unpalatable) seeds before crumbling the pepper into the pan.

+ WITH SAUSAGE: Cut sweet Italian sausages into 1" lengths and remove outer casing. Brown in pan before adding garlic and onions, then proceed as normal. (For sauce I prefer the flavor of sweet sausages; if I want heat, I add crushed red pepper separately.)

+ WITH CREAM: For a tomato-cream sauce, add heavy cream at the very end, just before taking sauce off the heat.

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