How to Make No-Recipe Tomato Sauce

Delicious, simple sauce that would make an Italian grandmother proud.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a family red sauce recipe handed down to them by their Italian grandmother, but that doesn't mean you can't make a killer tomato sauce. In fact, a great tomato sauce is so simple that it really doesn't even require a recipe at all. With just a few ingredients and about 30 minutes, you can make a basic tomato sauce that tastes like it took all day to cook and generations to perfect. For the video guide, click here.

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1 Know the Basics

The body of a basic red sauce is made with two ingredients: crushed tomatoes and tomato paste. Crushed tomatoes add texture and make up the volume of the sauce, while tomato paste provides that deep, concentrated tomato flavor that's usually achieved by simmering the sauce all day long. Tomato paste is highly concentrated, so you'll only need a couple of tablespoons for every 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes.


2 Begin with Aromatics

To give your red sauce more depth, begin with aromatics. One small onion and a couple cloves of garlic is enough to provide savory base notes that balance the bright acidic flavors of the tomatoes. If you're a garlic lover, feel free to throw in a couple extra cloves, or use oven-roasted garlic for a sweeter flavor. Simmer the diced onions and minced garlic in olive oil over medium-low heat until soft (about five minutes). For a lighter sauce, use less olive oil (a couple tablespoons) or add a few extra glugs of oil to make the sauce extra-rich (about 1/4 cup).

3 Add Tomato Paste

Once the onion and garlic are soft, stir in the tomato paste. Because tomato paste is thick, melting it into the hot oil makes it easier to incorporate with the crushed tomatoes. For a sweeter flavor, you can stir and cook the tomato paste at this step for a few minutes to allow the natural sugars in the tomato paste to caramelize. The tomato paste will take on a slightly darker hue as the sugars caramelize.

4 Add Tomatoes and Herbs

Lastly, add the crushed tomatoes and any herbs and spices you desire. My basic go-to tomato sauce spice mix includes 1/2 teaspoon of both basil and oregano, a pinch of crushed red pepper and a healthy dose of freshly cracked pepper. Stir the spices into the sauce and allow it to come to a simmer.


5 Simmer the Sauce

Allow the sauce to simmer over low heat for 15 – 30 minutes, depending on how thick you like your sauce. The flavor will also deepen as the sauce thickens. Use a splatter screen or a slightly cocked lid to prevent the thick sauce from splattering, while allowing steam to evaporate. Once the sauce has thickened to your desired consistency, season with salt to taste (about 1/4 teaspoon).

6 Enjoy or Save for Later

Your thick, homemade red sauce is ready to slather over al dente pasta, bake into a lasagna or use as a sauce on your favorite pizza. The sauce can be stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for about five days, or frozen for four to six months. Want to customize your sauce? Try adding vodka and cream, sautéed mushrooms, parmesan, roasted red peppers or whatever your taste buds crave. Remember, this sauce is flexible and forgiving, so feel free to experiment and make it your own!

Want to see the sauce being made? Watch the video for more tips and tricks.

About Budget Bytes

Beth from Budget Bytes is a food lover and a number cruncher who dishes up  healthy recipes on her blog that won't put a huge dent in your wallet. She is the author of the cookbook, Budget Bytes: Over 100 Easy Delicious Recipes to Slash Your Grocery Bill in Half, and she also works as a microbiologist in a hospital laboratory. Follow her on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.