I married into an Italian family, and as such, several things are a given:
- Family gatherings will be loud
- There will always be a faint aroma of basil and garlic in the house
- Learning to make a delicious and authentic homemade pasta sauce is high on the to-do list for a new wife
Why Homemade Pasta Sauce?
When I married into the family, I became privy to Nonna’s (my husband’s grandmother) pasta sauce recipe that uses pre-canned tomato sauce and diced tomatoes (that she probably canned herself). One year I attempted to mimic the recipe using fresh tomatoes since we had an abundance from our garden and came up with my own pasta sauce recipe.
I’m sharing my variations of both today:
How to Make Pasta Sauce from Fresh or Canned Tomatoes
I you are working from fresh tomatoes, use the first recipe. If you are using canned tomatoes, use the second.
While “Nonna’s Recipe” is still the gold standard of pasta sauce in our family, I’m not sure I’m allowed to share the secret recipe so I’m sharing my variations instead. I know that I can share one part of her secret, which is to throw a piece of a carrot into the sauce while it is cooking to absorb the acidity of the tomatoes and create a sweeter sauce. This also removes the need for a sweetener to cut down the acidity.
Homemade Pasta Sauce from Fresh Tomatoes
- 5 pounds of fresh tomatoes, peeled and seeded (to peel, cut a small "x" on the top and drop in to boiling water for 10 seconds and drop in to an ice bath. Skin will easily peel off)
- ¼ cup olive oil (or tallow)
- 3 medium onions, diced
- 8 cloves of fresh garlic (or more to taste), finely minced
- ⅓ cup fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
- 1 sprig of fresh thyme leaves (or ½ tsp dried)
- 1 sprig of fresh oregano (or 1 teaspoon dried oregano)
- 2 bay leaves (remove when done)
- 2 sprigs of parsley (or 1 tsp dried)
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 carrot (1/2 should be grated and added to sauce, the other half should be added at the end of cooking and then removed)
- Optional: 1 tablespoon honey
- Pour the olive oil into a large stockpot over medium heat.
- Add diced onions, garlic and grated carrots.
- Saute for 6-8 minutes or until onions are translucent and tender.
- Add tomatoes, chopped basil leaves, oregano, thyme bay leaves, parsley and sea salt.
- Simmer on low heat for 2-3 hours or until cooked down and starting to darken.
- Add carrot piece for the last 30 minutes to absorb acidity.
- Remove sprigs of herbs and piece of carrot.
- Optional: Use an immersion blender to puree sauce until smooth (for a thicker sauce, skip this step.
- Use fresh or store in the fridge up to 1 week, or can it according to your canner's instructions for tomato products.
10-Minute Pasta Sauce from Canned Tomatoes
If a two-hour simmer time isn’t your thing, this 10-minute recipe tastes almost as good and cooks in much less time. This is my go-to on a busy night when I have 20 minutes to turn a pound of ground beef into dinner. We serve with zucchini or other vegetable noodles for a great flavor.
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 8 cloves fresh garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 (28-ounce) cans or jars of whole, crushed or stewed tomatoes (or 4 15-ounce cans)
- 1 (6-ounce) can or jar of tomato paste
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon dried basil leaves (or 1/4 cup fresh, finely chopped)
- 2 bay leaves (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (optional)
- salt and pepper to taste
- Heat the olive oil in a medium size pot over medium heat. Add onions and saute until soft, about 5 minutes
- Add garlic and saute another minute.
- Then, add tomatoes, tomato paste, oregano, basil, bay leaves, thyme and salt/pepper.
- Bring to a boil and immediately reduce to a simmer.
- Simmer for 10-15 minutes to let flavors meld. (Can simmer longer if desired for a thicker sauce with a deeper flavor).
- Serve over pasta of choice.
- Optional: for a thinner sauce that works better for pizza, chicken parmesan, etc, use an immersion blender to blend until smooth.
How to Use Homemade Pasta Sauce
You probably already have a recipe in mind since you’re reading this post, but this is endlessly versatile and great in many recipes. The fresh tomato recipe variation is great for tomato season, and I often can any extras to use in the winter.
I use this sauce in:
- Homemade meat sauce by adding 1-2 pounds of browned ground beef and serving over zucchini or shirataki noodles
- Zucchini Lasagna
- Chicken Cacciatore (in place of the tomato sauce/paste/spices)
- Chicken Parmesan
How to Can Your Own Pasta Sauce
You can easily make a large batch of either of these sauces and can it for future use. I often do this when we have an abundance of tomatoes from the garden. There is really no reason to can the recipe made from canned tomatoes, since it is so quick to whip up and there is no need for the extra step.
Canning Instructions for Homemade Tomato Sauce
I follow these instructions for canning my homemade tomato sauce. There is some debate if it is ok to water bath can tomato products or not. The general consensus seems to be that tomatoes are iffy for water bath canning because the pH is not quite acidic enough. One solution is to add 1 teaspoon of lemon juice per quart for canning or check the pH to make sure it is 4.4 or below.
Personally, I prefer to just pressure can according to my pressure canner instructions as the pressure is enough to kill any botulism spores and is considered safe for tomatoes.
How to Freeze Homemade Tomato Sauce
If canning isn’t your thing, you can also freeze this homemade sauce. I like to freeze in quart size glass mason jars (here’s how) or metal containers, to avoid plastic. You can also freeze this sauce in any container once it has cooled.
Do you make your own pasta sauce or use the store-bought canned variety? Share below!