Did you forget to do something special for Mother’s Day? Do you have a second or third date with someone you’re trying to impress? Or do you just want a new hobby to be more self-sufficient and make a delicious meal? An easy sauce recipe is all it takes.
I love to cook. I’m not a master chef, and I’ve never taken as much as a single cooking class (I barely made it through Home Ec). But there’s something incredibly forgiving about Italian food that it doesn’t take formal culinary training to absolutely nail.
My grandmother was a fantastic cook, and although she wasn’t Italian by birth, learning from my very Sicilian great-grandmother made her one of the best cooks I’ve ever known. And when I first stumbled upon this easy sauce recipe, the flavor reminded me so much of hers that I’ve been making it a few times each month ever since. And, this easy sauce recipe is all about versatility.
So let’s dig in. But, recognize that every time you read the word “sauce,” you’re probably saying it wrong. It’s not “soss;” it’s “saww-ess.” Capisci? Moving on.
This sauce is so easy that it literally takes 7 (optionally 8) ingredients. And, it makes so much that you’ll be able to save some for later in the week or give it away.
- A large can of San Marzano tomatoes (peeled or crushed)
- One head of garlic
- One large white onion
- Olive oil
- Red pepper flakes (optional)
I can’t stress the importance of buying good, quality olive oil. The crap in the clear bottle won’t cut it, no matter how Italian the brand name sounds.
Also, “crushed tomatoes” or “whole tomatoes” can pound salt. You want San Marzano tomatoes, as they’re the best for sauce. I grow them each year, and fresh ones are always best, but cans are available year-round. If you can’t find San Marzano tomatoes, Roma plum tomatoes are your next best bet.
Once you get the hang of this sauce (it won’t take long, believe me), you’ll be able to add your own touches to it. It goes well with meatballs, sausages, and chicken. You can add red wine, white wine, more or less onion… Think of this easy sauce recipe as a base for all of your Italian cooking endeavors.
Making this sauce is incredibly straightforward. It only takes a few steps, a couple of pans, and about an hour. And, if you have someone over, the steps are simple enough that you can carry on a conversation and sip wine while making it.
Keep in mind that very little about this recipe is exact; it’s all to taste, and you can adjust it as you go.
Easy Sauce Recipe Step 1: Dice the onion
Peel the onion and dice it into small pieces how you see fit.
I know you’re supposed to avoid slicing into the root if you don’t want to cry like a baby, but I haven’t quite figured this out in application yet. I usually just halve the onion, make several vertical slices across the onion, avoiding the root, and then cut across those at 90 degrees. Once diced, set the onion aside in a bowl so you can move onto the garlic.
Primer’s method might work better for you, but the point is just to dice the entire onion into relatively small pieces. By the time they’re in the sauce, you’ll barely notice their texture, but you want to aim for consistency.
Easy Sauce Recipe Step 2: Dice the garlic
Peeling garlic can be a pain in the ass, but crushing it can speed up the process. I’ll usually just smack the head on the counter a time or two until it loosens up. Then I peel the head, separating each clove. Then, I’ll lay my chopping knife flat over the clove and press down until it cracks. The peels usually come off pretty easily after that.
Once you peel the garlic, dice it into small chunks. Don’t kill yourself here. Lots of great Italian dishes have visible garlic chunks. It adds a bit of rustic charm.
Easy Sauce Recipe Step 3: Fry the onion and garlic
Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. The rule is that once the oil is shimmering, it’s ready for cooking. I have no idea what the hell that means, so I just wait a minute or two until it heats up.
Once the pan and oil are hot, add the onions. You want to start frying them alone because they take longer than garlic. Fry the onion until it starts to take on a translucent, see-through appearance and taste a bit sweet. At that point, you can add the garlic and continue to stir and fry both for a little longer. You want the flavors to mingle and mix with the oil, but you don’t want anything to burn.
Easy Sauce Recipe Step 4: Prepare the tomatoes
While the onions and garlic are frying, open the can of tomatoes. If you bought crushed tomatoes, you can just go ahead and pour the can into a large pot. But, if you get peeled tomatoes like I usually do, you’ll have to crush or puree them.
If you like thinner, consistent sauces, you can take a submersion blender and puree the tomatoes until they’re smooth. This is easiest to do in the can. Just be sure the blender isn’t running before you pull it out of the tomatoes; otherwise, you’ll be tripling your clean-up.
I prefer a chunky sauce, so I use my grandmother’s 50-plus-year-old potato masher. I scoop the tomatoes out of the can and place them into the pot (otherwise, they splash when you pour them in). I then take the masher and smash the hell out of each tomato until they’re all broken down into chunks. Then I pour the rest of the tomato sauce into the pot.
Once the tomatoes are ready, put the pot on the stove and heat it over medium heat.
Easy Sauce Recipe Step 5: Add the onion and garlic to the tomatoes
Once the garlic and onions smell so good that you can’t stand it, you can turn off the heat. Usually, I just dump the entire contents of the pan into the sauce. I make sure to get all of the oil out of the pan and into the sauce as well.
Nothing fancy here: Just take a wooden spoon and mix the garlic, onion, and oil into the sauce. I like to stir every five minutes so the tomatoes on the bottom of the pot don’t burn.
Easy Sauce Recipe Step 6: Add salt, pepper, and basil
Once the garlic and onion mixture is totally incorporated and the sauce is simmering, I add salt, pepper, basil, and usually red pepper. I do this by taste, not measurement. I’ll typically add these seasonings twice: Once when the sauce starts simmering and again just a few minutes before the sauce is finished.
You’re going to let the sauce simmer, so a lot of the water will evaporate. When that happens, the flavors will intensify, so I like to wait until the sauce is almost ready to make sure it has the right salty, spicy flavor.
Tip: Use fresh basil. Trust me.
Easy Sauce Recipe Step 7: Stir and simmer
At this point, you’re going to let the sauce simmer for a little while. Just stir it every few minutes to make sure it’s not burning. This step usually takes me about 35 to 45 minutes, but I like a sauce with a medium thickness. If you like a thinner sauce that’s a bit watery, 25 minutes is probably where you want to be. If you like a thick sauce, you can let it go for an hour or so.
Just remember that the sauce will seem more watery than it actually is. Once you remove the pot from the heat, a lot of that water will reabsorb into the sauce. If you find it’s not thick enough, set it back on the burner for another 20 to 30 minutes until you’re happy with the consistency.
If you’re making pasta, you can reserve a cup of the boiled pasta water and add a bit to the sauce. The starchy water will thicken the sauce a bit and help it stick to the pasta.
Once you’re happy with the consistency, the sauce is yours to enjoy.
Easy Sauce Recipe: How to use it
This sauce is super flexible. You can use it to make homemade pizza, spaghetti and meatballs, or even for a chicken or eggplant parmesan recipe. I’ll even toast a piece of Italian bread and top it off with a few spoonfuls. The flavor is just so good.
Anything that you’ve been using jar sauce for, this sauce will do better. It’s to the point where I won’t even eat jar sauce anymore. There just isn’t a brand that tastes as good as this recipe. Plus, this sauce doesn’t contain any extra sugar or preservatives, so if that matters to you, it checks those boxes as well.
Our favorite use for this sauce is definitely pizza, and making a great pizza is a badass skill. A little bit goes a long way, and the flavor is amazing. If you really want to make up for boogering up Mother’s Day or you need to impress a date, some homemade pizza is a can’t-miss.
Easy Sauce Recipe FAQs
How do you make your own sauce?
Making your own sauce is easy. All you need is olive oil, garlic, onion, a can of tomatoes, salt, pepper, red pepper, and basil.
- Start by dicing and frying the onion and garlic in olive oil
- Pour the tomatoes into a pot and mash them
- Heat the pot of tomatoes on medium heat
- Add onions and garlic to the pot and stir
- Season with salt, pepper, and basil to taste
- Allow to simmer for 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the desired consistency
What is the best tomato for tomato sauce?
Chefs prefer San Marzano tomatoes for making sauce. They have fewer seeds than most other tomatoes and plenty of flesh, so they thicken nicely and provide lots of authentic Italian flavor. Roma plum tomatoes are also common, but San Marzanos are the favorite.
Can you use slicing tomatoes for sauce?
It pains every shred of my Italian DNA to admit it, but yes, you can use slicing tomatoes for sauce. But understanding that these tomatoes have much higher water content than a San Marzano or Roma, so you’ll have to simmer the sauce much longer.