Tomato sauce is one of those recipes that intimidates lots of home cooks. After all, legacy stories of Italian Nonnas passing down their secret recipes for three-day simmered sauces might intimidate almost anyone. After all, who has time after a busy workday to stand over the stove and stir counterclockwise exactly three times per minute?
At least, that’s what I imagined tomato sauce must be like before I learned how to make my own – and so can you. Turns out, you just need three basic ingredients: tomato paste, canned tomatoes, and dried herbs or spices, in addition to a minimal amount of fat (like olive oil or butter) – and even that’s not strictly necessary. You likely already have these ingredients in your cupboard, and if you don’t, you can buy them for less than half of what a jar of sauce costs.
This recipe is a bit of a “blank canvas.” It makes a super simple, delicious tomato sauce. It begins by sauteéing tomato paste in a bit of olive oil or butter. Since tomato paste is a hyper-concentrated form of tomato, it will give your sauce a deep tomato flavor as if it has been simmering all day. Then, crushed tomatoes form the body of the sauce, and a mixture of Italian herbs – available pre-mixed in the spice aisle – adds gourmet flavor to your sauce. If you want to jazz it up, you can always add a bit of flair – a chopped onion, some minced garlic, fresh herbs – still an easy recipe, but with a little more pizzazz.
Since this recipe uses only three ingredients, if you’re doing the shopping for it, (rather than grabbing out whatever is in your pantry already), try and get high-quality ingredients. Look for tomato paste in a tube rather than in a can, because it’s easier to store. If you can only find canned tomato paste, you can freeze the excess by placing individual tablespoons on a sheet of aluminum foil and freezing them – you preserve the tomato paste, and already have pre-portioned tomato paste for your next recipe!
Your crushed tomatoes are the base of your sauce, so you want high-quality tomatoes if possible. Look for brands that are sold in cardboard boxes rather than cans, as cans can occasionally impart a metallic flavor. Whole tomatoes also work in this recipe, but you’ll need to crush them by hand or in a food processor to your desired consistency. If you like chunky sauce, however, this might be better for you!
Finally, you’ll want to buy a little jar of Italian herbs; it’s sometimes labeled at the grocery store as Italian seasoning. Typically, they include a mixture of basil, oregano, marjoram, thyme, and rosemary. It’s a classic combination that you might already have in your cabinet, but you can always create your own by mixing equal parts of these herbs (or unequal parts, if you prefer some herbs to others!).