Tomato and Basil Sauce


Mangia Pasta!

Published by William Morrow

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

Canned tomato sauce will never measure up to homemade, a relatively simple undertaking that is much less costly than buying jarred types, which are too full of insipid dried herbs, and high in sodium and preservatives. If you want to make fresh tomato sauce, consider using plum varieties such as Roma or San Marzano for their sweetness and meatiness. If you are using canned plum tomatoes, choose those that are imported from Italy. Cherry tomatoes, known as pomodorini in Italy, can also be used; this is a common practice in Puglia. In addition to the tomatoes, use a good extra virgin olive oil that is not too fruity, or it will overwhelm the tomato flavor. The rest of the ingredients are the cook’s whim; some begin with a battuto, a finely minced combination of celery, onion, garlic, and carrots. These are the odori, or flavor enhancers, which are cooked first in the olive oil before adding the tomatoes. Others saute only onions and garlic in olive oil, then add tomatoes, fresh basil, salt, pepper, sometimes a pinch of sugar, and a little red wine. 70 make a spicy tomato sauce, hot red pepper, either fresh or in dried flake form, is added. An important thing to remember is that meatless tomato sauce does not need to cook for very long, 15 minutes at most. Tomato sauces that simmer for hours usually have the addition of a tough cut of meat such as round steak, spare ribs, or a combination of meats that is then served at the secondo, the second course. The following recipe is a basic all-purpose meatless sauce. It can be made in large quantities and frozen for months. Use the sauce on pasta, with meat, fowl, or fish, and for pizza and calzones.



Total Timeunder 1 hour

Make Ahead RecipeYes

Kid FriendlyYes

Type of Dishpasta sauce, sauces


  • 5 pounds ripe plum tomatoes or three 28-ounce cans crushed plum tomatoes with their liquid
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2/3 cup diced onion
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1½ cups dry red wine
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fine sea salt or to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 6 to 8 large sprigs fresh basil


  1. If using fresh tomatoes, core them, cut them into coarse chunks, and puree them in a food processor, blender, or food mill until smooth. Strain the fresh or canned tomatoes through a fine sieve to remove the skins and seeds. Set aside.

  2. Heat the olive oil in a large pot and cook the onion over medium heat, stirring, until soft. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until it becomes soft. Do not let the garlic brown or an acrid taste will be imparted to the sauce. Pour in the tomatoes and wine and stir to combine. Add the remaining ingredients, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until thickened, about 15 minutes.


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