Italian Tomato Sauce, Simple but Perfect

This sauce is sufficient for 12 to 16 ounces of pasta. It’s made to shine when there are few additional ingredients but, of course, you could use it as an ingredient in other Italian dishes: soups and stews, ragus and lasagne, to name a few. 

Course Ingredients
Cuisine Italian
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Servings 2 cups


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 can best-quality canned tomatoes in puree*
  • Sea salt or kosher salt to taste
  • ¼ cup chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 dashes ground red pepper or several grindings black pepper
  • Up to ½ teaspoon sugar optional


  1. Put olive oil and garlic in a wide-bottomed deep skillet or saucepan. Heat over medium heat until garlic sizzles and color changes to golden; take care not to burn it.
  2. Add tomatoes to pan, breaking them up with a wooden spoon as they begin to sizzle. Season with 1 teaspoon salt.
  3. Reduce heat and simmer tomatoes, partially covered, for 7 to 8 minutes, until they have softened and collapsed. Stir in parsley, butter and red pepper until butter melts.

  4. Turn off heat and let tomatoes cool to warm.
  5. Put tomato mixture through a food mill fitted with the coarse blade. Alternatively, pulse in a food blender until the tomato sauce is a uniformly coarse consistency.
  6. Taste sauce and add more salt or pepper as needed. If the sauce tastes too acidic, add a little sugar.

Recipe Notes

• San Marzano refers to a zone around Naples known for its superlative plum tomatoes. But the term also refers to the variety of tomato, which might be grown elsewhere, such as in California. I favor tomatoes grown in Italy but am open to any tomatoes grown and canned with care. Cento, Anna, La Regina and Vantia are brands I’ve used and liked.