Elevate your pasta game with this homemade tomato sauce

photo of tomato sauce in glass bowl
Dennis Klein/Creative Commons

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Tomato sauce is one of the five mother sauces of French cuisine, giving it enough street cred to justify making it from scratch at least once. Sure, you could head over to the grocery store and buy a jar of Rao’s Homemade Marinara Sauce (consistently the best on store shelves in my opinion), but cooking this sauce from scratch helps hone some basic skills such as deglazing with wine, using your sense of smell as you cook and adjusting consistency and taste to your liking. 

Ingredients

  • Two 28-ounce cans whole peeled tomatoes, preferably San Marzano Protected Designation of Origin
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 shallots, peeled
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2-3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • Red wine (optional)
  • Dried Italian herb mix (oregano, thyme or rosemary alone are fine substitutes)
  • Red chili flakes
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • Fresh sprig basil and a Parmesan cheese rind (optional)

Directions

  1. Add 2-3 turns of olive oil to a large pot over medium-high heat.
  2. Finely chop the garlic and shallots.
  3. Add the garlic to the pot and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  4. Add the chopped shallot, and cook until softened.
  5. Add the dried herbs, red chili flakes and 2 to 3 tablespoons of tomato paste, and stir to coat.
  6. Optionally, add one generous turn of red wine to the pot, and reduce the mixture until the alcohol smell dissipates completely.
  7. Add the whole peeled tomatoes, discarding any basil leaves that were in the can.
  8. Crush the tomatoes against the side of the pot until the sauce reaches your preferred texture.
  9. Optionally, add a sprig of basil and a parmesan cheese rind. Consider this a reminder that you should be storing Parmesan rinds in the freezer once you reach the end of a wedge!
  10. Loosely cover the pot with a lid, and turn the heat to low.
  11. Continue to simmer for anywhere from 30 minutes to more than an hour, adjusting the lid as necessary to prevent excess reduction of the sauce.
  12. Remove the sprig of basil and what’s left of the Parmesan rind if you added them earlier.
  13. Taste your sauce, and generously season with salt and pepper.
  14. Add the butter, and stir until fully incorporated.

Adding butter to your sauce is admittedly a nontraditional step, but hey, fat equals flavor. This sauce also stores really well; I find that a day or two in the fridge actually helps the flavors meld together and develop even more complexity in taste. If you happen to have ice cube trays on hand, you could also freeze the sauce into individual cubes and just nuke a few in the microwave while you heat up some pasta at the end of a long day. This recipe is sure to prove that though it requires a bit of extra effort, homemade tomato sauce is worlds better than store-bought.

Contact Abhi Varma at [email protected].