Simple Tomato Sauce


My grandmother made two kinds of tomato sauce. Sunday’s sauce, which was used for spaghetti and meatballs (we ate this every Sunday for years) and a simple sauce for dishes such as, macaroni and peas, pasta alla Norma and melanzane alla Parmgiana.

Sunday’s sauce was always made in the same enormous pot that simmered on the stove for hours. It needed little attention, except for the occasional stirring, leaving my grandmother and I to focus on the making of meatballs.

This is a versatile sauce that I keep in the freezer. I use it with my homemade ricotta gnocchi, frittate and anything that is complemented by a lightly flavored tomato sauce.

When a sauce has only a few ingredients, the quality of the ingredients are essential. San Marzano, a variety of plum tomatoes from Campania, are tart flavorful canned tomatoes and my tomatoes of choice. Using fresh garlic and a good quality olive oil goes without saying.


  • 2 (28-ounce) cans San Marzano tomatoes or a good quality tomato purée
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 onion
  • 3 large garlic cloves, smashed
  • 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • Black pepper, freshly ground
  • 1+ teaspoon sugar
  1. Using a large pot, add the tomatoes with their juice. If you’re using San Marzano, squish them with your hands to break them up.
  2. Peel the onion, slice in half and add to the tomatoes.
  3. Add the garlic, extra virgin olive oil, salt and a several grinds of pepper. Depending on the acidity of the tomatoes and your taste-buds, you will add 1-3 teaspoons of sugar (my grandmother always added sugar).
  4. Pour in the water, give the mixture a stir and bring to a boil.
  5. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cook 3 hours.
  6. Remove the onion and garlic (reserve for another use, I chopped them and added to a risotto).
  7. Taste the sauce, add additional salt and pepper if necessary.
  8. At this point you can puree the sauce in a blender if you wish. I use it as is sometimes because it’s rather rustic. If I want a more delicate sauce, I use the blender.






San Marzano tomatoes

Homemade Ricotta
Ricotta Gnocchi