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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Basic Tomato Sauce from Scratch

We eats lots of pasta with sauce. It's been a family dinner staple for ever. And I know we are not alone. According to the National Pasta Association, Americans consume about 29 pounds of pasta per person per year. I'm betting that a large percentage of that is eaten with sauce. Commercially-prepared tomato sauce is generally pretty inexpensive. I found that it ranges from $2.29 for a jar of Ragu to as much as $4.15 for one from Paul Servino Foods. Barilla, a brand I like, was recently on sale at $3.00 for two jars. The ingredients are fairly straight-forward, though quite a few are made with soy bean oil and dehydrated onions, garlic and herbs. I prefer olive oil and fresh herbs. Another problem is that the salt content can be quite high.
Even though commercial sauce can be a bargain, I like to make my own. It just tastes so much better. And in the summer months, when I use home-grown onions and parsley, along with fresh tomatoes from the garden, I know that the cost is pennies. In the winter, I use jars of home-canned tomato sauce that we "put up" at a big gathering of my brother-in-law's family over Labor Day weekend. The tomatoes are from local growers in New Jersey. I feel good about supporting area farmers and I know that the transportation distances for the tomatoes are relatively low. I know exactly what is in the sauce - tomatoes and home-grown basil, nothing more -  and I can re-use, not just recyle, the jars and ring lids (the flat lid get recycled as it can not be used more than once for safety reasons).

Here is my recipe for home-made tomato sauce:
2 tbs. olive oil
1 med. onion chopped
1 (or more depending on your preference) garlic clove(s) pressed or chopped fine
1 qt. tomato sauce (just tomatoes, maybe with a basil leaf or two)
1-2 tbs. tomato paste (I used the kind in a squeeze tube - less waste than the small cans because you only squeeze out the amount you need; with the cans, there always seems to be a bit left in a can that disappears in the back of the fridge only to grow mold)
handful chopped parsley
handful chopped basil 
salt and freshly-ground black pepper
1/4 tsp (or to taste) red pepper flakes
freshly-grated Locatellli cheese (about a half cup)

Saute the chopped onion in the olive oil until soft and transluscent. Add the garlic and saute until it, too, is soft, being careful not to let it overcook. Add the tomato sauce,  paste  and basil to the onions and garlic; season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste and simmer on low heat until the sauce thickens.  Just before serving stir in the cheese and parsley.

Of course you can add meat to the sauce - pancetta, bacon, ground beef, sausage, leftover chicken or pork - but a simple tomato sauce is so satisfying on its own, it makes it easy, even a pleasure, to reduce your meat consumption.

The taste of pasta sauce made with home-canned tomato sauce can not be matched by anything store-bought. In future posts, we'll talk about growing tomatoes specifically for home canning, and about the canning process. In the meantime, mangia bene!


  1. In the winter, we use Trader Joe's Marinara Sauce. It is excellent and costs $1.75 for 28 oz. Ingredients are whole unpeeled tomatoes, tomato puree, cold press extra virgin olive oil, onions, hervs, garlic and Salt (370 mg). A great inexpensive basic sauce.

    However in the summer we make our sauce with our garden tomatoes.

  2. That is a great price. I always hear great things about Trader Joe's. Unfortunately, the closest one to us is about a 40 minute drive -- not worth the miles for me unless I'm going in that direction. We make about 24 quarts of tomato sauce every year. Since we use it from about November to July, so that gives us about 3 quarts per month. With just the 2 of us at home, a quart makes at least 2 you can see, it's really an easy and fairly frugal choice for us.

  3. Cynthia Waters EarleJanuary 11, 2010 at 7:54 AM

    Great post Dee. We only have a tiny deck but still manage to grow enough tomatoes to make a few dinners worth of nice fresh sauce. When that resource is exhausted I buy Via Roma sauce from Super Fresh (I also like the Barilla). It is made of nice natural stuff and the Puttanesca and Marinara are both wonderful.
    Did you know that Trader Joe's has a new store across from Market Fair? I think it would be a little closer for you. I think it's about 16 miles from New Hope.

  4. Thanks Cindy. I've done quite a bit of container gardening and know how satisfying it is to grow food in a small space. And you're right, some of the jarred sauce is well done. I heard about the new Trader Joe's near Market Fair, and I may get there one of these days. I just tend to stick pretty close to home most of the time...I do so much driving when I show houses.

  5. Yes, nothing beats sauce made from homegrown tomatoes!

    Since you're using homegrown ingredients, would you like to enter this post in our Grow Your Own roundup this month? Full details at

  6. Hi Nate,
    Thanks for your comment. I'm going to visit House of Annie now.