The key to the best pasta sauce recipe is quality ingredients. With rich, authentic San Marzano tomatoes the star of the show, this recipe requires minimal effort but packs maximum flavor.
Fun fact: there are over 10,000 varieties of tomatoes in the world. However, there is one particular variety that outshines the rest when it comes to the best pasta sauce: San Marzano tomatoes.
The history of these tomatoes is as rich and vibrant as their flavor. Dating as far back as 1770, the first San Marzano tomato seed was actually a gift from the viceroy of Peru to the King of Naples.
That special seed was then planted in an area the ancient Romans called “Campania Felix” (happy countryside) – an apt nickname thanks to the mild climate and fertile land. That area is now the town of San Marzano where these tomatoes are named after.
If you recognize the name it’s likely thanks to Francesco Cirio, a pioneer of the canning industry. He decided out of the 300 varieties of tomatoes grown in Italy, San Marzano was the best choice to be the very first canned, peeled tomatoes. This was thanks to their sweet, almost seedless, pulpy flesh that is low in acidity – perfect for canning to ship all over the world.
When it comes to the best pasta sauce recipe, these tomatoes do all the talking but to ensure your tomatoes boast that authentic Italian flavor, always search for the DOP seal of approval on the can. While San Marzano tomatoes can be grown anywhere only those labeled D.O.P. have been grown in the Agro Sarnese-Nocerino region of Italy by local producers. The Italians take great care in canning these precious fresh tomatoes. These tomatoes are super sensitive to soil conditions, need to be grown in open air (meaning no green houses) and need to be picked by hand as not all the tomatoes ripen at the same time on the vine. Once the harvest is complete, the tomatoes are sent to a canning facility in either the province of Salerno, Naples, or Avellino. Before production, these facilities are completely wiped down and sanitized to ensure that there is absolutely no remnants of other tomatoes. That's how prestigious these tomatoes are!
With their brilliant red color, elongated shape, and juicy body there are no others like San Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese- Noverino DOP tomatoes. They are the reason I can claim this as the best pasta sauce recipe as each mouthful transports you straight to the sunny Mediterranean. For more information visit the San Marzano DOP page.
What is DOP-PDO?
When looking for authentic San Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese- Noverino tomatoes, you want to look for a can that has the DOP label. DOP stands for Protected Designation of Origin and ensures that the product is coming from a specific region and country and enables the consumer to be able to trust and distinguish quality products. France has a similar label with Champagne. Only bottles coming out of the region of Champagne, France can identify as champagne.
Authentic San Marzano tomatoes will always be canned as whole tomatoes, meaning you will never find a can of diced tomatoes.
Where to buy San Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese- Noverino DOP tomatoes?
In the US, you won't typically find these cans in your average grocery store. I like to buy mine on amazon by the case, or I can find them in the local Italian stores (usually in Little Italy). The can be a bit pricy, around $6 a can, but trust me when I say, they are every bit worth it!! Hands down, I will never use normal canned sauce again.
WHY WE LOVE THIS PASTA SAUCE RECIPE
- It’s quick – As the San Marzano tomatoes are bursting with flavor there is no need to cancel your plans for the day when you want to make this pasta sauce, instead, it is ready in just 30 minutes, perfect for busy weeknights or slow-cooking lazy Sundays!
- Your shopping list is short – What’s worse than spending hours over a hot stove? Spending hours hunting down complex ingredients in the grocery store! Not here, however. This pasta sauce recipe requires just a handful of quality ingredients.
- It’s versatile – Although it’s without a doubt the best pasta sauce recipe there’s no reason you can’t use it for meatballs or ground beef, as a dip with mozzarella pizza rolls, or smothered on a pizza base for a delicious slice of Italy.
- It’s freezer-friendly – when a pasta sauce tastes this good, you’ll want to cook up a batch and never buy store-bought again. Good job it’s freezer friendly!
- Rich Flavor- This red sauce is so rich in flavor and comforting, even my Sicilian grandfather would agree.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Large yellow onion
- Garlic cloves
- San Marzano DOP Tomatoes
- Ground black pepper
- Fresh basil
- Parmesan Cheese
SUBSTITUTIONS AND ADDITIONS
- Add a Parmesan cheese rind - This is a secret tip to enrich your pasta sauce. If you plan on using parmesan to garnish, save the cheese rind and add it to your sauce (or keep one in the freezer for recipes like this.) It won’t melt but it adds a kick of umami to elevate this pasta sauce even further. Use tongs to remove just before serving.
- Fresh herbs - There’s no arguing basil is tomato’s best friend, but feel free to also add fresh oregano, parsley or thyme. Ideally, avoid substituting fresh for dried. Dried herbs are often blander in comparison to fresh versions so won’t bring the same flavor to your sauce.
- Non-traditional Twist - Although not traditional, if you prefer your pasta with a punch, you can also add a sprinkling of chili or red pepper flakes.
- Adding Alcohol - Both red and white wines work particularly well for enhancing tomato sauce. Red wine adds a rich, robust touch whereas white wine adds a more fruity flavor. The alcohol also has an interesting effect on the sauce’s fats (olive oil and butter) which helps to release their flavors, enriching the sauce as a whole. Note, if you are adding wine do so early in the cooking process to allow sufficient time for the alcohol to cook-off.
- Olive Oil – Do not be tempted to substitute extra virgin olive oil with another kind of oil. A neutral oil such as vegetable offers very little flavor and also won’t help to thicken the sauce. Extra virgin olive oil is the main cooking fat in Mediterranean cooking so it is essential for adding delicious flavor and texture to the homemade sauce.
RECOMMENDED TOOLS TO MAKE THIS RECIPE
- Immersion blender
- Large saucepan with lid
- Wooden Spoon
HOW TO MAKE THE BEST TOMATO SAUCE
1. Start by blending the San Marzano Tomatoes until smooth using an immersion blender or for a chunkier texture pulse in a food processor; set aside.
2. In a large saucepan, heat the extra virgin olive oil over medium-high heat until warm. Add the onions, garlic, and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly until softened.
3. Next add the blended tomatoes and a generous pinch of salt and pepper.
4. Bring the sauce to a boil, then turn heat to low. Cover and let simmer for about 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. Once the sauce has thickened, stir in butter and finely chopped basil.
6. Make the pasta according to package instructions.
7. Toss pasta with sauce and sprinkle with more basil and parmesan cheese, if desired. Buon appetite!
- Use DOP-certified tomatoes – Double check the front and back of the can for the DOP label. This guarantees authenticity which your tastebuds will thank you for.
- Use stainless steel – It’s important to consider the correct pot when making tomato-based sauces. This is because other pots such as non-stick or cast iron can interact with the tomato acidity creating an unpleasant metallic taste.
- Choose Your Texture - A blender or hand blender will make a relatively smooth sauce, so if you prefer a more chunky pasta sauce pulse your tomatoes in a food processor instead.
- Storage: Allow the sauce to cool to room temperature then store in an airtight container or ideally glass jars. The pasta sauce will keep in the refrigerator for 5-7 days.
- Freeze: If you’ve made a big batch, allow it to cool to room temperature then store in an airtight container or freezer-friendly Ziplock bag. Place the Ziplock bag flat in your freezer as then you can stack them for convenience. Freeze for up to 3 months.
- To Reheat: Ideally, thaw in the fridge overnight. Although it is possible to put it straight into a saucepan from frozen, this may risk scorching the sauce. Reheat it low and slow while stirring frequently to ensure it reheats evenly without burning.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How do I avoid an acidic sauce?
First of all, as mentioned, San Marzano tomatoes are less acidic than most tomato varieties so using these will ensure a less acidic pasta sauce.
A sneaky tip to sweeten an acidic tomato-based sauce however is to add carrot. Carrots are high in natural sugar, which balances the acid in the tomato sauce as it cooks. Peel the carrot then place it whole into the sauce. Allow it to simmer in the sauce before removing it when the sauce is finished cooking. You can also add a tablespoon of tomato paste to add a bit of sweetness.
What is the secret to the best pasta sauce recipe?
The secret to taking this recipe from ordinary pasta sauce to the BEST pasta sauce is simple – quality ingredients. Using fresh herbs instead of dried, extra virgin olive oil instead of ordinary, freshly ground pepper and San Marzano DOP tomatoes will ensure an unforgettable dish. These may sound like insignificant tweaks but they can massively alter the taste and texture of your pasta sauce so it’s worth going the extra mile.
Are DOP-certified tomatoes more expensive?
Compared to the usual grocery store canned tomatoes you will find San Marzano tomatoes with the DOP label a little more expensive. However, it is so worth it. If you opt for second best you may need to substitute with extra herbs and seasoning to pack more flavor – in the long run costing you more ingredients.
What type of pasta is best for this homemade spaghetti sauce recipe?
There is a little science involved in choosing the perfect pasta. Generally, the wider the noodle, the heavier the sauce. For example, flat, long noodles such as Fettuccine, Linguine, Tagliatelle, and Pappardelle pair best with rich and creamy sauces as the surface area can withstand the weight of the thick sauce.
For this homemade tomato sauce recipe, my preference is Spaghetti due to its thinner shape and smooth texture. This makes it a good choice for thin tomato-based sauces, which coat each strand evenly as you twirl them around your fork.
OTHER RECIPES YOU MAY ENJOY
For more Italian inspired recipes like this best pasta sauce recipe, try these:
- 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
- 1 large onion finely diced
- 5 cloves garlic finely diced
- 2 28 ounce cans San Marzano DOP Tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground pepper
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 pound pasta
- Fresh basil for garnish
- Parmesan Cheese for garnish
Blend San Marzano Tomatoes in a blender or using an immersion blender until smooth; set aside.
In a large saucepan, heat the extra virgin olive oil over medium heat until warm. Add the onions, garlic, and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly until softened.
Add the blended tomatoes and a generous pinch of salt and pepper.
Bring the sauce to a boil, then turn heat to low. Cover and let simmer for about 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Once the sauce has thickened, stir in butter and finely sliced basil.
Make pasta according to the package instructions.
Toss pasta with sauce and sprinkle with more basil and parmesan cheese, if desired.