Making a classic homemade tomato sauce is easy and so flavorful. This version starts with a mirepoix blend of onions, celery, and carrots for additional flavor and uses canned tomatoes. Serve it with spaghetti or another pasta shape like ravioli, use it in lasagna, or as a dip for breadsticks.
Recipes like this classic tomato sauce are some of my favorites to make when it comes to preparing flavorful vegetarian dinners. Requiring little hands-on effort, just a little stirring, and a lot of taste testing that then translates into a lot of kitchen dance party time with a glass of wine, my favorite music, and a whole lot of laughing.
Can you picture it? Oh, and the smells! The scent wafts through the house while the homemade sauce is simmering – the herbs! The aromatics! It’s irresistible and one of my favorite kinds of days.
And the type of recipe that can then turn into an amazing dinner and bring us all together. I have these similar feelings with risotto and homemade pasta… and this sauce is just the beginning.
Ingredients for Red Pasta Sauce
This Classic Tomato Sauce recipe starts with a mirepoix: onions, carrot, and celery cooked in a bit of olive oil to release their sweetness and add a depth of flavor to the sauce. Many sauce recipes just call for the onion, but I love the addition of the additional veggies.
Here’s what else you’ll need to make this spaghetti sauce at home:
- Olive Oil: how it all starts.
- Yellow Onion, Carrot, and Celery: as just mentioned. The carrot helps add a touch of sweetness to the sauce and of course the yellow onion and celery pack in flavor, too.
- Garlic: if there’s one thing to know, it’s that I like to go all out with garlic. If you’re not quite as big of a fan, feel free to reduce the number of cloves.
- Salt and Red Pepper Flakes: I will always remind you to layer in the salt throughout the cooking process as it helps bring out the flavors in each ingredient. I’m also a huge fan of red pepper flakes (and ok, you can use some black pepper too!) for their depth and hint of spice.
- Sugar: now, I usually add just a very tiny pinch of sugar to bring out the sweetness in the tomatoes and ensure the sauce isn’t too acidic. You can leave it out if you desire.
- Red Wine or Vegetable Stock: using red wine to deglaze the pan adds so much flavor to this sauce (and of course you already have a bottle open for that kitchen dance party). If you don’t have wine available, you can use vegetable stock in its place.
- San Marzano Peeled Whole Tomatoes: I prefer crushing the tomatoes myself; it feels less processed that way and results in a fresher flavor. However, you can purchase crushed tomatoes too. 100% recommend getting authentic San Marzano tomatoes for the most flavor. They are similar to Roma tomatoes but thinner, with thicker walls and fewer seeds, making them less acidic and sweeter.
- Herbs: for ease, I use dried oregano and basil. You can also use an Italian herb blend or substitute fresh herbs.
How to Crush Whole Peeled Tomatoes
When I buy peeled, whole tomatoes, before I transfer them into the pot to cook, I crush them. To do this, hold a tomato in your hand and gently squeeze it, breaking apart the tomato.
Be sure to do this over the pot or another bowl or you will get tomato sauce everywhere.
If there is a hard stem in the tomato, discard it, otherwise place the tomato pieces in the bowl. As they cook down, they will break apart further, and in the end, we will be blending the sauce, so there is no need to worry about the size you’ve crushed them into.
Crushed Tomatoes vs. Canned Tomato Sauce
Crushed tomatoes are not cooked and have a fresher flavor than using canned tomato sauce to make a red pasta sauce. Buying canned tomato sauce sometimes has additional flavors, too. See this article on canned tomatoes from Epicurious for more information.
What about Tomato Paste?
Tomato paste is sometimes added to pasta sauce, and you absolutely can here, too. Tomato paste thickens the sauce even further and adds richness to it. Start by adding a tablespoon or so, increasing the amount as desired.
How to Make Tomato Sauce
Before you begin making the tomato sauce, note that it is best to cook the sauce in a non-reactive pan like a stainless steel pan, an enameled pan, or a non-stick pan. Using a reactive pan like aluminum or a (not so well seasoned) cast iron pan react with the acidity in tomato sauce and can pick up a metallic flavor.
I like to use my Dutch oven because it’s enameled and non-reactive, and big enough to make and blend the sauce in. I use a Le Creuset pan here; Lodge is another excellent option!
Lodge 5-Quart Dutch Oven
Use an enameled Dutch oven to make tomato sauce – it’s a perfect size and non-reactive to the acidity.
- Start sauteing the mirepoix. Heat the oil, then add diced onion, carrot, and celery. Begin sauteing them for several minutes until they are tender. This releases the most flavor from them. Be sure to add a pinch of salt to begin layering it in! Photo 1.
- Add garlic and seasonings. Next goes the garlic, sugar if using, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. You can also add black pepper if you’d like. Photo 2.
- Deglaze the pan with red wine or vegetable stock. This means you’ll slowly add the liquid while scraping up any brown bits that came to be on the bottom of the pan. FLAVOR. Photo 3.
- Crush the tomatoes over the pan for ease. I do this step while the liquid is reducing down to save on time and dishes. Simply crush the tomato over the pot, then add it directly in. Also pour in the liquid from the can. Photo 4.
- Stir in the dried herbs, too. Crush the dried herbs between your fingers or palms before adding them to the sauce. This helps release their flavor. Photo 4.
- Simmer the sauce, covered to start. Be sure to taste test for salt levels throughout (broken record, but it’s so important!). Remove the lid and let the sauce simmer for another 30 minutes. Photos 5-6.
- Time to blend! Use an immersion blender to puree the sauce until smooth, or until it reaches your desired texture. You can also use a traditional blender, just be very careful with the hot sauce, and crack the vent to allow the steam to escape. Photos 7-8.
- Enjoy! Now, it’s time to enjoy your sauce immediately or let it cool and store in the fridge or freezer.
Common Pasta Sauce Questions
When the pasta sauce is blended, air is incorporated in it, and the oxygen can turn the sauce orange. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it!
If you find your sauce is tasting too acidic, add a little pinch of sugar to balance it out.
If, on the other hand, it’s too sweet, add a tiny amount of lemon juice or vinegar to neutralize it. Start with only a half or full teaspoon, increasing bit by bit.
Store leftover tomato sauce in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4-5 days.
Yes! Allow the sauce to cool completely before freezing. If stored in a glass container, leave room for expansion. I like freezing sauce in Souper Cubes for easy storage. Thaw sauce on the stovetop, in the microwave, or in the fridge overnight before using.
How to Serve Tomato Sauce
Hands down, the best way to serve this classic tomato sauce is to enjoy it with pasta of any kind – especially spaghetti. If you’re looking for a recipe to use it with, give one of these a try!
- I love it tossed with Homemade Cheese Ravioli.
- Any kind of homemade pasta shape will work, too!
- Use it as a dip for breadsticks.
- You can even use it as a pizza sauce in a pinch.
- It’s perfect in vegetarian lasagna.
- Pour it over vegetarian meatballs for a full meal!
Classic Tomato Sauce for Pasta
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup carrots, diced (~2-3 carrots)
- 1 cup celery , diced (~3 stalks)
- 2 cups yellow onion, diced (~1 medium)
- 4-5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons fine sea salt, or to taste
- Dash red pepper flakes, optional
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste, optional
- 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup red wine or vegetable stock
- 2 28-ounce cans San Marzano peeled whole tomatoes
- 1 Tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 Tablespoon dried basil
- In a large dutch oven or non-reactive stockpot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add carrots, celery, and onion. Cook for 3-4 minutes until tender, stirring occasionally.
- Add garlic, salt, sugar, and red pepper flakes, cook for 1-2 minutes. Deglaze pan with wine (or stock) and let cook until reduced by half, approximately 3-4 minutes.
- To prep the tomatoes, hand crush the whole peeled tomatoes in a separate bowl, removing any hard stems (you can also do this over the pot for ease). Add the hand-crushed tomatoes into the stockpot. Stir in dried oregano and basil. Reduce the heat to low or medium low so the sauce is at a simmer, then cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Uncover and continue simmering for 30 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Test salt level and add according to taste.
- Remove the sauce from the heat, and use an immersion blender to carefully blend the sauce until smooth or desired texture is reached. If using a regular blender, carefully transfer the sauce and vent the top knob to allow steam to escape.
- Use the sauce immediately with your favorite recipes, or let cool and store. Place any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4-5 days. If freezing, let the sauce cool completely in a glass jar (or Souper Cubes), leaving approximately 1 inch at the top for expansion. Cover, and place in freezer. Thaw in the refrigerator, microwave, or on the stovetop.
Disclaimer: The nutritional information provided for this recipe is only an estimate. The accuracy of the facts listed is not and cannot be guaranteed.
By the Way…
This recipe is part of our collection of savory homemade sauce recipes. Check it out!
I make a very similar red sauce. A tip: If you have any type of fresh tomato handy, chop up some and add it during the last 10 or 15 minutes of cooking. It adds a fresh note to the sauce.
Love the tip, thanks, Jaye!
This is now my go-to recipe! We double the recipe and freeze some for quick week night meals.
Yay! I’m so glad. Thanks, Stephanie!
Great, classic sauce! I added a tablespoon or so of tomato paste and let the whole shebang simmer on the stove for several hours, then blended. Delish!
I’m so glad to hear you love it! Thanks so much for sharing, Ellen!