This homemade tomato sauce recipe is proof that sometimes the best things in life are the simplest ones! Ripe tomatoes, salt, an onion and butter. That’s all you need for the greatest tomato sauce of all time.

If you know me, you know I love Italian sauces. My classic Bolognese is a big hit, as are my Braised Beef Ragu and my Pasta Puttanesca! Make sure to check these out too.

A jar of homemade tomato sauce.

The best tomato sauce recipe ever!

Fresh tomato sauce from scratch used to be something that only happened in my grandma’s kitchen!

I remember having dinner at her house and eating the most amazing meatballs that simmered and were served in a simple, fresh sauce that tastes like… love. 

Somehow, I thought that something that tasted so good had to be difficult to make! Plus, the idea of having to peel the tomatoes felt quite intimidating.

Well, if you’ve read yesterday’s post, you know that peeling tomatoes is easy peasy! And so is this sauce.

Inspired by my grandma’s sauce, but adapted from Marcella Hazan’s famous recipe, this homemade tomato sauce will be a recipe you will make for the rest of your life!

Trust me, when you taste this, you’ll know that you’ve encountered a keeper.

A photo of the ingredients: tomatoes, onion, butter and salt.

Ingredients

To make homemade tomato sauce from scratch, you will need:

TOMATOES – I like making my sauce with ripe fresh tomatoes in the summertime. However, canned tomatoes (preferably San Marzanos) work the rest of the year!

ONION – You can use a yellow onion or a sweet (Vidalia) onion. If your tomatoes are ripe, they should be sweet enough that you wouldn’t need the extra sweetness from the sweet onion. Totally up to you!

BUTTER – Butter is the secret (magical) ingredient in this sauce! The fat from the butter mellows the acid from the onion and tomatoes. It also works as an emulsifier, making this sauce very velvety on the palate! For a dairy free version, use olive oil, but the consistency won’t be the same.

SALT – Salt to taste! The salt will help the tomatoes soften and release their juices.

Roma tomatoes

What are the best tomatoes for tomato sauce?

The best tomatoes to make tomato sauce are paste tomatoes. Paste tomatoes are varieties that are meatier and less juicy than other classes of tomatoes, making them perfect for sauces, salsa, canning and dehydrating.

Because they are less juicy, their flavor is more intense as it is not diluted in a lot of water!

Here’s some popular varieties:

  • San Marzano – My absolute favorite! There’s nothing like the flavor of a San Marzano. Its flavor is dense and sweet, making it perfect for sauces! Technically, to be called a San Marzano, this type of tomato has to be grown in Valle del Sarno, in Italy, but I’ve seen (and tried to grow unsuccessfully) seeds to sell here in the United States.
  • Roma – Way easier to find in the U.S., they are not as sweet as San Marzanos or similar heirloom tomatoes, like Amish Paste. It is the variety I use the most though, as they are widely available near me!
  • Amish Paste – Oval shaped, they are similar to Roma tomatoes but sweeter with a fresher flavor.
  • Opalka and Polish Linguisa – These Polish heirlooms are meaty and rich. 
  • Big Mama, Jersey Devil and Jersey Giant –  These are larger varieties, meaning you will have to peel and chop fewer tomatoes to get the same amount of sauce. 
 

Buying tomatoes for sauce

If you have the space and the time to care for plants, I highly recommend planting your own tomatoes! It’s really rewarding to eat tomatoes that you planted and harvested yourself.

There are lots of seeds to choose from and you can plant even the rarest varieties!

However, if you don’t have that opportunity (or a green thumb), buying at the supermarket is okay too, but your options will be limited. 

Try to buy local, if you can, as they are more likely ripened on the vine, which means they’ll taste much better. Florida and Mexico are the major tomato growers and shipper, but if you don’t live in these areas, that means the tomatoes were picked green and shipped in their un-ripened form. 

If you can buy directly from a farmer or shop at a farmers market, even better! That way you know you are getting local grown tomatoes that are riper than any tomato you can get at the supermarket.

At the supermarket:

At the grocery store, avoid the pre-packaged tomatoes. You want to be able to touch and smell them to make sure you are getting the best ones available!

Look for tomatoes that have a deep and consistent color. If you see yellow or green patches on the tomatoes, that means they were picked green and ripened off the vine. No bueno!

Pick up the tomatoes to feel their weight. The tomatoes should feel heavy for the size. But don’t squeeze them! That’s poor grocery store etiquette, especially if you end up not buying the tomato you squeezed.

And, finally, smell the tomatoes. They should smell sweet and fresh! The stronger they smell, the more flavor they’ll have.

But if they smell bad or rotten… well, then they are only good for throwing at bad performers at the theater! (Just kidding. 😂 Please don’t do that!)

A pot of tomato sauce from scratch.

How to make tomato sauce from scratch

As I mentioned earlier, this recipe is slightly adapted from Marcella Hazan’s recipe in Essentials in Classic Italian Cooking. It is truly the best (yet simplest) sauce I have ever tasted!

A few things about this recipe:

  • This sauce is supposed to be rustic. We smash the large pieces with a wooden spoon, but serve it still quite chunky! If you like your sauce smoother, you can use a blender or food processor to puree it after it’s cooked.
  • Since we want this sauce to highlight the freshness of the tomatoes, it doesn’t cook for too long, meaning it is not as dense as store-bought sauces. For a denser, thicker sauce, just cook it longer (up to 2 hours)!
  • This sauce is made with only four ingredients, so the tomatoes can shine! However, feel free to customize it to your liking! My grandma adds garlic, other people like to add some herbs, like fresh basil. 
  • My recipe makes about 6 cups of sauce. It is easily halved, doubled, tripled or quadrupled! If you have a lot of tomatoes, make a lot of sauce and freeze to use later.

Recommended tools and equipment: Chef’s knife, cutting board, large pot, wooden spoon.

Here’s how I make homemade tomato sauce. As always, you will find the printable (and more complete) version of the recipe at the end of this post!

Step 1: Peel and chop the tomatoes.

  • If you don’t know how to peel tomatoes, head over to this post to learn!
  • Chop the peel tomatoes into smaller pieces.

Step 2: Cook with onion and butter.

  • Combine the tomatoes, onion and butter in a large pot.
  • Bring to a boil, then simmer for 45 minutes or until the desired consistency! Remove the onion and serve.
Olivia’s Tip: The onion that simmered with the sauce? You don’t have to throw it away. You can puree it into the sauce, use it to make a dip or use it in sandwiches!
Penne with homemade tomato sauce.

Uses for tomato sauce

My favorite way to eat fresh tomato sauce is over pasta! Either a long variety, like spaghetti, or cylinder-shaped ones, like penne.

That being said, there are many uses for homemade tomato sauce. Here’s a few suggestions:

  • Make tomato soup! Better yet if served with grilled cheese.
  • Use it in stews, chilis and other soups (like my Pasta e Fagioli Soup).
  • To make chicken, beef or eggplant parmigiana.
  • To make Tuscan beans, which are simmered in tomato sauce.
  • Make Shakshouka, which are poached eggs served in tomato sauce.
  • In risottos or served over polenta.
  • To make tomato chutney.
Homemade tomato sauce in a jar.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I store homemade tomato sauce?

There are two longer storage options for homemade tomato sauce: canning and freezing.

I am not a canning expert, but there are plenty of tutorials online! I do know that nowadays tomatoes are not as acidic as they used to be, so you might have to add some lemon juice or vinegar to increase their acidity.

I’ll talk about freezing down below!

How long will it last in the fridge?

Properly stored in an airtight container, this sauce will keep well in the fridge for up to 3-4 days!

Can I freeze tomato sauce?

Yes, freezing is a great option if you want to make a big batch of sauce and freeze for a later use!

Make sure to let the sauce cool completely, then transfer to freezer bags, label them and freeze for up to 3-4 months.

Why is my tomato sauce watery?

I mentioned earlier that this sauce is not as deep and thick as most commercial versions (which almost always use cornstarch or flour to thicken their sauces).

For a thicker sauce, I recommend simmering for longer until it gets to the desired consistency. Alternatively, you can thicken by adding some tomato paste, but the flavor won’t be the same!

Why homemade tomato sauce is orange?

The color of your sauce will depend on the variety of tomatoes you use. There is nothing wrong with orange tomato sauce!

Did you make this recipe? I love hearing from you! Please comment and leave a 5-star rating below. You can also take a photo and tag me on Instagram with #oliviascuisine.

Homemade Tomato Sauce

Homemade Tomato Sauce

Yield: 6 cups
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes

This homemade tomato sauce recipe is proof that sometimes the best things in life are the simplest ones! Ripe tomatoes, salt, an onion and butter. That’s all you need for the greatest tomato sauce of all time.

Ingredients

  • 4 pounds fresh, ripe tomatoes (or about 2 1/2 28oz cans of peeled tomatoes)
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • 1 large yellow (or sweet) onion, peeled and halved
  • 1 stick unsalted butter (8 tablespoons)

Instructions

  1. Start by peeling and roughly chopping the tomatoes.
  2. Combine the chopped tomatoes, salt, onion halves and butter in a large Dutch Oven (or heavy bottomed pot). Bring to a boil over medium high heat, until the tomatoes start releasing their juices.
  3. Lower the heat to a steady simmer and cook, uncovered, for 45 minutes or until thickened to the desired consistency. Make sure to simmer occasionally, using your wooden spoon to mash up the large pieces of tomatoes.
  4. Taste and adjust salt.
  5. Remove the onion and serve with pasta, can or freeze for later, or use it in other recipes!

Notes

What do to with that onion?

Don't toss it! You can use it to make dips, use it in other recipes or in sandwiches. You could even puree it and add it back to the sauce, but then the flavor of the sauce won't be the same!

Storing homemade tomato sauce

This sauce can be canned (which will preserve it for up to a year) or frozen for up to 3-4 months. If freezing, make sure to let it cool completely before freezing in large freezer bags.

How long will leftovers keep in the fridge?

In the fridge, this sauce will keep for up to 3-4 days if stored in an airtight container.

Recommended Products

As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 24 Serving Size: 1/4 cup
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 47Total Fat: 4gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 10mgSodium: 29mgCarbohydrates: 3gFiber: 1gSugar: 2gProtein: 1g

Nutritional values are approximate, please use your own calculations if you require a special diet.

If you love this recipe, you will also like: