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Make Your Own Damn Sauce

May 4, 2009

There is no excuse for buying jarred pasta sauce from the supermarket.

“But I have no time.”
“But I barely know how to boil water.”


This “recipe” is the gateway drug of home cooking.  It is so easy, fast, and infinitely better than what you get from the jar.  You will be amazed.  Part of the secret is to use a decent olive oil (extra virgin, first cold pressed if you can find/afford it) and tasty canned crushed tomatoes.  We use the Tuttorosso, but were long time fans of the Muir Glen yellow stripe.

Yes, the fussiest of the fussy food people will insist on San Marzanos – and for special occasions, by all means use them.

1)    Start with a cold skillet or saucepan (non-reactive stainless steel or anodized aluminum).
2)    Put a couple of garlic cloves through a press directly into the pan, and pour some olive oil to coat (eyeball it, a tablespoon or two).
3)    Heat the garlic over medium high heat until you can really smell it, but well before it starts to turn golden.
4)    Pour the can of tomatoes into the pan, and heat through.


If you like you can tinker around with it a little (or a lot):
– A teaspoon of dried basil and/or dried parsley at the end of cooking.
– A teaspoon of oregano and/or marjoram added just after the tomatoes go in.
– A teaspoon of red pepper flakes added in with the garlic.
– A splash of balsamic.  A small piece of parmigiano-reggiano rind.  Five fennel seeds.
– Even a spoonful of sugar.

You could cook it longer if you like, and have the time.  But it certainly isn’t mandatory.  Just make sure you leave the burner on low, just in case you are like Albany Jane and get easily distracted.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. Raf permalink
    May 5, 2009 12:48 am

    Dried basil?

  2. May 5, 2009 8:12 am

    Ideally, though, they shouldn’t have their burner cranked up to Jet Engine high. ;)

  3. Vanessa permalink
    May 5, 2009 9:36 am

    Sometimes a bit of pasta water thickens this up. I also enjoy this with a box of cherry tomatoes..washed, drained, and when they break open mashed. But I agree…no excuse for jarred sauce-yuck

  4. May 5, 2009 10:42 am

    This is pretty much what I usually do. Every so often though I’ll buy one of the locally made jarred sauces I like – Dominick’s or Cardona’s. Sometimes I like to add some sauteed veggies to my tomato concoction as well. Boyfriend has taken on the Tony Bourdain-anti-garlic-press stance though, so I just mince mine.

  5. James O'Boston permalink
    May 5, 2009 6:47 pm

    If you’re going to be fussy about sauce then:
    – you’ve got to use fresh basil, shredded and then the pile smashed a bit with the side of the knife to bruise it and let the flavor out, half in at the beginning, half at the end, i’d say a good handful of 1/4″ strips…
    – cover the pan after the tomatoes are in or they will splatter red dots everywhere. cover only 80% of the top though, then the sauce can not just “get warm” but thicken a bit, which makes it stick better to pasta and thus, is more satisfying
    – a little salt (1/8 t) and a little black pepper can do wonders

    • May 5, 2009 10:20 pm

      Officially, this post was never about making the penultimate tomato sauce from scratch.

      Yes, clearly using fresh basil is better.
      Yes, mincing the garlic by hand is better.

      This was about creating a path into cooking for people who might otherwise rely on jarred supermarket pasta sauce.
      I wanted to remove any barriers to entry. And I hope you will all agree that even using dried basil or pressed garlic, the result is still infinitely better than what one would get out of a jar.

      Plus the above require fussy knife skills, and that my friends, just made it onto a very long list of articles for the future.

  6. Paul K permalink
    May 5, 2009 8:58 pm

    Didn’t Clemenza say something about dumping in the sauseache?

  7. Matt permalink
    May 6, 2009 11:29 am

    I like garlic. A lot. In your opinion, can tomato sauce have “too much” garlic?

    • May 6, 2009 11:46 am

      Yes. Yes it can. Is this some kind of fiendish trick question? A litmus test of fussiness?

      Still, if you are cooking at home, and you like it, and your wife will tolerate it, put in as much as you please.
      On some levels I know that taste is subjective. And I try to be open minded. But we all have our limits.

  8. renee permalink
    May 6, 2009 4:51 pm

    I think I’m your target audience and I just have to ask — why is canned tomatoes + garlic better than a high quality jarred sauce. Aren’t canned tomatoes kind of jarred?

    • May 6, 2009 5:59 pm

      Fair enough.

      Well there are the practical issue of cost and taste. I can turn a ninety-three cent, twenty-eight ounce can of crushed tomatoes into a better sauce than say Newman’s Own which costs over $2 a jar when bought in bulk. Plus I can control all the ingredients in the product. Specifically the sugar and salt. But also things like soybean oil or dried garlic.

      But while canned crushed tomatoes are indeed processed with heat before they are sealed and preserved, they are not stewed like jarred sauces can be. And cooking from scratch allows you to control how much you decide to cook down and concentrate the tomatoes.

      Not to mention the fussy cred when you get to tell people that you can’t even remember the last time you bought jarred sauce. There may be some very fancy jarred sauces that are better than this recipe. And I might even like them. But using them implies an entirely different values structure.


  9. Matt permalink
    May 6, 2009 5:18 pm

    Fiendish, maybe, but not tricky.

    For me, enough garlic = “can still smell on my fingers, even after a shower.”

  10. Carol permalink
    May 9, 2009 1:23 pm

    OK, as a fussbudget myself, I agree about not needing the jar. And I agree about the simple. But, I disagree about the “just heat through”. I think you gotta let the sauce simmer while you’re heating the pasta water and cooking the pasta. The taste improves a lot, and you lose the canned tomato taste. And…there’s one ingredient you forgot that I think is more essential than any herb, dried or fresh. Be ready with a pinch of salt (after tasting it of course).

    Sorry about fussing about your fuss. I enjoyed the blog!

    • May 16, 2009 10:39 pm

      I suppose the canned tomato taste depends upon your brand of canned tomatoes. Did I say that out loud? Clearly how long you cook the sauce is a matter of personal taste and availability of time. I was hoping to provide simply a framework and a home-cooking starting point.

      But I totally concede on correcting for salt. I assumed this was a given, but being a post about the basics, should have been included. I do have on my list a much more extensive diatribe planned about the use of salt in cooking. It may take a while before I get to it though. There is another thing which neither of us mentioned, and that is tossing the pasta with the sauce to absorb some of the moisture of the sauce into the cooked pasta. But that is more of a cooking 201 post.

      I welcome the fuss. This should be considered a safe haven for like minded people. Please comment away.

  11. May 15, 2009 10:53 pm

    My opinion on quick sauce-

    Saute finely chopped onion and carrot(for sweetness) in olive oil.
    Add tablespoon of tomato paste (for body).
    Add large can San Marzano tomatoes that you have hand squished.
    Add Salt, Pepper, then a handful of ripped basil 5 minutes before a half of an hour passes.

    For a quick “marinara” type sauce, the issue of garlic is debatable. I find it ruins the freshness, but that is up to your discretion.

  12. May 6, 2010 2:38 am

    If I am going to try and convert a total non-cook I would have them start with their choice of Classico sauces (a mass produced brand which is of OK quality and does not contain corn syrup) but use it as the binding agent after they’ve sauteed up some garlic and mixed in some fresh veggies. I think this is a more productive avenue than mixing canned tomatoes and chopped garlic.

    Though, Profussor, you own us a post on the variability of garlic… the process of calibrating its flavor depending on how much you use, how finely it is chopped (I don’t assume, as your post does, that the non-cook has a garlic press handy) and how long if at all it is cooked. As well as the flavor differences of fresh garlic vs garlic heads in the store at the peak of the season vs long stored heads.


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