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Fresh Tomato Sauce

Fresh tomato sauce on pasta

This homemade fresh tomato sauce is usually ready before the pasta is done! I learned to make this in a cooking class in Firenze, and I haven’t bought a jar since.

How to Make Fresh Tomato Sauce

I use this sauce on spaghetti, penne, ravioli of all kinds, or on zucchini sometimes. Anywhere you would use a tomato sauce, this is delicious. The ingredients are simple and easy to come by — olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, and salt are always among the first things I buy when settle into a new space.

The tomatoes can be almost any kind. Halved grape tomatoes (unpeeled, of course) make a wonderfully chunky sauce that works well with stuffed pastas like ravioli or tortellini or with penne — I especially like to use the multicolored ones for this.. Among the larger tomatoes, roma, beefsteak, and oxheart all make great sauce, but really any kind will do.

This recipe uses four ingredients: Tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and salt. It’s delicious made with only those four ingredients, but there are are some additions you can throw in if you have them on hand.

I took these photos in my kitchen in Peru, where I had rather poor light. I’ll try to get better photos for you someday — just trust that it’s beautiful in real life.

Fresh tomato sauce ingredients:

  • 4 medium to large tomatoes or half a pint of cherry or grape tomatoes (peeled** if you wish)
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbs. capers (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh Basil (optional)
  • pinch of sugar (optional) OR
  • splash of red wine (optional)

Coarsely chop the tomatoes (or cut in half if you’re using grape tomatoes). Smash the garlic with the broad side of your knife and mince it.

Ready for the skillet.

Making the sauce

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. The olive oil isn’t just a cooking lubricant here — this is a meatless sauce, so the olive oil is the only fat in the dish. It brings flavor, texture, and mouthfeel as well as helping to satisfy appetite, so be generous with it.

Put the tomatoes into the skillet, along with the garlic and salt. If you’re using capers, mince them and add them to the skillet as well. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are releasing their juice into the olive oil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for about 5 more minutes.

If you’re using sugar or basil, add it at the finish. A pinch of sugar makes a huge difference in this dish, but I probably wouldn’t use both sugar and wine unless the wine is very dry. If you’re using wine, turn the heat back up, add the wine, and let the sauce boil hard for a minute or so to blend the flavors and cook off the alcohol.

You could add black pepper or a dash of cayenne if you want it.

That’s it! Usually, I can whip up this sauce in less time than it takes for the pasta to cook.

Fresh tomato sauce on pasta

Peeling the tomatoes

** Peeling the tomatoes is an optional step. I do it when I feel fancy, but other times I leave it on and just call my sauce “rustic.” I never peel cherry or grape tomatoes.

To peel large tomatoes, wash them and then cut an X in the end of each tomato and drop them into the water that you’ve brought to a boil to cook your pasta. After a minute or two, fish them out with a slotted spoon. Your water is now ready to cook your pasta while you make your sauce.

Let the tomatoes cool (or run cool water over them) and you’ll find that the peels slip right off.

Parboiling the tomatoes in the pasta water causes the peels to slide right off.