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Making a tomato sauce

post #1 of 25
Thread Starter 
I've always loved doctoring tomato sauces, but I'm looking to make my own. I've already and looked up the way to make it, I'm just wondering about pairing certain ingredients.

With tomatoes, would it be better to use canned tomatoes or to try to find organically grown ones? Which would have the better flavor?

I was also going to use the usual ingredients like basil, olive oil, and wine. But I was wondering if there any other ingredients I could add to spice it up a little? I was thinking about some roasted red bell peppers to the sauce or other kinds of peppers.

I'm pretty new to Italian cooking, I've done mostly meat so far and i want to expand my horizons. Thanks in advance.
post #2 of 25
I've never found any difference in the flavor of sauces made with organic ingredients vs those made with common good quality produce. IMHO, as far as flavor is concerned, organic is more marketing hype than meaningful culinary advantage. Here's a tomato sauce recipe that I like that might put some ideas into your head. Your idea for adding other ingredients, like roasted peppers, is a good one. Just be careful not to add too many creative ingredients at one time because that would make it difficult to analyze what went wrong if you didn't like the results.
Also, the difference in flavor between qualilty canned tomatoes and the fresh variety (if there is any) isn't worth the bother of preparing a sauce with the fresh product.
My failures in life are few. The most blatant of these is my attempts at retirement. I've studied the process carefully but cannot begin to understand how it is done.
My failures in life are few. The most blatant of these is my attempts at retirement. I've studied the process carefully but cannot begin to understand how it is done.
post #3 of 25
I've got to agree and disagree with Culprit.

When it comes to fresh tomatoes, the organic ones will generally be superior to your usual megamart ones. The megamart tomatoes were bred to be solid and firm (read "hard as a rock") when they're picked green and shipped in huge semi-tractor trailers. Then, they're "ripened" by an ethylene atmosphere. They may look good, but they have very little tomato flavor.

Organic ones are usually locally-grown, of better varieties and picked when ripe.

Now, as to canned ones, I rely upon quality canned ones over so-so fresh ones.
post #4 of 25
castironchef's post reminds me of a Good Eats episode on tomato sauce. Pretty much what he said. The tomatoes in a can never had to look good, they only needed to be ripe. And they never needed to go through premature reddening processes.
post #5 of 25
I have made sauce using my own fresh perfectly ripened tomatoes as well as canned. Everybody LOVES my tomato sauce. I prefer this. I only use PROGRESSO when it comes to crushed tomatoes.

Try this:

10 (or more) smashed garlic cloves simmered in 1/4 olive oil until soft
add 1 can crushed tomatoes
3 basil leaves
1 T dried oregano
simmer all for 45 min.
Add salt & pepper of course to taste

This sauce is sweet and yummy. I serve it with spaghetti.
post #6 of 25
Thread Starter 
thanks for the input

I think i'm going to go with canned tomatoes then. Which brand would you suggest i use?
And with extra ingredients, i think i will just go for red bell peppers and maybe a little crushed red pepper for spice. after roasting the bell pepper, would it be better to puree the pepper and add it in, or leave it a little chunky?
post #7 of 25
As the season winds down, canned tomatoes are probably going to work better than "fresh" ones. Cook's Illustrated rated the Progresso as recommended. Hunt's is OK too but they said it comes off as too mild-tasting in a simmered sauce. Alton Brown recommends sticking with the least-processed product, which would be canned whole tomatoes. You can cut them up yourself before you put them in or while they're in the pan. And, to try to avoid possible bitterness, you might want to seed them before adding them. This is more important with fresh tomatoes, but it couldn't hurt to take a couple extra minutes with the canned ones.

I almost always start by sauteing some chopped onion, carrot and celery in olive oil. And later I'd add garlic. Then add the tomatoes and simmer.


"If you are not killing plants, you are not really stretching yourself as a gardener." -- J. C. Raulston, American Horticulturist


"If you are not killing plants, you are not really stretching yourself as a gardener." -- J. C. Raulston, American Horticulturist
post #8 of 25
I agree with Phoebe! She's starting her sauce with a basic mirepoix. And it is good to add the garlic in later as she pointed out, as too soon, the garlic gets overcooked and will turn bitter.

Based on a very informative web site (google "encyclopizza), it is hard to beat the canned tomatos as they are picked ripe, processed at lower temperatures using special canning processes, and retain more flavor and nutrients.

You might want to invest in a cheap plastic food mill, the type where you feed in the tomatoes, turn the crank, and the sauce comes out one chute into your bowl, and the skin and seeds come out another chute.

For fresh tomatoes, you must drop them in boiling water (blanching) for 2-3 minutes before putting them through the food mill, but canned whole tomatoes should probably go through as is ok.

My uncle the entrepeneur met a famous Italian chef once, and he gave him the recipe for his sauce. It consisted of crushed canned whole tomatoes, a lot of fresh garlic, a 1 tsp of sugar and some olive oil to cook the garlic in. It was a long time ago, but I don't recall that it had any basil or other herbs in it at all, which I do remember surprised me greatly. But the sauce was unbelieveable. I do also remember that it was meant to go with meatballs, and the meatball recipe included 16 whole eggs, 1 lb of ground meat, S&P, and some fennel seed and bread crumbs.

post #9 of 25
Several articles have recommended the Italian San Marzano variety, and we picked up six or eight cans when Whole Foods had them on sale a couple months ago. They make a very nice sauce, pretty much as described above.

travelling gourmand
travelling gourmand
post #10 of 25
Traditionally, the best tomato sauces are made from San Marzano (as MikeLM mentions above) tomatoes which are paste tomato types. Why? Because they have less water content they are better for sauces. You should be able to find them canned and last I knew they can not be packaged as San Marzanos unless they were grown in the San Marzano valley in the Campania region of Italy. Look here for an existing thread regarding San Marzanos and plum/paste type tomatoes, specifically post #12 at that thread.

The more you learn about Italian cuisine, the more you'll realize it's all about simplicity and the quality comes from the freshest ingredients possible.

This depends on the palettes of those you are serving. It also depends on the size and shape of the pasta you will be using.
post #11 of 25

Adding stuff

I agree with everyone else that canned tomatoes are as good or better than fresh. The only exception is that I like to make roasted tomato sauce and roasting the tomatoes first is difficult with canned :-)

As for roasted red peppers, I find roasting them separately and canning them to use whenever you like is best. I start with the basic tomato sauce and add the roasted peppers if needed. the flavor is no different than adding them before hand.

As for the garlic, tons of garlic works for me. I just crush about a bulb worth and let them warm up slowly in the olive oil to flavor the oil. They dissolve and the taste is everywhere in the sauce. very nice.

After that I think anything you "want" to add is worth trying, but simple is usually best and add stuff later when serving. Some things I've tried that work quite well are:
anchovies: dissolve them in with the garlic. does not taste fishy, just adds salt and a nutty flavor
capers: again salt and good depth.
flavored oils such as truffle oil etc: again, more depth of flavor.
bacon grease instead of olive oil for flavor: good when making an ameritriciano sauce.
any fresh herbs at the end will work, or when making it at the time for service.
dried herbs great too, but you have to be carefull as they can make it bitter quickly. I add extra sugar when using dried herbs.

Hope any of this helps.


post #12 of 25
If you are going organic (and I would recommend it) there are a number of good organic canned tomatoes on the market these days. My favorite is Muir Glen. They have an organic roasted tomato as well.

Although I believe that organic products do taste better than conventional, it isn't all about the tatse. It is about all the nasty stuff you find on conventional products (pesticides, GM foods, etc.) and sustainable farming that makes the difference for me.

post #13 of 25
Hi There :)

I'm not sure where you live, But don't forget to check some of the local "ethnic" grocery stores. The San Marzano's at the Italian grocery stores in my area are also cheaper than all the domestics at the "regular" grocery stores.

I also use whole plum's when making sauce. I just drop them in...and squash them a few times with a potato masher.

take care,
post #14 of 25
Actually, it IS possible to roast whole canned tomatoes; we used to do it at work. These have the advantage of already being peeled. Drain them well, squeeze out the seeds, mix them with a little olive oil, and spread out on a baking sheet. Roast as you would fresh, until somewhat dry and very lightly browned.

I agree that good canned are better than out-of-season "fresh." And now is a good time to get canned (in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway) because they will be this year's crop.

What I like to do is make a big batch of plain sauce, with mirepoix and tomatoes and not much else. I portion it out, and when I'm ready to use it, that's when I add my other flavorings. This way I can tailor it to the dish I want to make. I like to add chopped fennel and crushed fennel seeds; sliced or chopped good-quality green or black olives; anchovies and hot pepper flakes; dried herbs (for dishes in which the sauce will simmer a long time) or fresh herbs (for quick dishes); and, yes, diced roasted peppers. Sometimes I add several of these. You can add whatever you like, really, as long as you don't worry about the sauce being "authentic."
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
post #15 of 25
Well, this is all fairly subjective, but for pizza, I prefer a bright, acidic, fresher tasting sauce but for pasta/meatballs/lasagna I like the sweeter/duller flavor of a long simmered sauce (or a short simmered sauce that utilizes a dark shade of paste).

I'm with your Uncle's famous friend and his herbless approach. In fact, I can't eat commercial pasta sauces because of their ubiquitously heavy handed approach to dried herbs. I dislike dried oregano, but dried basil- that's just disgusting. I use fresh basil in pizza sauce. In pasta/meatball/lasagna sauce, I'm herb free.

And, again, it's totally subjective, but I love raw, bright, fragrant and fresh minced garlic in pizza sauce, but in pasta sauce, it's all about the caramelized onions.

The one 'bright' flavor that I add to pasta sauce but omit from pizza sauce is evoo. I use a small amount of evoo (about 1/10 the total oil) to give a slight olivey note. Other than that, my pasta sauce is all about deep, rich, decadent and lush flavors.
post #16 of 25

Tomatoes and Sauce

Just what this post needs...someone else chiming in! But I can't resist. During the summer, when our Roma-type tomatoes are ripe, we find they make a better cooked sauce than canned. This is absolutely the case for uncooked pasta sauces (like salsa cruda: tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar, garlic and spices) and pretty much true for short-cooked sauces.

We also oven-dry our Romas for use later in the year. Since they are not completely dried, they go into the freezer in double layer bags.

Off season (we live in the northeast), we have yet to find tomatoes--no matter how or where they were grown that are as good as canned tomatoes. I find no consistent difference between whole or diced, organic or not, imported or domestic, though there are brand to brand variations. Also, we've had some good luck with aseptically packed products (the boxed things), which usually are cooked a shorter time, but again the brand variations dominate.

Watch out, however, for "pasta ready" or seasoning added (peppers, onions, basil, garlic, stc.) canned products. We've found that a number of these have added sugar which may not be what you want in a given recipe. You need to read the ingredient list.

We've also liked some of the fire-roasted canned products, but the post from the always inventive Suzanne has encouraged us to try roasting canned tomatoes ourselves. (Yet another example of what always draws me back to this site!)
post #17 of 25
When I first registered on this forum a couple of weeks ago I got a vague impression that some members of this forum are/were somewhat anti foodnetwork/foodtv.
That is too bad because I'd estimate that I've learned 80% of my culinary skills throught them. Care to debate? :talk: I am definitely pro-foodnetwork. But that is a subject for a different thread. Back to my point....

I once broiled canned whole tomatoes to make the sauce in this Alton Brown recipe:,00.html

Although the tomatoes broiled up just fine, I wasn't happy with the outcome of the sauce. I think it was my techinique though. I haven't given it another go.

This Tyler Florence recipe is my favorite for pasta sauce. It is actually from a chicken Parmesan recipe, but I like it with just pasta, and maybe some spicy sausage links:
post #18 of 25
Not disagreeing with anything you pointed out, but just for clarity's sake, the reference I made to "encyclopizza" was for the part about the canned tomato process.

As anyone who has looked up the website, it is very Loooonnnggg, and deals primarily with all things pizza.

post #19 of 25
I know this is old, but I thought I'd share my most recent recipe for sauce.

I start with a large can of whole plum tomatoes (I actually like Hunts because they do seem to be plum tomatoes, which work the best). I cut off the hard ends and seed them, and then throw them, mostly whole, into a big bowl to await their fate. I also dump in the juice that's left in the can. I mince about 6 cloves of garlic and half a red onion and put those in their own bowls. A bit of fresh basil also, but not much. I dump a generous amount of olive oil into my favorite pan, let the oil heat, and then add my garlic and onion, sauteeing until tender and browned. I then add my tomatoes and tomato juice from the can, letting them get a bit tender before I break them up with my spoon. When things have started to come together a bit I add basil, salt, and pepper to taste, then let simmer until my desired thickness.

This seems to be a hit with most of my family and my boyfriend, not big on tomatoes but LOVES tomato sauce, can't get enough of it. I end up with a relatively thick sauce that has decent sized chunks of tomato. Interestingly enough, I find that I don't need sugar; I, personally, like a bit of bite to a pasta sauce.

Oh, and on the subject of olive oil; this has been said by other people time and time again, but it bears repeating, especially for sauces: buy the best you can afford. My favorite for sauce/frying equals out to about $18 per litre and my favorite for dipping/dressing is $35 per litre. I also always use extra virgin olive oil.
post #20 of 25
San Marzano tomatoes are awesome but you have to watch the labels because there are two varieties. There are the real San Marzano tomatoes grown and canned in San Marzano, Italy and there is a San Marzano brand which are domestically produced (in the states). When I worked for we carried San Marzano brand made in New York but I had a friend going to Naples who sent me a few cans from San Marzano and they were superior in flavor.

To answer the question at hand about stuff to put in a red sauce I have found basil to be essential. Don't add it too early because it tends to darken and brown if it gets too hot. I also use a bay leaf or two, chopped red pepper or roasted red pepper flakes or roasted red peppers. I don't like to add too many colors to the sauce so I avoid yellow or green pepper.

I also used dried chipotle peppers and sun dried tomatoes a few times with mixed results.

Last night I made a red sauce and a pesto that both had chopped baby pearl onions and halved grape tomatoes. I also added basil, roasted garlic, salt, pepper, roasted red pepper flakes, and oregano.

In short experiment with your sauces. Who wants to make boring traditional stuff all the time? It doesn't have to be strictly "by the book" if you want to throw asparagus spears and chopped fennel bulbs in your sauce go nuts! Some of the most acclaimed chefs in the industry snub convention and get wild with their food. If you want to call your creation Italian red sauce it's your prerogative. Purists may disagree but your food is what you make it.

“If there's anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now.” -- Zaphod Beeblebrox

“If there's anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now.” -- Zaphod Beeblebrox
post #21 of 25
The January 2007 issue (#83) of Fine Cooking magazine has a recipe for a ragu for which you cook ribs on the bone in the sauce, then shred the meat back into the sauce. More elaborate than a simple tomato sauce, but, man, does it sound -- and look -- good. :lips:
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
post #22 of 25
Oh man that does sound good.

“If there's anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now.” -- Zaphod Beeblebrox

“If there's anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now.” -- Zaphod Beeblebrox
post #23 of 25
Suzanne, my Romanian grandmother used to add chicken necks, etc. to the tomato sauce she made stuffed peppers in. I was always aggravated by the bones in the sauce, but you couldn't beat it for richness.
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post #24 of 25
I got this recipe from Cooks Illustrated. I was quite pleased with the reult. The recipe is a good base for adding other ingredients as well, but I liked it "straight." 1/2 tsp of red pepper flakes is a nice addition

This recipe makes enough to sauce more than a pound of pasta; leftovers can be refrigerated or frozen. Because canned tomatoes vary in acidity and saltiness, it's best to add salt, pepper, and sugar to taste just before serving. If you prefer a chunkier sauce, give it just three or four pulses in the food processor in step 4. Makes 4 cups

2 (28 ounce) cans whole tomatoes , packed in juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion , chopped fine (about 1 cup)
2 medium cloves garlic , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/3 cup dry red wine , such as Chianti or Merlot
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Table salt and ground black pepper
1 - 2 teaspoons sugar , as needed (see note above)

1. Pour tomatoes and juice into strainer set over large bowl. Open tomatoes with hands and remove and discard fibrous cores; let tomatoes drain excess liquid, about 5 minutes. Remove 3/4 cup tomatoes from strainer and set aside. Reserve 2 1/2 cups tomato juice and discard remainder.

2. Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and golden around edges, 6 to 8 minutes. Add garlic and oregano and cook, stirring constantly, until garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds.

3. Add tomatoes from strainer and increase heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring every minute, until liquid has evaporated and tomatoes begin to stick to bottom of pan and brown fond forms around pan edges, 10 to 12 minutes. Add wine and cook until thick and syrupy, about 1 minute. Add reserved tomato juice and bring to simmer; reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally and loosening browned bits, until sauce is thick, 8 to 10 minutes.

4. Transfer sauce to food processor (or transfer to saucepan and insert immersion blender; see the related article "Do You Really Need a Hand Blender?") and add reserved tomatoes; process until slightly chunky, about eight 2-second pulses. Return sauce to skillet and add basil and extra-virgin olive oil and salt, pepper, and sugar to taste.
post #25 of 25

I couldn't find the recipe. Perhaps you can provide a specific pointer to it or maybe post it. Recently I came across two recipes that sound similar. I'd love to compare them and maybe post one or both of the others. Thanks!

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