Truly, the BEST Simple Tomato Sauce Recipe!
This San Marzano Tomato Sauce recipe is one of the most well-loved and go-to recipes in my arsenal. I make it so often that I have it memorized – a true kitchen staple here at the PWWB house!
With just 5 simple ingredients and 10 minutes of easy, hands-off cooking you too can make this restaurant-worthy sauce completely from scratch.
Despite its ease this simple sauce does not skimp on flavor thanks to the quality of its ingredients.
Italian San Marzano tomatoes add brightness to the sauce without being super acidic and sweet even though they’re canned. A good extra virgin olive oil reinforces the sauce with a rich, fruity flavor while simple aromatics like fresh basil and garlic provide big flavor.
The result is a light, fresh, and aromatic sauce that’s perfectly balanced. It’s not quite as rich as a slowly simmered sauce like a marinara or bolognese making it the perfect sauce to use on pretty much anything – from pasta, to meatballs, chicken cutlets, layered in lasagna, for pizza night, and so much more!
Italian simplicity at its finest. ♡
FREE Email Series: PWWB Pasta School
Make restaurant-worthy pasta at home!
Key Ingredients for this Quick Tomato Sauce
What Is So Special About San Marzano Tomatoes?
San Marzano tomatoes set the bar for canned tomatoes. They’re often considered the absolute best quality, and I completely agree! The bright, sweet, and only mildly acidic flavor of San Marzano tomatoes is key to making an amazing simple tomato sauce.
San Marzano is both a type of long, thin plum tomato and a region of Italy near Naples where the volcanic soils produce sweeter, less acidic tomatoes. True San Marzano tomatoes are grown in this region and picked at peak ripeness for the best flavor before canning. The unique combination of tomato variety and soil is so special that official San Marzano tomatoes were given “protected designation of origin” status (or D.O.P.). The certification is similar to other Italian treasures like Parmigiano Reggiano or balsamic vinegar that are best produced under specific regional conditions.
When shopping for San Marzano tomatoes, there are a few indicators you should look for to know you’re buying the best quality options out there:
- San Marzano tomatoes need to be canned whole or cut in half to earn certification. Diced, pureed, or boxed San Marzano tomatoes are likely not authentic.
- Certified, high-quality San Marzanos from Italy will have a star-shaped D.O.P. certification symbol on the can. This is the best-quality, straight from Italy stuff perfect for making San Marzano tomato sauce!
Once you find San Marzano tomatoes, I recommend stocking up with several cans while you’re at the store. Trust me, you’ll get great use out of them once you taste how amazing they are! Feel free to grab a few other varieties of canned tomatoes too and do a taste test just for fun. I think you’ll taste the difference in a can of San Marzano tomatoes!
Note: Full ingredients list & measurements provided in the Recipe Card, below.
How to Make San Marzano Tomato Sauce in 15 Minutes!
After 5 minutes of prep to gather your ingredients, it only takes 10 minutes of fairly hands-off cooking time to create the absolute best San Marzano tomato sauce. The quick tomato sauce comes together in 3 easy steps!
Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.
Chop the San Marzano tomatoes. Add the San Marzano tomatoes and their juices to a food processor, then pulse to chop the tomatoes to your desired texture. Why? ⇢ Chopping the tomatoes releases all their flavorful juices and gives you control over the texture of the sauce. I like a good rough chop that still has some texture from the whole tomatoes, but feel free to pulse until the tomatoes are smooth if that’s what you prefer.
Recipe note! ⇢ Real-deal Italian nonnas crush their tomatoes by hand in this step and by all means do so if you prefer! I like to use my food processor instead because it’s quicker and way less messy. When I crush tomatoes by hand I end up spurting tomato juice everywhere! 🤷🏻♀️
Perfume the oil. Add the EVOO and crushed garlic to a saucepan or skillet over medium-low heat. If the temperature is too hot the garlic will burn, so be mindful of the temperature here. Cook for a few minutes, stirring often until you start to smell the garlic and it turns golden-brown. You can also add the red pepper flakes if you’re using them. Why? ⇢ Gently sautéing the garlic and red pepper flakes releases a ton of flavor in the aromatics that will layer into the San Marzano tomato sauce.
Assemble and quickly simmer the San Marzano tomato sauce. Add the chopped San Marzano tomatoes to the pan along with the fresh basil, sugar, and a little salt and ground black pepper. Stir everything to combine and increase the heat, allowing the sauce to come to a simmer. Let the flavors simmer together for about 8 – 10 minutes, then remove and discard the garlic and basil.
Recipe FAQ! Why add sugar to tomato sauce? ⇢ Adding sugar cuts the acidity of the tomatoes for a well-balanced sauce. Even though San Marzano tomatoes are not as acidic as other canned tomatoes, sugar is still essential to achieve a beautiful balance of flavor. Remember, we’re not using a ton of sugar here – a mere teaspoon does the trick!
What to Serve with Your Absolute Best San Marzano Tomato Sauce
This San Marzano tomato sauce is the perfect pairing for basically ANY of your favorite Italian-style dishes – pasta, pizza, meatballs, chicken cutlets, lasagna, you name it! I make this simple tomato sauce several times a month because it works well with so many different dishes.
Here are some of my favorite ways to put this simple San Marzano tomato sauce to use:
- Any pasta dish! I’m pretty obsessed with pasta, in case you didn’t already know. Both fresh pasta and dried pasta are great tossed with San Marzano tomato sauce. Check out the PWWB Guide to Cooking Pasta Perfectly for more sauce tips and tricks!
- Meatballs! These Best-Ever Italian Meatballs and Chicken Parmesan Meatballs are two of my favorites. Both recipes simmer in a simple tomato sauce to make the meatballs extra tender!
- Crispy Parmesan Crusted Chicken. Add some San Marzano tomato sauce to these homemade chicken cutlets for one killer chicken parm dinner!
- Pizza Night! Whether it’s cooked on the grill or in a cast-iron skillet, this quick tomato sauce is perfect on pretty much any pizza.
- Grilled sausage! Make an epic sausage sandwich by spooning your tomato sauce over grilled Italian sausages with roasted peppers and onions.
- Gnocchi all’Amatriciana. Pillowy-soft potato and parmesan dumplings pair perfectly with the best simple tomato sauce ever. Two of my favorite things in one dish!
Storage and Freezing
This San Marzano tomato sauce is incredibly make-ahead and freezer-friendly! It’s a great thing to store for later when you’re running extra-tight on time at dinner or don’t have all the simple tomato sauce ingredients on hand. Freeze San Marzano tomato sauce in small portions and reheat in a skillet anytime you need it.
Refer to the Recipe Notes, below, for full storage, freezing, and reheating instructions.
I can’t wait for you to try this Simple San Marzano Tomato Sauce! It’s quick, easy to make, and absolutely perfect in every way. If you do give it a try, be sure to let me know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo and tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. I LOVE hearing about and seeing your PWWB creations! ♡ Happy cooking!Print
This San Marzano tomato sauce is one of my all-time favorite recipes. Unlike the slowly simmered bolognese and ragu recipes we’ve shared here on PWWB, this quick and simple tomato sauce recipe leans on 5 simple ingredients, 5 minutes of prep, and just 10 minutes of easy, hands-off cooking. The result? A restaurant-worthy homemade tomato sauce with seriously light and fresh flavor. I’m positive you’ll love it just as much as we do!
The secret lies in using high-quality ingredients, like fresh basil, fruity extra virgin olive oil, and real-deal San Marzano tomatoes, the super-special Italian tomatoes with the perfect balance of sweetness and acidity. (Check the Recipe Notes, below, to learn more about San Marzano tomatoes!)
But best of all – you can use this San Marzano tomato sauce in just about anything – pasta dishes, meatballs, pizza night, crispy chicken cutlets, and so much more. It’s a great staple recipe you’ll come back to time and time again.
- one 28-ounce can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes (see Recipe Notes)
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 6–8 cloves garlic, crushed and roughly chopped
- optional: up to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 2–3 sprigs fresh basil (about 6–8 leaves)
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- kosher salt and ground black pepper, to season
- Chop the tomatoes: Place the San Marzano tomatoes and their juices in a food processor. Pulse to chop the tomatoes as chunky or smooth as you’d like – I like a good rough chop with some texture. Set aside.
- Perfume the olive oil: Add the olive oil and garlic to a medium skillet or saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook 3-4 minutes, stirring often to prevent browning, until the garlic is golden and fragrant. If desired, add crushed red pepper flakes and cook 30 seconds – 1 minute longer, stirring often.
- Assemble and quickly simmer the San Marzano tomato sauce: Add the chopped tomatoes from Step 1 to the skillet, along with the fresh basil, granulated sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt and ground black pepper as desired. Stir to combine. Increase the heat under the skillet to medium, and simmer, stirring often, for 8-10 minutes. Once simmered, remove & discard the spent garlic & basil as desired.
- Serve: Once the San Marzano tomato sauce is simmered, you can use immediately (toss into your favorite pasta, serve with meatballs, layer into a lasagna, etc.) or you can cool and store for later use (see Recipe Notes for storage and freezing directions). Enjoy!
- San Marzano tomatoes are a special Italian plum tomato grown in the San Marzano region near Naples, Italy, where the volcanic soil produces sweeter, less acidic tomatoes. They are picked at peak ripeness to preserve the best flavor throughout the canning process. They are readily available in the canned tomato aisle in most conventional grocery stores, though you can typically be sure to find them at an Italian market. Be sure to look for DOP certification noted on the label, which ensures the tomatoes are authentic San Marzano tomatoes. If you cannot find authentic San Marzano tomatoes at the store, regular whole peeled tomatoes will work great as a quick substitute for this simple tomato sauce recipe – even better if they’re “San Marzano-style” tomatoes.
- Make-Ahead, Storage and Freezing:
- Storage and Reheating: This quick and simple San Marzano tomato sauce stores incredibly well – it’s the type of thing that gets even better as it sits and its flavors have the chance to meld together! To store, prep the sauce through Step 3 of Recipe Directions, above. Once cooled, transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for 4-5 days. Reheat on the stovetop for tossing into pasta during the week.
- Freezing Instructions: This quick and simple San Marzano tomato sauce is also incredibly freezer-friendly. To freeze, transfer the cooled San Marzano tomato sauce to a freezer container (or divide it up between multiple freezer containers for smaller portions – these are my absolute favorite freezer containers!). Freeze up to 3 months. To thaw, place the frozen San Marzano tomato sauce in the refrigerator overnight or submerge the freezer container in room temperature water for a quicker thaw. Reheat the tomato sauce in a skillet. If the thawed sauce is a little watery at first, simply allow any residual water to simmer out. If the thawed sauce is too thick, simply add in a splash of water or stock until your desired consistency is reached.
Keywords: simple tomato sauce recipe, San Marzano tomato sauce
Recipe and Food Styling by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by Rachel Cook, Half Acre House.