Truly, the BEST Simple Tomato Sauce Recipe!
This San Marzano tomato sauce recipe is one of the most well-loved, favorite, go-to recipes in my arsenal. With just 5 simple ingredients, 5 minutes of quick prep, & 10 minutes of easy, hands-off cooking you can make a restaurant-worthy sauce made from scratch. It’s crazy-good. In fact, I make it so often that I have it memorized – a true kitchen staple here at the PWWB house!
As is the case with any simple recipe, the secret lies in the quality of its ingredients. Italian San Marzano tomatoes are bright without being super acidic & sweet even though they’re canned. Good extra virgin olive oil reinforces the sauce with a rich, fruity flavor while simple aromatics like fresh basil & garlic provide big flavor. This simple tomato sauce is Italian simplicity at its finest.
The result is a light, fresh, & aromatic sauce that’s perfectly balanced. It’s not quite as rich as a slowly simmered sauce like a marinara or bolognese. Instead, the quick cook time makes this simple San Marzano tomato sauce taste fresh & fragrant enough to use on pretty much anything – it’s great with pasta, meatballs, chicken cutlets, layered in lasagna, for pizza night, & so much more!
San Marzano Tomato Sauce Recipe Highlights
You’ll turn to this San Marzano tomato sauce recipe over & over again because it’s…
- SIMPLE YET FLAVORFUL. It’s pretty unbelievable how flavorful this San Marzano tomato sauce is for only using 5 basic ingredients. Simple Italian cooking at its finest!
- PERFECT WITH ANYTHING. Use San Marzano tomato sauce with chicken parmesan, lasagna, pasta, meatballs, pizza, etc. This quick & simple tomato sauce recipe pairs with basically everything!
- READY IN 15 MINUTES. Whip up a batch of quick homemade tomato sauce while the rest of your meal is cooking. It’ll be ready to go in 15 minutes or less!
The BEST quick homemade tomato sauce! ♡ Read on to learn more about how to make this Absolutely Perfect Quick & Simple San Marzano Tomato Sauce, or jump straight to the recipe & get cooking!
Key Ingredients for this Quick Tomato Sauce
Note: Full ingredients list & measurements provided in the Recipe Card, below.
You only need 6 ingredients to make a simple tomato sauce with tons of flavor. The key is sourcing the right ingredients. Always aim for the best quality options you can find so the flavors shine through!
- Whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes – San Marzano tomatoes are picked & canned at the peak of their ripeness, giving them an incredibly fresh, bright, & slightly sweet flavor. You can find a large 28-ounce can at most grocery stores near the other canned tomatoes & sauces. Look for the “DOP” label to ensure they’re the real deal. Learn more about San Marzano tomatoes below!
- Extra virgin olive oil – Use the good stuff here! Extra virgin olive oil elevates the San Marzano tomato sauce with a rich & fruity flavor, balancing the tomatoes. My go-to is DeLallo.
- Garlic – Crush the cloves to release their garlicky flavor & roughly chop them for use. The garlic will perfume the olive oil with an incredible amount of flavor in the base of the sauce.
- Fresh basil – If you grow basil at home, definitely use it here! The peak freshness will come through well in the sauce. There’s no need to chop the basil – simply use the whole leaves to infuse fresh flavor into the sauce as everything simmers.
- Granulated sugar – The littlest bit of sugar is important in a simple tomato sauce because it helps cut the acidity of the tomatoes & balance out the flavors.
- Crushed red pepper flakes – This is optional, but depending on the use of the sauce I like to add the red pepper flakes for a bit of heat in the dish.
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, & I completely agree! The bright, sweet, & 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 & a region of Italy near Naples where the volcanic soils produce sweeter, less acidic tomatoes. True San Marzano tomatoes are grown in this region & picked at peak ripeness for the best flavor before canning. The unique combination of tomato variety & 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 & do a taste test just for fun. I think you’ll taste the difference in a can of San Marzano tomatoes!
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 & 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 & 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 & by all means do so if you prefer! I like to use my food processor instead because it’s quicker & way less messy. When I crush tomatoes by hand I end up spurting tomato juice everywhere! 🤷🏻♀️
Perfume the oil. Add the EVOO & 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 & it turns golden-brown. You can also add the red pepper flakes if you’re using them. Why? ⇢ Gently sautéing the garlic & red pepper flakes releases a ton of flavor in the aromatics that will layer into the San Marzano tomato sauce.
Assemble & quickly simmer the San Marzano tomato sauce. Add the chopped San Marzano tomatoes to the pan along with the fresh basil, sugar, & a little salt & ground black pepper. Stir everything to combine & increase the heat, allowing the sauce to come to a simmer. Let the flavors simmer together for about 8 – 10 minutes, then remove & discard the garlic & 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 & dried pasta are great tossed with San Marzano tomato sauce. Check out the PWWB Guide to Cooking Pasta Perfectly for more sauce tips & tricks!
- Meatballs! These Best-Ever Italian Meatballs & 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 & onions.
- Gnocchi all’Amatriciana. Pillowy-soft potato & parmesan dumplings pair perfectly with the best simple tomato sauce ever. Two of my favorite things in one dish!
Storage & Freezing
This San Marzano tomato sauce is incredibly make-ahead & 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 & reheat in a skillet anytime you need it.
Refer to the Recipe Notes, below, for full storage, freezing, & reheating instructions.
I can’t wait for you to try this Simple San Marzano Tomato Sauce! It’s quick, easy to make, & 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 & tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. I LOVE hearing about & seeing your PWWB creations!
Looking for more Secret Sauce?! Quick, flavorful sauces are our FAVORITE! 🙌🏼 Be sure to my Damn Good Kale Pesto, Easy Chimichurri Sauce, or Go-To Lemon Tahini, or this Herbaceous Chermoula Sauce next. ♡ Happy cooking!Print
This San Marzano tomato sauce is one of my all-time favorite recipes. Unlike the slowly simmered bolognese & ragu recipes we’ve shared here on PWWB, this quick & simple tomato sauce recipe leans on 5 simple ingredients, 5 minutes of prep, & just 10 minutes of easy, hands-off cooking. The result? A restaurant-worthy homemade tomato sauce with seriously light & 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, & real-deal San Marzano tomatoes, the super-special Italian tomatoes with the perfect balance of sweetness & 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, & so much more. It’s a great staple recipe you’ll come back to time & 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 & 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 & ground black pepper, to season
- Chop the tomatoes: Place the San Marzano tomatoes & 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 & 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 & fragrant. If desired, add crushed red pepper flakes & cook 30 seconds – 1 minute longer, stirring often.
- Assemble & 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 & ground black pepper as desired. Stir to combine. Increase the heat under the skillet to medium, & 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 & store for later use (see Recipe Notes for storage & 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 & Freezing:
- Storage & 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 & 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 & 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 & Food Styling by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by Rachel Cook, Half Acre House.