Perfect, Quick and Simple San Marzano Tomato Sauce

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It only takes 15 minutes to make the absolute best San Marzano Tomato Sauce! Bright & sweet San Marzano tomatoes quickly simmer with olive oil, garlic, & fresh basil, creating a balanced, simple tomato sauce made from pantry staple ingredients. This San Marzano tomato sauce recipe is a go-to for pasta dishes, meatballs, pizza night, or any other Italian meal in need of a quick homemade tomato sauce. A staple recipe you’ll come back to time & time again!

Naturally vegetarian, vegan, & dairy-free.

An overhead shot of finished San Marzano tomato sauce fills a large white double-handled skillet. The quick tomato sauce is garnished with chopped basil and the skillet sits atop a creamy white textured surface. A wooden spoon rests inside of the skillet for serving and a light blue linen napkin is tucked underneath the skillet.

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. ♡

A plate of pasta tossed in San Marzano tomato sauce is plated on a creamy white speckled plate. The pasta has been garnished with parmesan cheese and fresh chopped basil. The plate sits atop a creamy white surface with a light blue linen napkin tucked underneath the plate. A set of silverware rests alongside the plate and a few loose basil leaves surround the plate.

Key Ingredients for this Quick Tomato Sauce

Ingredient Spotlight

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!

Simple San Marzano Tomato Sauce ingredients arranged on a creamy white textured surface: whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, fresh basil, granulated sugar, kosher salt and ground black pepper, and optional crushed red pepper.

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.

1

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! 🤷🏻‍♀️

2

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.

3

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!

Finished San Marzano tomato sauce fills a large white double-handled skillet. The quick tomato sauce is garnished with chopped basil and the skillet sits atop a creamy white textured surface. A light blue linen napkin rests alongside the skillet.

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:

A plate of pasta tossed in San Marzano tomato sauce is plated on a creamy white speckled plate. The pasta has been garnished with parmesan cheese and fresh chopped basil. The plate sits atop a creamy white surface with a light blue linen napkin tucked underneath the plate.

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.

A side angle shot of pasta tossed in San Marzano tomato sauce that is plated on a creamy white speckled plate. The pasta has been garnished with parmesan cheese and fresh chopped basil. The plate sits atop a creamy white surface with a light blue linen napkin tucked underneath the plate. A set of silverware rests alongside the plate and a few loose basil leaves and a small wooden pinch bowl filled with parmesan cheese rest just above the plate.

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!

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An overhead shot of finished San Marzano tomato sauce fills a large white double-handled skillet. The quick tomato sauce is garnished with chopped basil and the skillet sits atop a creamy white textured surface. A wooden spoon rests inside of the skillet for serving and a light blue linen napkin is tucked underneath the skillet.

Quick and Simple San Marzano Tomato Sauce

  • Author: Jess Larson
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 minutes
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: 3 cups 1x
  • Category: Sauces & Condiments, Pasta Recipes
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Italian
  • Diet: Vegan

Description

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. 


Ingredients

Scale
  • one 28-ounce can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes (see Recipe Notes)
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 68 cloves garlic, crushed and roughly chopped
  • optional: up to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 23 sprigs fresh basil (about 68 leaves)
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • kosher salt and ground black pepper, to season Simple San Marzano Tomato Sauce ingredients arranged on a creamy white textured surface: whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, fresh basil, granulated sugar, kosher salt and ground black pepper, and optional crushed red pepper.

Instructions

  1. 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.How to make San Marzano tomato sauce, step 1: Chop the tomatoes. An overhead shot of a food processor bowl is filled with San Marzano tomatoes that have been pulsed & chopped leaving some textured to use in a quick tomato sauce. The food processor bowl sits atop a creamy white surface.
  2. 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.How to make San Marzano tomato sauce, step 2: Perfume the olive oil. Olive oil, crushed garlic cloves, and crushed red pepper flakes rest inside a white double-handled skillet. The skillet sits atop a creamy white surface.
  3. 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.How to make a quick tomato sauce, step 3: Assemble and simmer the San Marzano tomato sauce. Chopped tomatoes, fresh basil, granulated sugar, kosher salt, and ground black pepper are added to perfumed olive oil in a large white double-handled skillet. The combination will simmer to create a simple tomato sauce.The skillet sits atop a creamy white surface.
  4. 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!An overhead shot of pasta tossed in San Marzano tomato sauce that is plated on a creamy white speckled plate. The pasta has been garnished with parmesan cheese and fresh chopped basil. The plate sits atop a creamy white surface with a light blue linen napkin tucked underneath the plate. A set of silverware rests alongside the plate and a few loose basil leaves and a small wooden pinch bowl filled with parmesan cheese rest just above the plate.


Notes

  • 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.

A plate of pasta tossed in San Marzano tomato sauce is plated on a creamy white speckled plate. The pasta has been garnished with parmesan cheese and fresh chopped basil. The plate sits atop a creamy white surface with a light blue linen napkin tucked underneath the plate. A set of silverware rests alongside the plate and a few loose basil leaves surround the plate.

Follow along with Plays Well With Butter on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, and Pinterest for more unfussy recipes that pack a big punch of flavor!

Hi there, I'm Jess!

If there’s 1 thing to know about me, it’s this: I am head-over-heels in love with food. I’m on a mission to make weeknight cooking flavorful, fast, & fun for other foodies, & PWWB is where I share foolproof recipes that deliver major flavor with minimal effort. Other true loves: pretty shoes, puppies, Grey’s Anatomy, & my cozy kitchen in Minneapolis, MN.

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Comments

  1. 10.3.23
    Puckles said:

    Way too much oil and suggesting to throe away the garlic is just ridiculous.

    • 10.5.23
      Emma @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Hi Puckles, we’re sorry to hear you didn’t like this sauce. Olive oil is used in this recipe to fortify the sauce with rich flavor and luscious texture, which is important for a sauce like this one that comes together so quickly! Of course, you can always use less if that’s what you prefer. As far as the garlic goes, discarding garlic once it’s steeped its flavor into a dish is standard practice in many Italian recipes. Once its infused the olive oil and the sauce for several minutes, it’s really imparted much of its flavor into the sauce. You can definitely leave the garlic in the sauce if you prefer, but the flavor is already there regardless! We hope you’re able to find a tomato sauce recipe that’s better suited to your tastes. Have a great day!

  2. 8.17.23
    Elaine said:

    This looks great, but I have a question about the tomatoes. I grow San Marzano (without the volcanic soil) in my garden…will these work for this sauce? Not sure if they have all the juice as the canned versions. Thank you.

    • 8.18.23
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Hi Elaine! We’ve never tried making the sauce with fresh tomatoes before but it should work – if you do give it a try we’d recommend that you first blanch & peel the tomatoes then follow the recipe as written (being sure to pulse the tomatoes following Step 1). Please let us know if you have any additional questions & we’d love to hear if you do give the sauce a try! 🙂

  3. 1.6.23
    James said:

    Thanks for the post. http://www.fooddoz.com

    • 1.6.23
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Glad you enjoyed!

  4. 9.5.22
    Susan Berna said:

    Can I use fresh tomatoes?

    • 9.6.22
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Hi Susan! We wouldn’t recommend using fresh tomatoes in this recipe because the acidity of the tomatoes can vary quite a bit. San Marzano tomatoes are grown in a region in Italy where the volcanic soil produces sweeter & less acidic tomatoes. They’re then picked at peak ripeness & preserved for use. If you can’t find authentic San Marzano tomatoes at your local store, regular whole peeled tomatoes will work great!

      That being said, if you have lots of fresh tomatoes on hand – check out this Marinated Tomato Pasta, this Burrata Caprese Salad, these Cheesy Tomato Tarts, or this PWWB House Bruschetta!

  5. 7.15.22
    Joe Yanny said:

    I’m a sauce freak for many decades. My Italian Grandma made sauce like this. It’s going to be on our menu tonight. Many thanks for memories of my youth. Joe

    • 7.18.22
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Thanks so much Joe! Food memories are the best memories – so glad you enjoyed!!