Good, Simple Food – Tomato Sauce for Pasta

Humble Tomato Sauce

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Mundane as it is, homemade tomato sauce is a backbone of the Italian corner of our kitchen. It’s our supreme comfort food: pasta with tomato sauce settles us in after a long trip away from home; it’s food we celebrate with, cry over and dress up to entertain friends. I swear it runs through my kids’ veins.
This recipe was created by my husband Brad who grew up working in his family’s Italian restaurant. Over the years he developed his own recipe as I’m sure each of my five brothers-in-law have developed their own recipes, based on the sauce traditions of their father and, before that, their grandfather.
Brad’s secret ingredient is anchovies, which are rich in natural glutamates, or umami. Warmed with olive oil and garlic and mashed with a fork, the anchovies melt into the background to enhance the flavor of the sauce. He adds a finely grated carrot for natural sweetness.
Don’t be daunted by the large quantity – it has multiple uses and freezes beautifully. For a heartier meal, add browned lean ground turkey, lean Italian sausage or homemade meatballs. Use it to sauce lasagna and cannelloni; simmer to reduce and thicken and slather on pizza dough.
There are many wonderful ways to make tomato sauce, so whether you follow our simple recipe, your own or another favorite – I’m sure it will be vastly tastier than any jarred sauce off the supermarket shelf.
Nutrition note: Use whole grain pasta for better nutrition. We transitioned our family gradually, by mixing half whole wheat and half white pasta for a while. I like the quality of Bionaturae brand of whole wheat pasta, Trader Joe’s whole wheat pasta and Barilla Plus which is not technically whole grain but is high in protein (added legume flour and egg whites) and fiber without being too grainy and heavy.
Tomato Sauce for Pasta (Big Batch)
2 tablespoons plus 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided use
1 yellow onion, chopped (1 1/2 cups)
5 anchovies, drained
6 to 8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups red wine (optional)
3 cans (28-ounce) crushed tomatoes with basil
2 cans (28-ounce) diced tomatoes in juice
1 cup grated carrot
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
1 bay leaf
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
Place a large, heavy Dutch oven or stockpot on stove over medium-low to medium heat. Swirl 2 tablespoons olive oil in bottom of pan. Add onions. Cook, stirring often with long wooden spoon, until onions are soft and light golden, 10 to 15 minutes.
Reduce heat to low. With spoon, move onions to outside perimeter of pan. Add anchovies, garlic and 1 tablespoon olive oil to center of pan. Mash with a fork to a smooth paste. Stir to blend with onions.
Stir in red wine if using. Increase heat and simmer for a couple of minutes. Stir in tomatoes (with liquid), carrot and herbs. Cover, bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer very gently for about an hour. Add salt (if needed) and ground black pepper to taste. Remove and discard bay leaf.
Cool sauce and divide into 3 to 4 containers. Cover and chill or freeze. Makes about 4 quarts.
•I use Muir Glen organic tomatoes (they don’t pay me).
•For smoother sauce whirl diced tomatoes in blender or food processor before using.
•For a thick, “American Style” sauce, replace the diced tomatoes with an additional two cans (28-ounce) crushed tomatoes.
Meat Sauce: Our favorite is a combination of lean ground turkey (or extra lean beef) and lean Italian chicken or turkey sausage (squeezed from casings if raw). Brown the meats in an oiled skillet, stirring and breaking into bite-sized pieces, then add to the sauce.
Vegetarian Sauce: Sauté cubed eggplant and sliced mushrooms in a lightly oiled nonstick skillet for a meaty-tasting vegan sauce.
•To substitute dry herbs, use 1 teaspoon dried herb for every 1 tablespoon fresh.
•For richness, add a drizzle of quality extra virgin olive oil onto the pasta as you toss it with the sauce.

lorelle About lorelle

Crazy about cooking, eating and sharing good food – my work and leisure revolve around the kitchen. As a culinary dietitian my professional life encompasses nutrition counseling and education, recipe development, product development, food and nutrition writing, marketing communications, corporate test kitchen and consumer affairs management, food styling and work as a product spokesperson.


  1. I made this recipe for a group of my friends and they absolutely LOVED it!!! Thanks for sharing and for making great meals!!!

    • Thanks so much for trying the recipe! I’m so glad your friends loved it. Keep cooking!

      • Laurie Haight says

        I’m trying this as I still crave Bancheros regularly!! I have a great soup recipe that tastes and smells right (but more “goodies”, as we Fought over those!). I can’t wait to try the anchovy tip.
        Several years ago I bought an Italian cookbook and tried the Sunday Gravy recipe. I set it to simmering, went to church, and came home in early afternoon. Walking in I had flashbacks to the wait-and-slide on the seemingly huge U-shaped bench. The whole house smelled like Bancheros, which was completely unexpected! The taste was pretty darn close also—much of the flavor came from browning thin round steak and some pork ribs slowly so there’s plenty to deglaze, and it’s not right without Romano and parsley in the sauce.


  1. […] Link to my husband Brad’s red sauce. In a pinch I make it, but his always seems to taste better. In a pinch I make it, but his always […]

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