Tomato sauce is a classic base to so many dishes. Technically tomato sauce, like bechamel, is one of the five French Mother sauces. However, instead of using the French version, which includes making a roux, I prefer to use the Italian version. This is a lot simpler and as most of the dishes I use it in are Italianesque, it makes sense to use this version.
What is tomato sauce?
By tomato sauce I don’t mean ketchup. I mean the tomato sauce you find in pastas, on pizza and in chilli. It’s made by reducing tomatoes over a medium to low heat, with herbs to flavour. You can easily adjust the flavour of this sauce to create any dish you wish. Whether you add chilli flakes to make an arrabiata sauce, paprika, cumin and chilli powder for chilli or capers and wine for a seafood spaghetti, what you do with this dish is completely up to you!
For this recipe, you’ll just need
- Frypan, saute pan or saucepan
- Wooden spoon
- Chef, slicing or utility knife
- Can opener (if using canned tomatoes with no ring pull)
- Garlic crusher (optional)
- Handheld blender (if you want a smoother sauce)
- Olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves
- 400g canned tomatoes (chopped, diced or plum) or passata
- Salt and pepper
There are a couple of techniques you’ll need to know to make this sauce; crushing and simmering.
- Slice the root end (flat end) of your garlic clove off.
- Turn your knife horizontally with the blade away from you. Place the flat of the blade on top of the garlic clove and hold the knife handle securely. Smash the side of the blade against the clove using the heel of your palm of the hand not holding the knife. The skin can easily be removed now. You can repeat this with the skin removed to crush the clove more.
- Turn the knife vertically and thinly slice the clove one way, then opposite so the clove is diced.
- Turn your knife horizontally with the blade away from you. Place the flat of the blade on top of the garlic clove and hold the knife handle securely. Press your fingers on the side of the blade putting pressure on the garlic. Slowly and carefully pull the knife towards you, keeping the pressure on the garlic. It will crush into a pulp like consistency.
You can also use a garlic crusher to do this by placing the whole garlic clove into the crusher and pressing. The flesh will come through the holes and the skin will remain inside the tool.
Simmering involves heating a sauce to a low but consistent bubble and keeping it there for a specified time. It’s less intense than a boil and helps slowly thicken a sauce and let flavours infuse.
For 2 people for a basic pasta dish, I’d use:
- 2 medium garlic bulbs (you can use one, I just prefer at least 2)
- 1 can of tomatoes
- At least 1 teaspoon of each of the herbs. Taste as you cook and judge for yourself if you think it needs more
The herbs in this sauce are very flexible. If you don’t want to use basil or oregano, or don’t have them, you can use mixed herbs, italian herbs, coriander or parsley. The main reason for adding herbs is to add flavour, so add whichever herbs you prefer or you can omit completely if you’d rather not have them. Use fresh where you can, but dried herbs are fine too. Just make sure they’re not out of date as this will affect the flavour.
I have a friend who’s allergic to garlic, so if you’re in the same boat, you don’t like it or you just don’t have any, you can also omit garlic from the recipe. I would recommend adding herbs though and seasoning well if you do omit garlic. This ingredient is a very good base for many dishes as it provides great flavour. So, if you’re not using it and don’t want a flavourless tomato sauce, be sure to add herbs to flavour.
I tend to use chopped / diced tomatoes as these are easy to find and give the sauce little texture. If you only have plum you can use these, but you may want to blend the tomatoes before adding to the sauce or break the chunks up with your wooden spoon as the sauce cooks. If you’re using passata, you’ll have a smoother sauce and a stronger tomato flavour.
Homemade Tomato Sauce
- 1 frypan, saute pan or saucepan
- 1 wooden spoon
- 1 chef, slicing or utility knife
- 1 can opener (if using canned tomatoes with no ring pull)
- 1 garlic crusher (optional)
- Blender (if you want a smoother sauce)
- 1 tbsp Olive Oil
- 2 Garlic cloves crushed
- 400 g Canned tomatoes (chopped, diced or plum) or passata
- 1 tsp Basil
- 1 tsp Oregano
- Salt and pepper
- Dice and crush garlic.
- Heat a little olive oil in a pan on a low heat. You can tell when it’s heated as the consistency will begin to thin and look more like water in the pan.
- Once the oil is heated, add the crushed garlic. Keep on a low heat and cook so the garlic becomes aromatic but don’t let it become coloured.
- Add tomatoes and 1 teaspoon of each herb you’re using.
- Stir the tomatoes and herbs in with the garlic to ensure it’s all combined.
- Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for at least 10 minutes.
- Taste after 10 minutes and add more herbs, salt or pepper if needed. You can add a little water here if the sauce is too thick.
- Remember to stir the sauce occasionally. You don’t want it to stick and stirring helps to distribute heat and flavour throughout.
- The sauce is ready when you’ve reached your desired consistency and flavour. You have the option of blitzing the sauce into a smooth sauce with a hand blender or (wait for it to cool first) a regular blender.
Now you know how to make tomato sauce, you can use it for:
- Mediterranean spaghetti
- Chicken arrabiata
- Seafood pasta
- Veggie pasta bake
- Arancini sauce
- Chicken parma
- Tomato soup
- Spanish rice
- Baked beans
- Minestrone soup
- Sausage pasta
This sauce can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for 4-5 days. The good thing about storing it before using it is it allows the flavours to infuse even more. Always check your tomato sauce before you use it to make sure it still smells good, isn’t growing any mould and, finally, still tastes ok.