Step aside store-bought jars! It’s time to learn how to make a delicious tomato sauce from scratch. While some might consider this pretty rudimentary, we say it’s downright impressive—especially to your guests.
Turning tomatoes into sauce is a bit labor-intensive, but you can speed up the process significantly when you’re armed with these proper tips, tricks, and prep. We’ll show you which tomatoes work best for a sauce, teach you how to blanch and peel them, and, of course, how to flavor and cook an incredible sauce.
Whether you have a surplus of tomatoes from your container gardening, or you just couldn’t resist those botanical beauties at the farmers market, making tomato sauce is one of the best ways to use them all up.
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When making sauce, most tomatoes will do, but your best bet is to select tomatoes with a firm, meaty texture with little to no water or seeds on the inside.
The Roma tomato can be found at just about any grocery store or market. Romas are a type of paste tomato, which is typically what’s recommended for making sauce. San Marzano tomatoes are also great for sauce.
The only trouble with the latter is they’re smaller, which means you’ll have more work to do when it comes to blanching, peeling, and puréeing. We’ve made tomato sauce with larger tomatoes, like beefsteaks, and were just as happy with the flavor in the end.
So, if you have a few varieties growing at home, feel free to wait till they’re ready to pick to start making your sauce.
Now that you know which tomatoes to pick up for your sauce, we have a few other helpful tips. Here are a few pointers to expedite your sauce-making adventure:
- Create an assembly line: Gather all your essentials before starting, and create an assembly line. This is what we call “production,” and it will fast-pace the prepping plan before actually cooking the sauce. Do this by washing and scoring all tomatoes at first, setting your large pot up with water, then getting a bowl of ice-cold water for dunking. Once everything is prepared, you’re ready to start.
- Flavor with fragrant ingredients: Aromatics are your best friend in lots of different recipes, but they’ll really spruce up a tomato sauce. Think mirepoix (onion, celery, carrots) or the holy trinity (onion, celery, and bell pepper) when enhancing a sauce. Garlic is a must, too!
- Avoid reactive cookware: Make sure to cook your tomato sauce in a non-reactive pot, like something made of stainless steel. Cooking acidic foods like tomatoes in reactive cookware will cause discoloration and flavor alteration.
- Balance with a touch of sweetness: Adding just a dash of sugar is one of the most common ways to add a touch of sweetness to a sauce and help balance out the acidity. Other ways to do so are with naturally sweet ingredients like grated carrots.
- Add a little savory flavor: For more of an umami taste (which means savory or meaty), you can add various ingredients like grated parmesan, mushrooms, or anchovy paste.
- Go for dried herbs: While we love working with fresh herbs, a sauce that will be simmered for some time will do better with more potent dried herbs. Dried basil, thyme, sage, and oregano are all the most common types of dried herbs added to tomato sauce.
You’ll need a few tools to help get you through this somewhat laborious process. With the right accessories, though, you’ll speed through with ease. We recommend the items below.
Any large bowl will get the job done, or even a large saucepan or pot will work. As long as you fill it with cold water and several ice cubes, you’ve got a large ice bath ready to go.
If you don’t own any large bowls, Pyrex is a great choice. We love the trusted brand as it’s provided excellent cookware for over 100 years. This bowl is great for making batters and doughs, building salads, and taking on the go. Not to mention it’s microwave, freezer, oven, and dishwasher safe.
Once you’ve blanched and peeled your tomatoes, you’ll need to blend them up, and a food processor is a fantastic tool for that. Pulse for a chunkier style sauce, or puree into a fine marinara style.
Aside from tomato sauce, the food processor works to grate cheese, blend dips, make nut butter, and so much more. Our favorite way to use it is for blending homemade veggie burger patties.
Here’s an excellent non-reactive stockpot perfect for highly acidic foods like tomatoes. It’s large enough to boil several tomatoes at once, then cook them afterward. You’ll also love using this pot for making stocks, soups, stews, and more.
Now that you’ve learned a few tips and know just what you need, it’s time to create your own delicious tomato sauce.
Start by setting up a production line with everything you’ll need. Wash all your tomatoes, and use a paring knife to score an “X” on the bottom of each.
Place the tomatoes in a large pile by the stove, fill a large stockpot with water, and bring it to a boil.
While the water is heating up, fill a large bowl with ice cubes and cold water. Set a compost bin nearby to ditch your tomato skins in as you peel, or you can use your sink if it’s easier.
You should then work your way from one end of your production line to the other. Make sure your line starts with the pile of tomatoes, then the pot of boiling water, followed by the ice bath, a compost bin for skins, and another large bowl for the tomatoes.
Once your production line is ready to go and the water is boiling, carefully start dropping several tomatoes in, working in batches. In just under a minute, you’ll notice the tomato’s skins start to pull or wrinkle.
Using a slotted spoon, remove them, then place them directly in the ice bath. Once all the tomatoes are done, you’ll want to discard the water from the large pot. You’ll use it again to cook your sauce.
Remove each tomato from the ice bath, then use your fingers to peel off the skin.
We like to peel the skins before we make the sauce, as they can add a bitter flavor. Peeling first also ensures a uniformly smooth consistency when puréeing.
Now that your tomatoes are all peeled, you’ll want to transfer small batches to the food processor. Purée for a uniformly smooth sauce, or pulse several times for a chunkier, heartier sauce.
The tomatoes will break down on their own while cooking, so using the food processor is an optional step if you like a really hearty sauce. Otherwise, blending is your best option for a thinner, smoother consistency.
There are many ways to flavor a tomato sauce, but the traditional is always best, in our opinion. You can use all of the following:
- Olive oil: Use this to heat ingredients (like onions and garlic) before adding the tomatoes to the pot.
- Garlic: We never skip cloves of fresh garlic. Chop, grate, or roast several, then add them directly to the oil.
- Aromatics: We always use chopped onion, but some like to add an entire onion, then remove it later. This adds a delicate taste to the sauce. We also use celery and love adding carrots to sweeten the sauce and balance against the acidity. The carrots add so much to the sauce—it’s one of our favorite components.
- Herbs: Dried basil, thyme, sage, and oregano all taste amazing when simmered into a sauce.
- Dairy: Feel free to further flavor and enhance your sauce into something a bit richer by adding things like a swirl of heavy cream, shredded Parmesan, or a tablespoon of salted butter.
Add a bit of oil to your saucepan, then add the garlic, onion, and any other veggies of choice for texture and flavor. Once they begin to soften, add your tomatoes and herbs, then simmer for about an hour.
If you aren’t adding any carrots, be sure to add about 1-2 teaspoons of sugar to balance out the acidity.
Near the end, add any richness enhancers, like a swirl of butter or cream, or Parmesan cheese. Taste test as you go, and add some salt and pepper if needed.
Remember, making a tomato sauce is super impressive to guests and always exceeds the quality of the jarred kind. Speaking of quality (and sauce), another fantastic way to dazzle family and friends is by creating a quick pan sauce to accompany any homemade dinner.