This authentic Italian fresh tomato sauce highlights summer fresh tomatoes and basil. True to Italian cooking, it is a simple recipe using high-quality, seasonal ingredients. This homemade sauce is best made when tomatoes are at their peak, and is a great way to preserve garden fresh tomatoes for use all year long. Or to make a sauce with canned tomatoes, try my San Marzano tomato sauce recipe.
I like to make this sauce when its tomato season, and tomatoes are abundant in my urban home garden and in the farmer’s markets. This homemade tomato sauce features ripe and juicy tomatoes and fresh basil. For more summer Italian recipes, try Italian Frittata with Zucchini and Tomato, Spinach, Lemon, and Basil Farro, or Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Sauce.
Why You'll Love This Recipe
- Highlights seasonal produce. I love that this recipe really lets the beautiful in season tomatoes and fresh herbs shine.
- Authentically Italian. This recipe comes from an Italian chef, and in true Italian cuisine fashion uses fresh ingredients in a simple but delicious way.
- Flexible. This recipe is versatile in that you can use the tomato varieties you have on hand. This dish is made even better by using a variety of different tomatoes. Feel free to use more or less of a certain kind of tomato, but you will need about 5 pounds of tomatoes total.
This fresh summer tomato sauce recipe comes from Antonio Mellino, the chef owner of Quattro Passi, a two-star Michelin restaurant in Nerano, Italy. The recipe captures the spirit of summer on the Amalfi coast with it's fresh flavors and easy preparation.
Come Cook with me in Italy
June 26 - July 6, 2024
A culinary trip to
discover Jewish Southern Italy
This extra tasty tomato sauce represents the love and attention to detail that Antonio puts into his restaurant. He and his staff are warm and welcoming and take a lot of pride in what they do. The meal itself was a knockout and was further elevated by the full experience which included a tour of their hotel, the extensive wine cellar, and pristine professional kitchen. We dined on the terrace with a spectacular view overlooking the Bay of Nerano and the distinctive rock formations.
One by one each dish of the ten-course tasting menu was presented in an artful fashion. The dishes are a creative and modern interpretation of traditional and seasonal dishes from the Campania region.
The spaghetti and tomato sauce was so flavorful that it was an outstanding and elevated classic. While talking to the chef, I found the courage to ask him how he makes his tomato sauce. Antonio was generous and kind enough to share these instructions with me.
When I got home from my trip, I interpreted what he told me and wrote up this heirloom and cherry tomato sauce recipe. I have tested this recipe many times as it's now my go-to summer tomato sauce recipe. I like to make big batches and then preserve some in the freezer for use throughout the year.
Chef Mullino explained that using a variety of different tomatoes makes for the most flavorful sauce. He uses up to five different varieties grown on his farm such as cherry, San Marzano, and heirloom in several different colors. Since each tomato variety has a unique flavor, using multiple types really layers the flavors in the final tomato sauce.
Another great feature of this recipe is its flexibility. You make the recipe with whatever types of tomatoes you have at hand. This really works out well for me because in my small garden I usually have just one or two plants for each variety, so at any given time I'll only have a couple tomatoes ripe on each plant, but I can combine them all into one sauce.
Furthermore, the recipe can be adapted to use just onions or just garlic, you don't need to use both. In Italy, traditionally a dish is made with onions or garlic, but not both in one dish. However, I like that Chef Mullino was flexible, and said that it's fine to use both if desired.
Ingredient Notes and Substitutions
See the recipe card below for a complete ingredient list and measurements.Jump to Recipe
- Tomatoes - I use a mix of cherry and heirloom tomatoes for this recipe, but you can use a mix of varieties available to you. Use cherry tomatoes, roma tomatoes, San Marzano tomatoes, plum tomatoes, or heirloom tomatoes. I find this recipe to be best when you use a few different varieties. Just make sure you are using fresh tomatoes when they are in season.
- Other produce - Sweet onion and garlic. You can use both, or one or the other.
- Basil - Fresh basil helps give this dish the taste of summer.
- Pasta - Chef Mullino recommends spaghetti. I've also successfully made this dish with penne.
How to make fresh tomato sauce
See the recipe card below for complete directions.Jump to Recipe
Wash and slice tomatoes and onions.
Add tomatoes, onion, garlic, herbs, oil, and balsamic vinegar to a bowl and mix.
Cover bowl and let marinate for 4 to 24 hours in the refrigerator.
Place marinated vegetables in a large pot, and add salt and pepper. Cook at a low simmer until sauce reduces some.
Run the sauce through a food mill using the smallest holes. Toss the skins and whatever else can’t pass through the food mill.
Cook the pasta until almost al dente (cooked through but still firm), and then add to the warmed sauce. Cook together for a few minutes so the sauce flavors the pasta. Serve with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.
- Use fresh in season tomatoes. Because there are so few ingredients, the taste of each ingredient really matters, so only make this recipe when you have access to fresh, flavorful summer tomatoes. Sometimes farmers sell really ripe tomatoes for a discounted price, and these are perfect for making a sauce- just use them right away.
- Make a double (or triple) batch! If you have an abundance of fresh tomatoes, it's a great idea to make extra sauce to freeze to eat later in the year when tomatoes are no longer at their peak.
- Use what you have. If you don’t have a food mill, you can use a blender, immersion blender, or food processor to blend the sauce.
You can make this sauce up to 3 days in advance and reheat it before serving.
Storage and Reheating
How to store: Store homemade fresh tomato sauce in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to three days.
How to freeze: Store in the freezer in airtight freezer containers or mason jars with straight sides for up to one year. If the mason jar has a taper at the top of the jar, the sauce can break the glass as the liquid expands as it freezes. Defrost in the refrigerator overnight.
How to reheat: Reheat in the microwave or stovetop in a saucepan over medium heat until warmed throughout.
What to serve with fresh tomato spaghetti sauce
- Shaved Brussels Sprouts and Parmesan Salad
- Asparagus Soup
- Lavash Flatbread Pizza
- Pea Crostini
- Chicken Schnitzel
You can pair this fresh tomato spaghetti sauce with a protein to make a more filling meal. Try adding Italian sausage or grilled chicken breasts.
More pasta recipes
- San Marzano Tomato Sauce (made with canned tomatoes)
- Slow Cooker Short Rib Ragu
- Pesto Pasta
- Pumpkin Pasta
Frequently Asked Questions
No, when using fresh tomatoes for tomato sauce, it is not necessary to peel them first. After the sauce simmers, running it through a food mill will remove most of the larger pieces of tomato skin. Alternatively, you can blend the sauce with a blender or immersion blender until mostly smooth.
Yes, you can freeze tomato sauce made from fresh tomatoes! Freezing fresh tomato sauce is a great way to preserve them to be used all year long.
The best tomatoes for making fresh tomato sauce are ones that are ripe and in season. This recipe is best when a variety of tomatoes are used. You can try a combination of heirloom tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, plum tomatoes, or Roma tomatoes.
Italian Fresh Tomato Sauce Recipe
- Alternatively, instead of a food mill, can use a blender, immersion blender, or food processor
- 2 ¼ pounds mixed red and yellow cherry tomatoes cut in half, about 3 pints
- 3 pounds large heirloom tomatoes with mixed colors sliced, about 2-3 large tomatoes
- 1 small sweet onion sliced
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- fresh basil about 8 large leaves torn in half; optionally a few more set aside for garnish.
- ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt
- 20 grinds of freshly cracked black pepper about 2 pinches
- a couple pinches of white granulated sugar optional
- Parmesan cheese optional
- 1 pound pasta spaghetti or your favorite shape
- Prep vegetables, and place all the ingredients except salt, pepper, and sugar in a large bowl. Mix to distribute the ingredients. Cover and let marinate for 4-24 hours in the refrigerator.
- Place marinated vegetables in a large pot, and add salt and pepper. Heat on medium high until tomatoes start to boil. Reduce heat to a slow boil, and cook for about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally. Cook until sauce reduces some, and the ingredients look just cooked. Let cool slightly.
- In the meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of water until very al dente, meaning a couple minutes away from being cooked. Drain pasta and put back in the pot.
- Run the sauce through a food mill using the smallest holes. Toss the skins and whatever else can’t pass through the food mill. Alternatively, put the sauce in a blender, and run until the sauce is almost smooth but still has a little texture.
- Taste the sauce and adjust as needed for salt and pepper. If your tomatoes aren't sweet, add a couple pinches of sugar to take away the tartness.
- Put about ¾’s of the sauce over the pasta, and stir to coat. If you like your pasta saucier, add the remaining sauce. Keep in mind that some of the sauce will absorb into the pasta, which makes it more flavorful. Cook the pasta and sauce together for a couple minutes until the sauce heats and the pasta finishes cooking. Don't overcook the pasta - make sure the pasta is al dente, which means the pasta is cooked through with nothing raw in the center, but it retains a small bite or chew to it. Serve immediately.
- Optional garnishes included grated Parmesan cheese and julienned fresh basil leaves.
- This recipe is best when made with in season tomatoes.
- Use a combination of different tomatoes like Roma, plum, heirloom, cherry, or San Marzano.
- How to store: Store homemade fresh tomato sauce in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to three days.
- How to freeze: Store in the freezer in airtight freezer containers or mason jars with straight sides for up to one year. If the mason jar has a taper at the top of the jar, the sauce can break the glass as the liquid expands as it freezes. Defrost in the refrigerator overnight.
- How to reheat: Reheat in the microwave or stovetop in a saucepan over medium heat until warmed throughout.