Easy homemade tomato sauce recipe made with the best tomatoes! San Marzano tomatoes are prized for their fleshy inside, minimal seeds, and balanced flavor, making them ideal for using in this delicious tomato sauce.
To make the tastiest tomato sauce, use San Marzano DOP canned tomatoes for the highest quality fleshy tomatoes with the best flavor and no bitterness. These special tomatoes have many imitators, so read the can label carefully to make sure you are getting the authentic tomatoes! I always keep a can of San Marzano tomatoes in my pantry to make this easy sauce for a simple dinner.
These high quality tomatoes are especially wonderful in the winter when there aren't local fresh tomatoes. I like to keep some cans of San Marzano tomatoes handy year round in my pantry so I can whip up a quick meal using staples. In the winter I pair the canned tomatoes with dried herbs like thyme or oregano. In the summer, fresh basil is plentiful, so I'll use fresh basil instead of dried herbs in the summertime. These tomatoes are great for many dishes including pasta sauce, stews, soups, and more.
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Why You'll Love This Recipe
- Easy recipe ready in an hour.
- Made from pantry staples.
- Perfect for making a big batch to freeze.
Dana’s Note: This tomato-based pasta sauce recipe has more layers of flavor and body with the addition of finely chopped celery, carrot, and onion. I adapted this recipe from Marcella Hazan's cookbook Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. Although Hazan is most famous for her Tomato butter sauce, this recipe is a real hidden gem in the cookbook. I changed some of the ratios and shortened the cooking procedure over time as I played around with this recipe.
I like to double or triple this sauce recipe to make a big batch. Usually I serve some right away over pasta, and then freeze the rest to use at a later date. Having some sauce at the ready in the freezer makes for an extra quick meal.
What are San Marzano DOP tomatoes?
San Marzano tomatoes are a specific type of plum tomatoes with an elongated shape and pointed end grown in Italy. They are prized around the world for their thick flesh and sweet flavor. The DOP designation (protected designation of origin) means the product is from a specific geographical region and that the name is recognized and protected by the European Union. A San Marzano DOP tomato can only be grown in a specific region: the Italian provinces of Naples, Salerno, or Avellino where there is rich volcanic soil.
For more information, see the I Love San Marzano DOP website.
Even if you don’t live in Italy, you can still have these delicious Italian tomatoes at home. Luckily San Marzano tomatoes are canned at the peak of freshness in order to preserve them. They are readily available on Amazon, in Italian markets, and sometimes at the supermarket in the canned tomato aisle. If your local market doesn't carry them, consider requesting that they do.
San Marzano DOP tomatoes are always sold as peeled whole tomatoes in 14 or 28 ounce cans. I use a blender or food processor to blend the tomatoes into a chunky or smooth consistency. Alternatively you can also crush the tomatoes by hand.
What Makes San Marzano DOP tomatoes special?
Three aspects of San Marzano tomatoes make them extra special.
- They are well-balanced tomatoes, not being too acidic or bitter. Taste the tomatoes out of the can, and you will see that they do not need any added sugar.
- This variety of tomato is meaty, not watery, and has fewer seeds, which makes them ideal for cooking into sauces.
- San Marzano DOP tomatoes have a more intense flavor as they grow in the fertile volcanic soil near Mount Vesuvius in Italy.
How do I know if my can of tomatoes are authentic San Marzano tomatoes?
To be authentic San Marzano DOP tomatoes, the tomatoes need to be the San Marzano variety of tomato and need to be grown in the Italian provinces of Naples, Salerno or Avellino where there is rich volcanic soil. The can label needs to say "Pomodoro San Marzano Dell'Agro Sarnese-Nocerino DOP tomatoes” in order to know they are authentic.
If the can says "San Marzano-style," then the tomatoes are grown in an different region and are not authentic DOP tomatoes.
The San Marzano DOP tomatoes also receive these special Italian seals on each can.
Ingredient Notes and Substitutions
See the recipe card below for a complete ingredient list and measurements.Jump to Recipe
This is such a great recipe for when you want to use up some basic pantry ingredients.
- Italian canned whole peeled San Marzano DOP tomatoes - You will need one 14 to 16 ounce can, with the juices. Or more if you are doubling or tripling the recipe.
- Olive oil - Make sure the label says “extra virgin olive oil.”
- Veggies - You will need onion, carrots, and celery for this sauce. I used about half of a small yellow onion, 1 large carrot, and 2 ribs of celery.
- Dried thyme or oregano - This is optional, but adds a little bit extra flavor to the sauce.
- Pasta - Serve this pasta sauce with 1 pound of pasta, like penne or rigatoni.
Step by Step Photos
See the recipe card below for complete directions.Jump to Recipe
ONE: PREP. Grate the vegetables with a box grater or chop finely.
TWO: SAUTÉ. Sauté the vegetables until softened and slightly golden brown.
THREE: PURÉE. Purée the canned tomatoes with an immersion blender or food processor until mostly smooth.
FOUR: SIMMER. Add the tomatoes to the pan with seasonings and simmer until thickened and a darker shade of red.
FIVE: BOIL THE PASTA. Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions.
SIX: SERVE. Serve pasta tossed with sauce. Option to additionally top with Parmigiano Reggiano and fresh basil.
- Always use authentic San Marzano DOP tomatoes for the best flavor.
- Make a double or triple batch and freeze the rest for later.
- Pair the sauce with a good quality Italian dried pasta like Rustichella d'Abruzzo, Montebello, or De Cecco.
- Feel free to add in extra fresh herbs if you wish, like parsley.
- Add in a few fresh garlic cloves if you are a garlic lover.
- Sprinkle in red pepper flakes to add a bit of spice.
Make ahead directions
This is a perfect dish to make ahead of time. You can make the sauce weeks in advance by storing in the freezer. You can also prep the sauce a few days in advance, and reheat when it's time to serve. I would recommend cooking the pasta fresh before serving.
Storage and Reheating
How to store: Store this San Marzano sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4-5 days.
How to freeze: Freeze this sauce in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Other Italian recipes to try:
- Italian Fresh Tomato Sauce
- Pumpkin Pasta Sauce
- Lavash Flatbread Pizza
- Italian Cod with Tomato Sauce
- Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Sauce
- Pea Tendril Pesto Pasta
Frequently Asked Questions
The DOP designation (protected designation of origin) means the product is from a specific geographical region and that the name is recognized and protected by the European Union. A San Marzano DOP tomato can only be grown in a specific region, which is the Italian provinces of Naples, Salerno, or Avellino where there is rich volcanic soil.
These tomatoes have low acidity, thicker flesh, and minimal seeds, making them perfect for tomato sauces. They can only be grown in certain regions of Italy in volcanic soil near Mount Vesuvius. This gives them a special flavor that can’t be duplicated.
San Marzano Tomatoes Sauce
- 2 cups Italian canned whole peeled San Marzano DOP tomatoes with juices see note (1- 14 to 16 ounce can)
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ⅓ cup grated onion about half a small onion
- ⅓ cup grated carrots about 1 large carrot
- ⅓ cup grated celery about 2 ribs of celery
- Kosher salt to taste
- Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
- ¾ teaspoon dried thyme or oregano optional
- 1 pound dried pasta like penne, rigatoni, or your favorite pasta shape.
- Top with freshly grated authentic Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and julienned fresh basil
- Grate the vegetables using the medium sized holes of a box grater. Alternatively, chop vegetables into fine pieces with a knife or pulse in a food processor using the s-shaped chopping blade until the vegetables are in tiny pieces.
- Place a large sauté pan on the stove, pour in the oil and turn the heat to medium. Add the grated vegetables, and stir to coat the vegetables in oil. Continue stirring occasionally. Sauté until the vegetables are softened and slightly golden brown, about 15-20 minutes.
- Purée the canned tomatoes and their juices with a blender or food processor. Purée until the tomatoes are almost smooth but still have a little texture.
- Pour the tomato purée into the pan with the vegetables, and add 2 large pinches of salt. Add thyme or oregano now if using. Stir to combine with the vegetables. Cook at simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes turn a darker shade of red and reduce a bit. The finished sauce is a luxurious thickened tomato sauce with tiny chunks of vegetables. Add several grinds of freshly cracked black pepper and stir. Taste for salt and add more if needed.
- Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water until pasta is al dente (cooked but firm), and follow the directions on the package. Once the pasta is cooked, remove 1 cup of pasta water and set aside. Then drain pasta.
- Toss the pasta and sauce in the pot on a low heat. Make sure the pasta is coated in sauce and that the noodles remain moist and saucy- Add a little pasta water if needed. Stir to coat and let the noodles absorb a little of the sauce, about a minute or so.
- Serve warm. Sprinkle with grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and julienned fresh basil, if desired.
- For best results, use a can of San Marzano DOP tomatoes grown in the Italian provinces of Naples, Salerno and Avellino. The label must say "Pomodoro San Marzano Dell'Agro Sarnese-Nocerino DOP tomatoes" to be authentic Italian San Marzano DOP tomatoes.
- For best results, pair the sauce with a good quality Italian dried pasta like Rustichella d'Abruzzo, Montebello, or De Cecco.
- How to store: Store this San Marzano sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4-5 days.
- How to freeze: Freeze this sauce in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 6 months.