A Recipe for a Simple Red Sauce

Tomatoes. They’re everywhere right now. At least, everywhere around me. For whatever reason, my family has always had a certain tradition when it comes to gardening: We pick a few varieties of fruits and vegetables to grow, we plant those, and then every other available square foot of our garden gets filled in with tomatoes.

A mix of Romas and various heirlooms from our garden, peeled and ready to be made into a sauce


Why tomatoes? I don’t know exactly, except that we have always grown tomatoes. And we grow A LOT of tomatoes. We eat them raw in salads. We make tomato salsa. We put them on sandwiches. And somehow, we’re still up to our ears in them.

Thankfully, tomato sauce is a lovely thing, and it uses up a fair number of those tomatoes too. Yes, peeling and cooking your tomatoes from scratch takes more effort than opening a can. And I admit, even I occasionally open up a can or a jar of pre stewed, pre seasoned sauce. But the truth is, tomato sauce doesn’t come from cans. It comes from tomatoes. This is my little rebellion against our “open a can” culture. And while it certainly takes more steps, it’s really not that difficult. And if you need to work your way through a bumper crop of tomatoes, this is an excellent way to do it.

There are a couple things that I find crucial to a good red sauce. Tomatoes themselves are necessary of course, but in my book so is red wine, for instance. It helps deepen the acidic tomato-y-ness and brings a subtle, fruitier note to the party. And then of course, a good quality fat such as extra virgin olive oil or bacon fat which boosts flavor and gives the sauce a better consistency. And the aromatics — the garlic and onions that make this recipe oh-so-delicious— are a must. Don’t even dream of skimping on those. The beauty of red sauce, I think, is in its simple, wholesome ingredients, all brought together to form an exquisite flavor that none of them could give you on their own.

Some might say this is a lot of onion. They’d be right, but I would never dream of anything less in this delicious recipe.

You can serve this as-is on pasta, or use it as a base ingredient for something else. Some of my favorites include throwing in some meatballs, making chicken cacciatore, or even cooking it down and using it in my favorite lamb stew recipe. The possibilities are endless; what do you tend to do with tomato sauce?

The measurements here are somewhat flexible, partially because I’m a very improvisational cook and partially because this recipe lends itself well to adaptation. So go wild, experiment, and have fun.


  • 16(ish) medium to large tomatoes
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 bulb of garlic, peeled and pressed/minced
  • 1 generous splash 9 (~1/4 cup) red wine
  • A few table spoons olive oil or other cooking fat (I also love bacon fat if you’re feeling decadent and non-vegetarian)
  • Several generous pinches of herbs (I usually go with oregano and thyme)
  • Gound black pepper to taste
  1. To start, slice off the ends of each tomato and cut a small X in one end of each. Blanch for a few seconds in boiling water and then immediately transfer to an ice water bath using a slotted spoon. From there, you should easily be able to slip off their skins without much fuss.
  2. Transfer your peeled tomatoes to a food processor or blender and purée them. (Many people use a food mill or other implement that will filter out the seeds here. Personally, I don’t have anything along those lines and am quite happy to leave the seeds in for added nutrition, but if you prefer another method, by all means, use it.)
  3. In a medium saucepan, heat your cooking fat and grind in some black pepper. Allow it to toast for a bit before adding the chopped onions and garlic. Sautée until the onions are translucent.
  4. Add the wine, tomato purée, and herbs and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook uncovered for roughly 30 minutes, or until the sauce has lost about 1/3 of its original volume and has thickened to a reasonable consistency.
  5. Taste and adjust any seasoning as needed, then serve or use for your next recipe!

P.S. If you really don’t want to bother peeling all your tomatoes or don’t have a bumper crop like I do, yes, you can just use a can of crushed tomatoes instead. If using that method, you will not need to reduce it for as long, so the simmering need only last long enough to infuse sufficient flavor. But really, is peeling tomatoes that bad?


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