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The Best Fresh Tomato Sauce Recipe

Homemade tomato sauce has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Quick sauce was a go-to recipe in my childhood home, with my father's Naples version and my stepmother's Sicilian variations. We used fresh tomatoes and herbs from the garden when they were in season, and canned crushed tomatoes and dried herbs otherwise.

During my first marriage, I got introduced to another method: all-day Sunday gravy made with canned whole plum tomatoes that were crushed in a food mill. This base went over seared onions and cooked for several hours with ground beef, sausages, and braciole. My then-mother-in-law also showed me her version of a quick sauce, which kept the seared onions and added rolled, chopped fresh basil. So while the marriage did not end well, at least I learned some new recipes! (An a whole lot of other things, but that's a different post...)

In spite of this rich sauce history, I fell off the wagon at some point. It's been about five years since I made any kind of homemade tomato sauce and probably a decade since I used fresh tomatoes. I bought Rao's sauce whenever it was on sale and hoarded my jars until it was time to make lasagna or stuffed shells. So when I set out to make some sauce with the tomatoes from our garden yesterday, it was like I was starting from scratch.

After looking through the sauce recipes in the Fanny Farmer Cookbook and trying to remember what every relative and ex-relative had told me about how to make it the "right" way, here's what I came up with:

Best Fresh Tomato Sauce

10 fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped*

Enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan

5 cloves garlic, diced

1/2 an onion, diced

1 lb sweet Italian sausage, bulk-style

1/4 cup tomato paste

1 tablespoon fresh thyme

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 Tablespoons Irish/grassfed butter

15 basil leaves, chopped minimally**

1 lb pasta of choice

Parmesan cheese for serving

*To peel the tomatoes, submerge them in boiling water for 30 seconds. Let cool, then slice skin with a sharp knife and it will peel off easily

** The idea is not to bruise the basil leaves more than you have to. I went over them with the knife once one way, then once the other way. You could also roll them into little tubes and them slice them, but that seemed like a pain in the neck.

  1. Peel, seed, and roughly chop your tomatoes. A cutting board with a juice groove will keep this process slightly less messy.

  2. Put tomatoes aside and chop onions and garlic.

  3. While preparing tomatoes, onions, and garlic, heat olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan on low/medium heat.

  4. Add garlic and onions to pan, stirring frequently until onions are clear.

  5. Add sausage to pan, breaking up with spoon. Saute until no longer pink. Do not drain!

  6. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, thyme, oregano, pepper, and salt. Let simmer partially covered for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  7. While sauce is cooking, prepare pasta according to directions.

  8. Add butter and chopped basil to sauce, simmering another 5 minutes.

Serve over pasta with parmesan cheese.

Total Prep and Cooking Time: 45 minutes

Serves 4

Heavy Metal Husband and I tried the sauce over two kinds of Aldi refrigerated raviolis: "classic five cheese" and "pumpkin and sage." HMH wasn't a fan of the pumpkin variety, but I liked both!

Here is a picture of how the dish came out -- this pic might not do the sauce justice, but trust me, it was delicious! 100 times better than Rao's, which I've come to think is "pretty good." Looks like I'll have to go back to making my sauce the old-fashioned, homemade way!

This recipe was not a particularly quick one, especially with the step of peeling the tomatoes. But if you're interested in learning how to stock your pantry and prepare some quick, inexpensive meals, grab a copy of Money Hacks for Metalheads and Old Millennials. One of the longest chapters is all about grocery shopping and cooking!


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