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Healthy Pasta Sauce?

Can anyone suggest a healthy tomato sauce recipe for pasta? The Hazan stick-of-butter one obviously doesn't qualify.

I'd prefer one that can be prepared in under 30 mins if possible. I'd rather use fresh tomatoes than canned, but I realize that off-season that might not make for the best results...

Also, I'd like to be able to make it in smallish batches if at all possible.


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  1. If you're using fresh tomatoes (and if you are, please reveal your source), focus on their flavor with a simple sauce. Heat a drizzle of good olive oil over medium heat. Add a little garlic and some salt and let cook for a minute or two. Follow with tomato flesh (no skins, no seeds, no pulp), a little white wine, and some herbs. Cook until the tomatoes are softened. Let stand until ready to serve, or up to a week. Not much of a recipe, but it works...

    20 Replies
    1. re: alanbarnes

      Mines a variation on that theme. Good quality canned (or seeded and peeled fresh), and onion and some garlic. Bring to heat on stove top, add some fresh torn basil and a smattering of parm and some fresh black pepper.

      I sometimes add olives, anchovies or pancetta for variation.

      Oh.. and it freezes well, too.

      1. re: purple goddess

        Oh, yeah. Anchovies, parm, pancetta, black pepper, red pepper ... all good choices. The tomatoes are a toned canvas; the other flavors can be restrained or intense, and can be applied sparingly with delicate brushstrokes or cut on in thick layers with a palette knife.

        And by the way, good canned tomatoes are always better than mediocre fresh ones. (A post I've been intending to start for a while...)

        1. re: alanbarnes

          I agree. Nothing wrong with canned tomatoes. I can't understand why people have such an aversion to them.
          Good tomatoes canned in their own juice are nothing but fresh tomatoes that are heated enough to preserve them. You're going to heat them anyway when you cook them, so what's the difference? Not good for salads, but for cooking? No problem.

          1. re: MakingSense

            Try to find Pomi tomatoes. They come in a box and are far superior to any canned tomatoes I have tried. That way, you don't have to make do with crappy fresh ones.

            1. re: katecm

              Just a difference of packaging. Aseptic v. cans. Whole tomatoes processed virtually the same way. I tried Pomi and was very disappointed with their flavor for the money. I can most of my own home-grown tomatoes and then depend on good canned ones when I run out of my stock. I cook something else rather than buy poor quality fresh.

          2. re: alanbarnes

            Here's another excellent canned tomato; actually, ground tomatoes with added tomato sauce. I've never seen them in a store, but order from Pennsylvania Macaroni Company, my source for most of my pizza ingredients.


            To the tomatoes, right out of the can, add 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, 1 teaspoon dried basil, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 5 cloves minced garlic, and 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice. Taste for salt, since the tomatoes do have some added. This doesn't even need to be cooked. Just stir it all together. You can use fresh herbs, doubling the amount, but the shelf life isn't quite as long. With dried herbs it will keep in the fridge for a week.

            This is my go-to pizza sauce, but it works just as well for pasta.

        2. re: alanbarnes

          purple goddess,

          Unless you have a shortcut to suggest, I'd be afraid that skinning, seeding, and pulping a bunch of tomatoes might stretch this over my 30 min limit...

          I'm going to start shopping around for Muir Glen canned Roma tomatoes (and maybe even their crushed fire roasted tomatoes, just as an experiment) plus the rare and pricey Academia Barilla Pomodorini Pelati. I don't do this that often, so maybe I could treat myself to the latter when I do.

          1. re: Jim Leff

            The short cut is a food mill (grin). I love Academia Barilla Pomodorini Pelati - but it is a splurge. I sometimes use the Citarella canned tomatoes, and I like the San Marzano brand ones they sometimes sell, though they are not actually Italian San Marzanos. Another tip is to always buy whole canned tomatoes, not the diced or pureed ones - for whatever reason, they always have a tinny flavor to them.

            1. re: MMRuth

              Actually, I just made the CI quick marinara sauce, and I think it would fit your needs. BTW, American tomatoes actually came out on top in CI's taste tests. Best were Progresso (packed in juice, not puree) whole tomatoes w/basil (not so much as to make a difference and easily removable, as far as I could tell) and Redpack. There were many reasons cited for the differences (the puree/juice difference being one) I made the marinara with the Progresso and it'll be my go-to tomato sauce recipe from here on out.


            2. re: Jim Leff

              I have been known NOT to seed and peel ;) Adds to the rustic-cicity of the dish, I say!!

              And I often "burn" my canned tomatoes before adding anything else. Gives them a whole new lovely flavour. I whack the can (umm.. the contents thereof) in a searingly hot cast iron pan and let them caramelize a bit. Takes about 3 mins.

              1. re: purple goddess

                that's part of the CI method -- you drain the tomatoes (which is, I'm guessing, why juice is more appropriate than puree), then caramelize them.

                1. re: purple goddess

                  for pasta sauce, I never seed / peel. Lynne Rosetto Kasper discusses this in one of her books; apparently, except for the peel on "commercial" tomatoes (which are very tough and can have an off flavor), the peel and seeds add texture and flavor to the sauce.

                2. re: Jim Leff

                  Hey Jim,

                  Skinning, seeding, and pulping a fresh tomato is a 20-second task. Dip it in boiling water for 10 seconds, slice in half crossways, and hold it cut-side-down over a strainer set over a bowl (or the sink, if you don't want to save the juice). Give it a squeeze, and the skin slips right off the top while the seeds and pulp come out of the bottom.

                  Probably best to wait until summer to master this technique, though, unless you have some secret source for tomatoes that actually have flavor in December.


                  1. re: alanbarnes

                    Except you do have to wait for the water to boil (grin).

                    1. re: MMRuth

                      I just use the pasta water (after rinsing the tomato, of course).

                      1. re: alanbarnes

                        Very clever - never thought of that!

                  2. re: Jim Leff


                    go to dipaolo's and ask the owner for the organic tomatoes in a glass jar from northern italy. you have to ask for them. they are amazing. crush two cloves of garlic and heat in good extra virgin olive oil, disgard garlic, poor in tomatoes, cook in uncovered pan on low to medium heat fot 10-13 minutes, combine with cooked al dente high quality dry pasta, fresh basil, more olive oil and parmigianno. perfect and done in less then thirty minutes. just dont skimp on the ingredients.

                      1. re: josh L

                        I'll do it! (sorry for late response...was out of town)

                      2. re: Jim Leff

                        I highly recommend the Muir Glen toms......I use them in my sauce as well as for tomato soup, they are outstanding.

                        A while abck I bough a can of about 8 different brands of tomatoes available locally, then opened them all up and just tried them all right from the can........Muir Glen were the winners. Some add way too much sugar etc.

                    1. Arribiata - you can use canned or fresh tomatoes...saute some sliced garlic in a good amount of olive oil, salt and red pepper flakes or peperoncino - add tomatoes and cook for 15 minutes. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: howchow

                        This is The One. This is a marinara sauce that I grew up with. The only exception is - torn Basil leaves in the sauce while it's simmering, then Pecorino Romano over top when serving. It's finished when the macaroni is.

                        1. re: howchow

                          This is what I do. Quick, simple, healthy, and filling. I usually use casarecci pasta (I just love the heartiness of it), and use a heavy hand of pecorino.

                          I'm hoping this weather keeps up here in SoCal, where I grow all this stuff fresh.
                          Get to show off some pics! San Marzano tomatoes and true Calabresi peperoncino.

                        2. If you're cutting down on the simmering, then tomato paste is key to getting that depth of flavour. Even better if you can get roasted tomato paste.

                          As for the rest, I like to use a mix of dried and fresh mushrooms with onions, garlic, sage, and oregano. Salt and pepper, of course. Sometimes a parmesan rind, if I have it.

                          I'm too lazy to sauté the veggies first, so I don't add any oil. But by all means, use a couple glugs of olive oil.

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: piccola

                            If you use tomato paste, be sure to saute it in the pan first. It can have a very raw taste if you don't.

                            1. re: katecm

                              Tomato paste has such a strong, distinctive taste, that if I used it, it'd have to be in small proportion. Any brands to look for?

                              1. re: Jim Leff

                                I use the tomato paste in a tube, I think Amore is the brand most easy to find, but there are others. It's called "double concentrate" but I use in normal proportions. I think it's a much richer tomato flavor, and you can use a Tbsp at a time a then keep the rest in the fridge.

                                1. re: happybellynh

                                  Me too - and much better than canned ones. That said, I never add it to tomato sauces, just stews etc.

                                  1. re: MMRuth

                                    Absolutely it keeps better. Take only what you need, put the rest in the fridge. I love the stuff.

                                    Frequently I'll add a little to sauce made with late-season fresh tomatoes or canned tomatoes -- not much, just maybe a tablespoon, sauteed a bit, to push up color and flavor.

                              2. re: katecm

                                I've never sautéed it before, but I'm sure it can't hurt. I do use the paste in a tube, so maybe that's the difference.

                            2. use a combination of tomatoes, roma and cherry tomatoes to fill a oven proof pan, about 12 cloves of garlic, and basil leaves, sprinkle apz 1/4 cup of olive oil and put in oven for apx 30 minutes (oh yeah,salt & pepper) stir half way through, then put in blender. Very thick and flavorful, great for everything!

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: travelchow

                                I like a roasted tomato sauce in summer, when tomatoes are fresh (Out of season, it's always canned for me. I like Muir Glen, particularly the fire roasted. The cans are coated so you don't get the tinny taste)

                                Roast cut up (unpeeled) tomatoes on baking sheet at high temp w/ some quartered onions, and some garlic. Roast at high heat, then pass all through food mill. It will take more than 30 mins though just a few minutes of active time. Plus you can make ahead and refrigerate or freeze.

                              2. I would strongly suggest you examine the chapter on pasta and tomato sauce in Lynne Rosetto Kasper's "The Italian Country Table." It opened up a whole new world for me. She outlines four distinct methods of making sauce at home, which I've adapted over the years to my basic method.

                                Saute onion, a little carrot, a little celery, some salt in olive oil; add garlic and saute as well. Make this mixture as soft or as carmelized as you like. Add fresh herbs, or some dried if that's all you've got. Add canned whole tomatoes (I use Red Gold), crushing them with your hands -- or use diced canned tomatoes if you're in a hurry. Add a little wine. Flick a few dried red pepper flakes in, plus some white or black pepper. Simmer.

                                I also echo the use of tomato paste, but saute it first, before adding the wine and tomatoes.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: jmckee

                                  Yeah, jmckee, sounds good, I'll pick it up. I like the idea of learning approaches to things rather than specific recipes. And, obviously, I'm pretty clueless on the whole tomato sauce thing, so it'd good to get edjuhcated...

                                  1. re: Jim Leff

                                    So was I. Kasper makes it easy. And her treatise on improvising minestrone in the same book is good too.

                                    A side note: When you read Kasper's introduction, regarding gathering for the wine grape harvest at her ancestral home in Italy, have kleenex handy. it's very touching, moving even.

                                    While you're at it, look at the recipe for potato "gatto" -- mashed potatoes, seasoned with milk and Parmigiano Reggiano, layered with peas, mozzarella, and salame, topped with garlic bread crumbs and baked.

                                2. Don't laugh, but I love to add shredded zucchini and/or shredded carrots to my pasta sauce. Just to amp up the veggies.


                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                    My mother-in-law's pasta sauce recipe has carrots in it. It's tomato, carrots, celery, garlic, onion. Vegetables are sauteed, then simmered together, then put through a blender until smooth. It's actually very flavorful and a lovely color somewhere between orange and red.

                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                      Makes total sense. The more I experiment in cooking (this is my cook-at-home year), the more I realize that little tricks like this are key. And carrots are the most subtlety-demanding vegetable...the more you do to/with them, the better they work. Invisible, homeopathic injection of carrot works in lots of things.

                                      1. re: Jim Leff

                                        The use of carrots can also sweeten up an acidic batch of tomatoes and add some body to the sauce.

                                    2. Pesto is always a healthy choice and if you don't feel like making it fresh the bottled Barilla brand is pretty good. A good uncooked sauce is: olive oil, finely diced tomatos and mozzarella cheese and a spoonful of pesto. It heats through from the heat of the pasta. A good no-fat pasta is: heat a little olive oil with chopped garlic and pepperoncino, add a few spoonsful of prepared tomato sauce and cooked broccoli, salt and pepper to taste.

                                      1. I would urge you to use canned tomatoes (not "fresh", as they will be a great deal of work and pretty much devoid of taste this time of year). Try to find tomatoes that are in juice, rather than puree. You can use crushed, diced or whole (I break these up with a squeeze). Simply saute some shallot (or onion) in olive oil for a few minutes (until soft), add garlic (thin slices or minced - your choice), saute another 30 sec or so and then add the tomatoes and simmer about 10 minutes. You can spice it up with some crushed red pepper if you like. Salt to taste (it WILL need salt). Maybe add a 1/2 tsp of sugar if the tomatoes aren't that sweet. A little dried oregano if you like. This is a very simple, very healthy and very good simple tomato sauce for pasta or meatballs and definitely under 30 min. from start to finish


                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: bnemes3343

                                          Thanks, everybody. I'll buy all the recommended sauces and all the recommended canned tomatoes, try them all over the next few months in the various permutations suggested. I'd say I'd report back, but, really, everybody's tip sounds great, and I suspect that my preference is going to be just that...preference.

                                          If I find any new wrinkles, though, i will report back.

                                          (oh, and if anybody wants to keep posting, by all means, do! lots of people are surely reading along and benefiting).

                                          1. re: Jim Leff

                                            Here's what I do in the summer: Take good fresh tomatoes, cut in half or wedges, cover in olive oil, put on a baking sheet (that has rims so you don't end up with gunk on your oven floor!), add garlic and some fresh herbs and some fennel seeds and roast. You can take the skins off before hand or not, or remove them after roasting. The tomatoes get kind of oven roasted. I freeze them in individual bags and use for a quick quick pasta sauce as needed all winter. You may need to just cook it down a bit and add some black olives if desired.

                                            I've read you can do this with whole canned tomatoes in the winter but haven't tried it.

                                            This takes some advance prep but when you need your tomato sauce it's ready to go in the time it takes to boil the pasta. Even better if you heat it with some meatballs. Still better yet if you heat it the day before. (Leftovers are great the next day.)

                                            This uses oil obviously, but at least no butter.

                                            What about more non-tomato ideas? I'd be interested in some of those myself.

                                        2. FWIW, I've always made the Hazan sauce with half or a third of the butter and it is still delicious enough to make me want to eat it with a spoon.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: dct

                                            I agree, and sometimes I even use part olive oil, part butter.

                                          2. I started easy, with a jar of Rao's Marinara...my first.

                                            It's funny how perceptions work. My first thought was...wow, what a surprise...this stuff really IS good! I'd assumed people just thought it was "good for jarred", but, really, this is better than that...it's just good, period!

                                            But then I sat up straight and took another bite, pretending to be in a restaurant. And you know what? I had to concede that I'd be pissed if someone served me that sauce in a restaurant. :)

                                            ok, on to preparing my own....

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: Jim Leff

                                              while i also use variations on the methods described by previous posters, one of the best tips i got from an italian friend ages ago was to add sundried tomatoes to any tomato sauce (i also add tomato paste) - of course, this requires one to plan ahead a little and soak a couple of dried tomatoes in water earlier in the day. i find the sundried tomatoes add depth to the sauce

                                              1. re: berbere

                                                A guy I know keeps a little jar of sun dried tomatoes he's run through the mini-chop until they're powdery. He just adds a large pinch whenever he feels like it to whatever. Including to hollandaise.Yum.

                                            2. I concur with nychow's and karykat's recs to roast the tomatoes.

                                              I usually make small batches, takes me...hmmm, maybe 5-10 minutes labor (10 if it's a tomato-onion sauce)...and it roasts for 30-45 minutes (depends on amount and whether I'm looking for a char, which, sometimes, I am.)

                                              In the summer, I can usually get trully good fresh tomatoes of some sort. I use plum when they're good; otherwise, whatever looks ripest and sweetest. Not a problem in the warm months; big Italian population around here demands them.

                                              Other seasons, I tend to use San Marzanos, but any quality canned whole plum will do.

                                              Slice off a tiny bit of the stem end. Squeeze to juice and remove seeds. Quarter (for smaller tomatoes) or rough chop the tomatoes. I leave the skins on fresh tomatoes--why waste the nutrients, plus I like rustic texture.

                                              Remember they'll cook down a lot, so plan accordingly.

                                              Put in a roasting pan or ceramic baking dish. (Sometimes, if I want the result to be either a little thinner, or I don't want the char, I'll do it in a covered Dutch Oven. The condensation will thin the sauce out a bit.) Drizzle generously with EVOO; salt and fresh cracked/ground pepper, garlic if you like, onions if you like, a couple of bay leaves, herbs of your choice. Hubby likes a little zip to his sauce, so, sometimes, I give the tomatoes a shot of chili oil (maybe a Tbsp. or two to one can of San Marzanos), Worcestershire. You can also add a splash of dry red wine or maybe a quarter cup of your favorite BBQ sauce recipe. Or some Balsamic, Red Wine or Sherry vinegar. Whatever you're in the mood for.

                                              Roast in hot oven (425-450 F.), stirring now and then. As I said, I usually like a tiny bit of char around the edges, but if you don't want that...once they're cooked down, shriveled up, etc., the "sauce" is done. Sample and season to taste, if necessary.

                                              Nice and easy, simple, enriched sweet tomato flavor, good substantial texture, great on top of fresh pasta with freshly grated reggiano, romano, pecorino pepato, provolone, whatever you like. Quick for weeknights.

                                              1. I have been making this quick sauce for almost 40 years (I make a Sunday one too, but that's a different post). Take 4 very ripe tomatoes (in NE, sometimes that means letting them sit on the counter for a week!). Chop 1/2 medium onion finely. Place 2 tablespoons good olive oil in pan, heated on medium. Put in onion, saute til tranluscent, for about 5 min. Add two cloves of chopped garlic, stir for 1 min. Add tomatoes (just quartered is fiine). Cook for 5 minutes, stiring occassionally. Add 1/2 cup wine (red or white, I use merlot). Bring to a simmer, add a pinch of salt, pepper, and red pepper. Cook for 15 min. It's really chunky, so if you want a smoother sauce, use immersion blender to smooth sauce. Done and delish. Pour on top of 1/2 box of spaghetti, and sprinkle with good parmesean.

                                                1. The healthiest and easiest in my repertoire is also my new fave. It takes longer than thirty minutes, but in compensation, it practically goes on autopilot and you actually have to pay attention for maybe five. Buy the sweetest cherry or, better, grape tomatoes you can find. Cut them in half and line them up on a baking sheet very close together. No oil except maybe a brush of the baking sheet to prevent sticking, no salt, no nothing. Bake them slowly, preferably for about an hour at 325 until soft but not browned. You can try to rush them a bit, but it's worth the wait. When the tomatoes are completely soft and your pasta (I think a short flour-and-water format is best) is cooking, slide the tomatoes into a warmed serving bowl and crush and mush them around a bit with a fork (watch for squirts). You can even cut them up. Keep the seeds and peels. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and add really good extra virgin olive oil. Add the cooked pasta to the bowl and toss with the tomatoes and oil. Add some grated cheese (parmigiano-reggiano, pecorino romano, or try something else; I've used pecorino di fossa), or not, add some torn fresh mint or basil leaves, toss well, and serve immediately.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: mbfant

                                                    Yes! This, or a version of it via Lidia Bastianich, is now one of my faves --Lidia suggests a sprinkle of dried bread crumbs on the tomatoes before roasting, and a toss when done with extra virgin olive heated slowly with some sliced garlic, basil e/o parsley. Also, a very quick sauce of a little oil, one whole garlic close and a can of the best DOP San Marzano tomatoes (hand crushed, and packed in juice, not puree), simmered in a skillet with a fat spring of basil, s/p/peperoncino, for no more than 20 minutes is also at the top of my list.