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Mar 5, 2008 05:18 PM

Home made Tomato Sauce For Pasta

How do you make it? How long does it take? And How different is it from the jarred stuff?

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  1. it depends entirely on what you are going for. rich and thick requires longer cooking. i often enjoy and quick, fresh-tasting option that is more like a saute of tomatoes and veggies. very different than jarred.

    1. I start with diced onions and garlic, saute in olive oil until soft, add canned tomatoes with a small can of tomato paste and a minced carrot (for sweetness). add any other veggies (peppers, mushrooms, etc.), whatever you like. (you may want to saute them first in a separate skillet).

      1. All jarred sauce has a high content of sodium, and other things to make it taste good.

        What you are asking about the difference, is of personal/recipe tastes. And there are tons of excellent recipes. Hazen, Lidia, Giada are all good resources for tomato sauce. And there are at least two basic recipes; marinara (quick sauce) and bolognese (meat sauce).

        Although I make my own, I have read the above ladies' recipes, and the easiest for a beginner, would be Giada. You can google it, or email me and I will give you her recipe.

        After you make your own, I doubt you will turn to jarred again. ;)

        1. Along with everybody's ideas, I would add that this time of year, since the "fresh" tomatoes in supermarkets are so devoid of flavor, stick with canned tomatoes. IMHO, San Marzano plum tomatoes are stellar for making sauces.


          1 Reply
          1. re: AndyP

            If you can find it, I prefer the "Ital" brand San Marzaro canned tomatoes.

          2. "And there are at least two basic recipes; marinara (quick sauce) and bolognese (meat sauce)."

            Respectfully, mcel215, Bolognese is a meat sauce, not a tomato sauce. A little tomato is used to make it, but if made traditionally it isn't going to look or taste anything like a tomato sauce. I don't mean to jump all over you, but tomato sauce that happens to contain a smattering of ground meat passing itself off as Bolognese is a scourge, I tells ya... a scourge! :-)

            On a more constructive note, EmileJ, the answer is a world of difference. Which isn't to say that there aren't some jarred sauces out there that aren't respectable products in their own right (though they are few and far between), but the two aren't synonymous. There are countless variations and you should start simply. mcel's advice to look up some recipes from some respected Italian chefs and start there is a good one. Personally, of those three, I'd steer you towards Hazan. Like any Italian cook, she has her regional biases, but there's no questioning her awesomeness and unlike Lidia Bastianich and Giada DeLaurentiis, you know her recipes are traditional, authentic Italian (not that there's anything wrong with non-traditional, but best to learn the rules before you break 'em, I think). If you're looking for something more along the lines of the jarred sauces to which you're accustomed, look for a recipe with a longer cooking time. Pick a simple one and give it a try.

            I have to respectfully disagree with pobo's suggestion about sauteeing vegetables for a tomato sauce in a separate skillet. The whole point of a pasta sauce is to let flavors marry and become greater than the sum of their parts. If you want to do a sauce with mushrooms, let them release their flavorful juices directly into the sauce, not into a separate pan only to be discarded. And they, in turn, will benefit by sucking up a little bit of the sauce as well. It's a symbiotic relationship that's dead before it can begin when they're cooked separately.

            And Andy's right on about canned tomatoes. Don't use fresh unless they're awesome. Good canned tomatoes can be absolutely fantastic and there's no shame whatsoever in using them. In fact, for certain sauces I prefer them.

            Have fun!

            16 Replies
            1. re: Dmnkly

              Hi Dmnkly,

              I have to stand up for myself a bit ; ) . The two basic tomato sauce(s), I was referring to, one my marinara and the other my meat sauce (I called it bolognese). For the lack of a better term, it's my quick sauce and my Sunday (meat sauce) gravy, taught to me by my Calabrese MIL, who will be 95 on March 28th, bless her little soul. And my meat sauce, does not have a smattering of meat, quite the opposite. I begin with olive oil in a dutch oven, and brown pigs feet, salt pork and hot Italian sausage, and then add garlic (lots). I then add 1 small can of tomato paste, and cook to get the raw flavor out (about 5 min). Add a cup of red wine, stir and bring to a simmer. Add 2 cans of whole tomatoes, crushed by hand. Bring to a simmer, add 2 bay leaves, salt, pepper, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Turn to low, and let simmer, add meatballs and continue to simmer.

              I do have a fresh tomato sauce, that is done in the summer months, with fresh tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and basil.

              I have been making sauce (whatever one calls it these days), for 40 years. My family loves it.

              But, I think for the OP, giving a good source for a beginner would be Giada.

              Learning to make a simple marinara, instead of using jarred sauce is a great start!

              1. re: mcel215

                mcel, it sounds absolutely delicious, and I particularly applaud anybody who works with pigs feet and salt pork! :-)

                That said, it's not Bolognese. I realize I'm being somewhat pedantic, but Bolognese is rapidly becoming yet another completely debased food term. Just like ordering crab and getting surimi, ordering Kobe beef and getting some domestically raised Angus with a Wagyu steer five generations back in the bloodline, or ordering BBQ ribs and getting boiled ribs in bottled sauce that have never gotten within three miles of a smoker, it's getting to the point where ordering Bolognese is a total crapshoot because the term is now being used so loosely that you could end up with anything. It isn't identifying the food, it's becoming a buzzword. Ragu alla Bolognese is a very specific and special dish with a rich tradition and it deserves not to have its name slapped on any pasta sauce that happens to contain tomatoes and meat, no matter how delicious that sauce may be.

                Don't misunderstand, I say bring on the non-traditional variations. Just don't call them Bolognese, because they're not :-)

                1. re: Dmnkly

                  Hi again D,

                  I googled the overuse of the term Bolognese, and found this wonderful link. I am planning on trying this recipe soon.


                  1. re: mcel215

                    Now THAT'S Ragu alla Bolognese :-)

                    My final product is more oily and less wet, I don't use liver and I don't brown the meat, but these are minor personal variations that absolutely fall under the umbrella of traditional (I don't mean to suggest there's ONE WAY to do it). This is a good recipe.

                    1. re: Dmnkly

                      Well, I am not crazy about the liver either, but I do want to brown the meat.

                      And your recipe, if you don't mind? : )

                      1. re: mcel215

                        Actually, I LOVE liver... it's just one of those Bolognese variables that I've never gotten around to trying.

                        Mine's most heavily influenced by Hazan's. I tried her milk first, simmer away, add wine, simmer away, add tomatoes, simmer away method and really liked the results. I don't know that I buy her explanation that the milk "protects" the meat from the more acidic elements, but I got a nice mellow sweetness out of it that I liked a lot. I always do a massive pot and freeze most of it, but I imagine it scales down just fine.

                        I start with 1/4 C. olive oil and 3/4 C. butter over medium heat, and I add 2 C. of finely diced onion and a minced clove of garlic (my decidedly non-traditional element). When the onion starts to get translucent, I add 3 C. each of carrot and celery diced very finely -- about 4mm -- and toss them around for a couple of minutes. Then I add the meat -- a pound each of ground veal, beef and pork (quite fatty on the last two) and half a pound of very finely diced pancetta -- and salt it. I cook it, breaking it up, until it just loses the raw color. I'm not looking for the Maillard reaction (in fact, I prefer that it doesn't brown), so I just toss it all in at once. Once it's just lost the raw color, I add 4 C. of whole milk, adjust the heat and simmer it until the milk is cooked off. Then I add a bottle of dry whilte wine, grate in a little nutmeg and completely simmer away the liquid again. Then I take two big cans of whole tomatoes in puree, crush them in by hand, and add the puree from one of the cans (I save the puree from the other for something else). Then I crank it way down and keep it at a super-mellow simmer until it completely cooks down and is nothing but meat and liquid fat (salting as necessary along the way).

                        The two variations I've been wanting to try are the livers, and I also want to try mincing the meats by hand. I think it'd make a great texture. But that's a lot of mincing, so I've been waiting for a smaller batch :-)

                        1. re: Dmnkly

                          Oddly enough, I found a photo of a Bolognese ragu I did some time ago. Italians would scoff at my use of spaghetti rather than tagliatelle, but I can be forgiven for that . . . hopefully. Enjoy the pic.

                          R. Jason Coulston

                            1. re: Dmnkly

                              Thanks so much, looks divine ; ) .

                          1. re: Dmnkly

                            Hi Dmnkly,

                            Thank you........I must have had brain freeze, it's Ragu, not Bolognese, you are so right! Whatever it's called in Italy, it's still gravy to me. ; ) .

                          2. re: mcel215

                            Thanks for sharing this link, this guy should have his own TV show!

                          3. re: Dmnkly

                            Y'all gotta read this month's issue of Saveur--the cover story is on the city of ragu (Bologna) and they give a boatload of recipes there (I don't have it with me so I can't tell you the exact title). The editor's note explains that there is ragu alla bolognese and ragu alla neapolitana--the latter being a dish in which you cook a big piece of meat in tomato sauce, serve the meat as a main course, and use the tomato sauce to dress pasta. The former, they say, is a meat sauce which might or might not contain tomato. Generally the ragu recipes from the north are more like bolognese, and from the south more like neapolitana.

                          4. re: mcel215

                            >>my Sunday (meat sauce) gravy,

                            Yay, mcel215, you said gravy!

                            Pigs feet -- oh, good for you. My mother used to put in pig skin made like a brasciole, yum.

                            I use ground beef or meatballs, hot and sweet Italian sausage, and whatever sort of beef or veal bones with some meat on them that look good to me. Of course, lots of garlic and olive oil. Puree, paste, crushed tomatoes (I wasn't thrilled with the whole San Marzano thing), wine, seasonings (including sugar) round out my gravy.

                            And the rest is letting it cook slowly and stirring occasionally.

                            I'll have to look for pigs feet next shopping trip.

                            1. re: dolores

                              Here in Boston, I used to get pigs feet at my butcher in the North End. Those days are gone for me, and now find them at S&S.

                              And yay to you Dolores, for not being thrilled with the whole San Marzano thing! Unless they are from that Region in Italy, with a stamp on the can, they aren't truely San Marzano. And I am not paying $$$ to buy the imported ones. I believe (JMO), that with all of the flavors from the meats, etc., it doesn't really matter what canned tomato I use!

                          5. re: Dmnkly

                            hi! i have a ?/comment....i agree with your previous statement of cooking veggies in sauce and understand that give and take relationship that occurs.
                            however, my problem is with adding meat to the sauce. i have made this successfully several times. however, last nite, blah sauce.... i sauteed, onions & garlic in evoo, then added minced celery and carrots for sweetness/texture (a la bol. sauce) then can of crushed tom and salt, pep, of coures thru-out. after 20 mins i added 3 links sweet italian sausage and 1 lb ground turkey--both uncooked. i thot they would soak up sauce and take on flavor as they cooked in pot with sauce. after 2 hours slow simmering the meat tasted like meat and my bfriend said he didn't even know i put sausage in it! it all melded together, turkey was too fine, perhaps b/c it's turkey meat and not ground chuck or something like it. and the sausage wasnt' even there. what happened? should i cook meat seperately in onions and garlic then add? or just add meat, brown, then add sauce? the sauce tastes better today, but after 5 hrs of cooking, i wanted it to be great then! (i have little to no patience)....thots, suggestions?