Made with high-quality San Marzano tomatoes, this San Marzano tomato sauce is so simple, quick, and easy to make. It's simmered low and slow on the stovetop to achieve a perfectly-balanced, richly-flavored tomato sauce. This is one versatile, restaurant-worthy marinara sauce recipe you'll want to make again and again.
Simple, fresh, and delicious, a good homemade pasta sauce is an essential recipe everyone should know how to make from scratch. Not many aromas are better than a big pot of homemade tomato sauce simmering on the stovetop all day long.
A good tomato sauce recipe is versatile in the way that it can be used for both quick and easy weeknight dinners as well as luscious, restaurant-worthy Sunday dinners or holiday meals. I've used this San Marzano sauce recipe for both, and it's always a huge hit. I especially like using this sauce to make these Dutch Oven Meatballs on Christmas Day.
Since this recipe requires only a few, simple ingredients, using high-quality ingredients is critical. San Marzano tomatoes are often considered the best tomato for making tomato sauce due to their low acidity and sweet, rich tomato flavor.
So, if you're looking for the secret to making the best tomato sauce right at home, keep reading to learn all about the wonderful San Marzano tomato and how it can be used to create the most amazingly delicious marinara sauce you'll ever try.
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What are San Marzano Tomatoes?
San Marzano tomatoes are a type of plum tomato or paste tomato that have a thin, elongated shape. Their flesh is thicker than other plum tomato varieties and they have fewer seeds, meaning they lend themselves well to a thick, rich, and deeply flavorful Italian tomato sauce. They're also sweeter in flavor and only mildly acidic compared to other tomato varieties.
Truly authentic San Marzano tomatoes are only those that are grown in the volcanic soils of Mount Vesuvius in Southern Italy. Farmers must use specific farming practices and canning methods to obtain the Denominazione d'Origine Protetta (D.O.P.) seal.
To identify a can of certified San Marzano tomatoes at the grocery store, look for the words "Pomodoro San Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese Nocerino D.O.P." on the label.
Why You'll Love This Recipe
- Simple Ingredients- Made with just a few, high-quality ingredients, many of which are pantry staples, this San Marzano tomato sauce recipe could not be any simpler. The key to making this sauce truly shine is to use the freshest, highest-quality ingredients you can find.
- Quick and Easy- Fresh, authentic Italian pasta sauce in under an hour? It doesn't get much better than that. Honestly, the hardest part of this recipe is having to wait for it to be finished while it simmers away on the stovetop, filling your kitchen with wonderful, drool-worthy smells.
- Versatile- You can use this San Marzano tomato sauce for just about any recipe you need tomato sauce for. I love having it in my freezer at all times so I can quickly use it to make a delicious meal. I often use it for pizza, meatballs, spaghetti, ravioli, baked ziti, and chicken cacciatore.
Here are some notes on key ingredients. For a full list of ingredients, check out the recipe card below.
- San Marzano Tomatoes- As previously mentioned, San Marzano tomatoes are simply the best tomato when it comes to making homemade fresh tomato sauce from scratch. Authentic San Marzano tomatoes will can only be found as whole tomatoes, which is why I like to use my immersion blender to create a smoother finished sauce.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil- Rich and fruity with a slightly peppery and bitter flavor, extra virgin olive oil is the lifeblood of Italian cuisine. The oil absorbs the flavor compounds from the aromatics and infuses them into the tomato sauce as it simmers.
- Garlic- Crush the garlic before mincing to help release the flavorful oils inside each clove. As the garlic is heated in the olive oil, those flavorful oils will be drawn out, allowing them to be infused into the tomato sauce.
- Italian Seasoning- Sautéing the dried herbs in the olive oil along with the other aromatics helps to enhance their flavor.
- Red Pepper Flakes- Just a pinch of red pepper chili flakes adds the tiniest kick of heat to this San Marzano tomato sauce.
Step by Step Instructions
Here is how to make this San Marzano tomato sauce.
Step 1: Sauté the aromatics. In a large Dutch oven or stainless steel pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add in the diced onion and salt and cook for 5-7 minutes or until the onion is softened and just beginning to brown. Then, add in the garlic, Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, and black pepper and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes.
Step 2: Cook the tomatoes. Pour the cans of San Marzano tomatoes into the pot. Use a wooden spoon to break up some of the tomatoes and release their juices. Bring the sauce to a simmer and reduce the heat to low. Cover the pot with the lid and simmer the tomatoes for 20-30 minutes.
Step 3: Blend and reduce the sauce. Once the tomatoes are tender, use an immersion blender to puree the sauce to your desired texture. Alternately, you could ladle the sauce into a blender and puree it in batches or just crush the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon. Bring the pureed sauce back to a gentle simmer and simmer, uncovered, for an additional 20 minutes or until it reaches your desired consistency. The longer you simmer the sauce, the thicker it will be.
Tomato Sauce Tips
- San Marzano tomatoes are truly the best. There really is no substitute for San Marzano tomatoes when it comes to making a good tomato sauce. The sweet flavor and low acidity of San Marzano tomatoes creates a richer, more balanced sauce.
- Use an enameled Dutch oven or stainless steel pot. Simmering tomato sauce in unfinished cast iron for too long can strip the pot of its seasoning and give the sauce a metallic flavor. Instead, opt for an enameled Dutch oven or a stainless steel pot to ensure your sauce doesn't end up with an off-taste.
- Know the consistency you need. Some recipes, like pizza or chicken parmesan, require a slightly thicker tomato sauce. While with other recipes, like meatballs or spaghetti, you can get away with a slightly thinner sauce. You'll want to consider what you're using the tomato sauce for when you're reducing it in the final step of the recipe.
Substitutions and Additions
Here are a few ways you can customize this San Marzano tomato sauce recipe to fit your diet and taste preferences. It is naturally gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan.
- San Marzano Tomatoes- You can use blanched and peeled fresh tomatoes in place of the canned San Marzano tomatoes. I recommend using a paste variety like San Marzano or Italian Gold if you go this route. Otherwise, you can use your preferred style and variety of canned tomatoes.
- Olive Oil- Swap the extra virgin olive oil for another neutral-flavored oil or butter.
- Yellow Onion- Give white onion or shallots a try instead. Alternately, you could use 1 tablespoon of onion powder.
- Garlic- A teaspoon of garlic powder could be swapped for 4 cloves on garlic. On the other hand, a garlic-infused olive oil would impart a more mild garlic flavor to the sauce.
- Italian Seasoning- Italian seasoning is typically made from dried oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme, and marjoram. Use the individual dried spices instead or swap them for their fresh counterparts.
- Red Pepper Flakes- Leave the red pepper flakes out entirely if you don't enjoy spice or add a few dashes of hot sauce in their place.
- Ground Meat- If you're craving a little protein with your pasta and red sauce, add some ground beef, pork, or turkey to make a meat sauce.
- Vegetables- Adding minced vegetables into your tomato sauce is a fantastic way to sneak a few extra vegetables into your day, especially for those of you who aren't big fans. Try grated carrots and zucchini, minced mushrooms and bell peppers, or chopped spinach and kale.
- Fresh Herbs- I use dried Italian seasoning in this recipe to keep things simple, but adding a few handfuls of fresh herbs is always welcome. Fresh basil, oregano, marjoram, thyme, and parsley would bring this sauce to the next level and add a pop of bright, herbaceous flavor.
- Parmesan Cheese Rind- Wait, don't throw that cheese rind out! Parmesan cheese rinds make excellent sauce enhancers. All you need to do is simmer it in the tomato sauce for 30 minutes to infuse it with a mild cheesy flavor. Remove and discard the rind before serving.
- Heavy Cream- Once the tomato sauce has finished cooking, remove it from the heat and stir in ½-1 cup of heavy cream to make a tomato cream sauce.
- White Wine- The sweet, fruity flavors in white wine play well with the sweetness of San Marzano tomatoes. To use, deglaze the aromatics with ½ cup white wine and allow it to reduce by half. Then, add in the canned tomatoes.
What to Serve with San Marzano Tomato Sauce
A good tomato sauce is the base for tons of delicious recipes. From simple pasta with red sauce to meatballs to something a little fancier like shakshuka, knowing a basic tomato sauce recipe will get you further than most when it comes to being creative in the kitchen.
Here are a few of my favorite ways to use this San Marzano tomato sauce.
- Dutch Oven Meatballs
- As a Pizza Sauce for this Mushroom Pizza recipe
- Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms
- Over Traditional Pasta, Gluten-Free pasta, Filled Pasta, or Spiralized Vegetables
- Dipping Sauce for Calzones, Garlic Bread, or Mozzarella Sticks
- Chicken or Eggplant Parmesan
- Lasagna, Stuffed Shells, Baked Ziti, or Manicotti
- Chicken Cacciatore
Storage and Reheating
Tomato sauce is the perfect make-ahead and freezer-friendly recipe. Often, when I make tomato sauce, I make a double batch and store some in the freezer so I can quickly make spaghetti and meatballs, pizza, or chicken parmesan any night of the week.
Here are my tips for storing, freezing, and reheating this San Marzano tomato sauce.
- Refrigerator- Store any leftover tomato sauce in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
- Freezer- Allow the tomato sauce to cool before storing it in a freezer-safe plastic bag or container for up to 6 months. I like to portion my sauce out into meal-ready portions for easier defrosting and reheating.
How to Reheat
- From Refrigerator- You can reheat the tomato sauce on the stovetop by bring it to a gentle simmer in a saucepan over low-medium heat. Alternately, you can reheat the tomato sauce in the microwave. I recommend using half-power and stirring the sauce every minute or so until it's fully warmed through. Don't forget to use a plastic-free, microwave-safe dish.
- From Freezer- The best way to reheat marinara sauce from the freezer is by defrosting it first in the refrigerator, then following one of the methods mentioned above. For faster defrosting, run cold water over the container of frozen sauce to loosen it. Then, pop it out and reheat in a saucepan or in the microwave.
How to Can San Marzano Tomato Sauce
Running out of space in your freezer and want to preserve a few jars of San Marzano tomato sauce by canning it instead? When it comes to canning homemade marinara sauce, you have two choices: pressure canning or water bath canning.
Pressure canning is typically used for low-acid fruits, vegetables, and meats. Since San Marzano tomatoes are on the lower side of the acidity scale, pressure canning is the preferred method for preserving this sauce. Simply follow the instructions on your pressure canner and process the jars for 15 minutes, adjusting for altitude.
If you don't have a pressure canner handy, that's okay. You can still use the water bath canning method if you add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice per pint jar. Lemon juice increases the acidity of the sauce enough to make it safe to water bath can. You should process the jars in a boiling water bath for 35 minutes.
This recipe makes approximately 3 pint-sized jars.
Frequently Asked Questions
Considered to be an heirloom variety of tomato, San Marzano tomatoes are a type of plum tomato or paste tomato. They are longer and thinner than Roma tomatoes with thicker flesh and fewer seeds. San Marzano tomatoes are sweeter and less acidic than Roma tomatoes.
No, there is no need to remove the seeds from canned San Marzano tomatoes. In fact, San Marzano tomatoes have fewer seeds than most other varieties of canned tomatoes. Draining them is also not necessary or recommended.
Often, recipes will call for a pinch of sugar or some carrots to help balance the acidity of tomato sauce. However, since San Marzano tomatoes are sweeter and less acidic than other types of tomatoes, I find that I do not have to add any sugar to this tomato sauce.
If your tomato sauce is watery, that just means you need to keep simmering it without a lid on the pot. As the tomato sauce simmers, the water evaporates, creating a thicker, richer tomato sauce. Simmer the sauce as long as you need to in order to achieve your desired consistency.
More Recipes You May Enjoy
San Marzano Tomato Sauce
- Immersion blender optional
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion diced
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- ½ tablespoon Italian seasoning
- ¼ teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
- ½ teaspoon black pepper freshly cracked
- 2 28-ounce cans San Marzano peeled tomatoes
- In a large Dutch oven or stainless steel pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add in the diced onion and salt and cook for 5-7 minutes or until the onion is softened and just beginning to brown. Then, add in the garlic, Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, and black pepper and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes.2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 1 large yellow onion, ½ teaspoon kosher salt, 4 cloves garlic, ½ tablespoon Italian seasoning, ¼ teaspoon red chili pepper flakes, ½ teaspoon black pepper
- Pour the cans of San Marzano tomatoes into the pot. Use a wooden spoon to break up some of the tomatoes and release their juices. Bring the sauce to a simmer and reduce the heat to low. Cover the pot with the lid and simmer the tomatoes for 20-30 minutes.2 28-ounce cans San Marzano peeled tomatoes
- Once the tomatoes are tender, use an immersion blender to puree the sauce to your desired texture. Alternately, you could ladle the sauce into a blender and puree it in batches or just crush the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon. Bring the pureed sauce back to a gentle simmer and simmer, uncovered, for an additional 20 minutes or until it reaches your desired consistency. The longer you simmer the sauce, the thicker it will be.
Did you try this recipe?
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