Uncanned Tomato Sauce

by Jane Wangersky | April 4th, 2014 | Recipes, Simple Solutions

fusilli n sauceI was going to start this article with a rant about canned (and jarred) tomato sauce — how it all seems to taste pretty much the same, whether the label says “roasted garlic” or “four cheese” or just “original recipe”. Then I realized my own tomato sauce recipe uses mostly, ahem, canned ingredients. So I’m not going to talk about how awful all canned food is, because it isn’t, really. I’ll just tell you that my sauce, while it may not be much fresher than canned sauce, at least tastes fresher. It’s also nearly as quick and easy, and if you want to go beyond the basic recipe there are tons of things you can add.

Uncanned Tomato Sauce


  1. 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, Italian herb flavor
  2. 1 six-ounce can tomato paste
  3. 1-2 teaspoons oil
  4. 1 onion
  1. Peel and chop the onion. Heat the oil in a frying pan on medium high. When it begins to bubble, carefully add the onion to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, till the onion softens and the edges of the pieces are slightly browned.
  2. Add the diced tomatoes, with their juice, and tomato paste and stir together till what you have is thinner than tomato paste but thicker than diced tomatoes in juice. You can combine them before you add them to the onions to make it easier. Or you can add the diced tomatoes and juice first, let them heat up a little, then add the tomato paste — it’ll break up more easily in hot liquid.
  3. As soon as you add the tomatoes, turn the heat down to medium, or even low, depending how much time you have before everyone wants to eat and whether your pasta is anywhere near ready. The sauce should bubble gently for five to 10 minutes.
  4. Before you serve it over pasta, taste to see if it needs salt. If you think it does, add the salt little by little, tasting each time you do — you won’t be able to take it back out if there’s too much.
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At this point, you might also want to add a couple of spoonfuls of wine to make the flavor more complex. If you find the taste a little too acidic, add a spoonful of sugar at some point in the cooking.

There are infinite variations on this. If you’d like the sauce to be your vegetable dish for the meal, add a couple of sticks of celery and/or a sweet pepper, both chopped, after the onions have cooked a few minutes. A sliced clove of garlic is good too — but keep an eye on it, garlic can burn quickly.

This tastes good, adds vegetables (and fruit — that’s what tomatoes really are) to the meal, and takes less time than you need to boil water and cook the pasta.

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