How to Make Pasta Sauce

Want to learn how to make pasta sauce? This simple recipe is a great place to start. It's on the table in just 20 minutes!

Store-bought pasta sauce is undoubtedly convenient. As long as you have one jar in the pantry, you have the key component for many of our favorite weeknight dinners. But what if we told you that a good pasta sauce doesn’t have to simmer on the stovetop for hours. In fact, you can make some homemade pasta sauce recipes in the time it takes to boil the pasta! We’ll show you how to make pasta sauce with pantry staples you likely already have on hand, in less time than you think.

Key Ingredients for Pasta Sauce

  • Tomatoes. You can’t make a traditional red sauce without tomatoes! Whether they’re fresh or canned tomatoes, this ingredient is an absolute must.
  • Garlic and onions. You could technically leave these ingredients out. But without them, your pasta sauce would have little depth. Garlic and onions give your sauce a rich, fragrant quality that’s hard to replace.
  • Flavor boosters. When you’re learning how to make pasta sauce, you’ll quickly see that it’s very receptive to herbs, seasonings and spices. Without these flavor boosters, you’d have a bland recipe.

How to Make a Simple Pasta Sauce

Simple Pasta SauceTaste of Home

This easy pasta sauce recipe comes to us from Deborah Markwood of Chester, Virginia, who loves this sauce’s versatility. In addition to spaghetti, she serves it on pizza, as a dipping sauce or with toast.

The recipe yields 8 servings.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon packed brown sugar
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Directions

Step 1: Cook the vegetables

Heating the olive oil over medium heat in a small saucepan. When the oil is hot and shimmering, add the onion. Cook, stirring, until the onion is tender, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Add the brown sugar, minced garlic, basil and oregano. Cook for an additional minute, until the garlic is fragrant and the spices have bloomed in the oil.

Step 2: Add the tomatoes and simmer

Add the can of crushed tomatoes along with the bay leaf, salt and pepper. Bring the sauce to a boil before reducing the heat to medium-low. Simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, until the liquid is reduced and the flavors have come together. Remove the bay leaf before serving.

What Kind of Tomatoes Do You Use for Sauce?

We’re technically making a marinara here—a quick-cooking sauce that’s relatively thin and tastes strongly like tomatoes (here’s the difference between marinara and tomato sauce). There are all kinds of different types of tomatoes out there, but this recipe is designed around crushed canned tomatoes. Crushed tomatoes are perfect because they have the ideal consistency for pasta sauce, so you don’t have to drag out the food processor to get rid of the chunks.

If you have another type of canned tomato in the pantry, you could certainly use it for this recipe. Each type has a different consistency. Here’s how they differ:

  • Diced tomatoes: Firm chunks of chopped tomatoes in tomato sauce. These tomatoes are treated with calcium chloride, so the pieces won’t fall apart as they simmer.
  • Crushed tomatoes: Semi-pureed tomatoes in tomato sauce. Crushed tomatoes have a thicker texture than tomato sauce, and they sometimes contain a little tomato paste.
  • Tomato sauce: A thin, fully pureed sauce made from tomatoes. These jars often contain added seasonings, like basil or oregano, and are usually thinned out with water.
  • Stewed tomatoes: Large chunks of soft tomatoes in tomato sauce, sometimes left whole or chopped into rings. Many stewed tomatoes also contain onions and celery.

What Pasta Should You Use with This Sauce?

When it comes to pasta and sauce pairings, spaghetti paired with a tomato-based pasta sauce is always a hit. The long, thin noodle holds up to an even coating of sauce that guarantees a flavorful experience in every bite. You can use dried or fresh pasta—just make sure it’s cooked to al dente for the best texture. Add on some quick meatballs and you’ve got a classic, delicious dinner.

Tips for Making Pasta Sauce

How to store pasta sauce

This recipe isn’t approved for canning, but it will last in the refrigerator for five to seven days. It’s best to store the sauce in glass jars or containers, because the tomatoes are very acidic and could stain your plastic containers. Keep the sauce covered with plastic wrap or close it tightly with a lid.

Can you freeze pasta sauce?

Yes, you can! To freeze this pasta sauce, let it cool completely in the refrigerator. Portion it into airtight containers and freeze it for up to three months. When you’re ready to use the sauce, thaw it in the refrigerator overnight before reheating it.

How do you make pasta sauce thicker?

The longer you cook this sauce, the thicker it will become. Feel free to simmer it for an additional 10 or 20 minutes for a really thick pasta sauce. You can also add a splash of pasta water—the starch from the noodles will help your sauce thicken.

Is pasta sauce healthy?

Each 1/2 cup serving of this simple pasta sauce contains about 69 calories, 4 grams of fat, 9 grams of carbohydrates (5 grams from sugars and 2 grams from fiber) and 2 grams of protein.

When it comes to sodium, the 3/4 teaspoon salt equates to roughly 1800mg sodium. That’s about 225mg per serving. If you’re concerned about sodium intake, look for no-salt-added crushed tomatoes. You can also reduce the amount of salt in the recipe. For more delicious ideas, consider these healthy pasta sauce recipes.

Discover more recipes, tips and tricks with our ultimate guide to pasta sauce.

Easy Dinners That Start with Pasta Sauce
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Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.