Simple Pasta Sauce Recipe photo by Taste of Home
Total Time
Prep/Total Time: 20 min.
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!

Updated: Jan. 29, 2024

Store-bought pasta sauce is undoubtedly convenient. As long as you have a 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 simple 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 simple pasta sauce with pantry staples you likely already have on hand, in less time than you think.

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. 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.

Simple Pasta Sauce Ingredients

  • Olive oil
  • Onion
  • Packed brown sugar
  • Garlic cloves
  • Dried basil
  • Dried oregano
  • Crushed tomatoes
  • Bay leaf
  • Kosher salt
  • Pepper

Directions

Step 1: Cook the vegetables

Heat 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.

Editor’s Tip: You could technically leave garlic and onions 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.

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.

How to Store Simple 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 plastic containers. Keep the sauce covered with plastic wrap or close it tightly with a lid.

Can you freeze simple 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.

Simple Pasta Sauce Tips

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.

How do you make pasta sauce thicker?

The longer you cook this sauce, the thicker it becomes. 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.

Watch how to Make Simple Pasta Sauce

Simple Pasta Sauce

Prep Time 20 min
Yield 8 servings.

Ingredients

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

Directions

  1. In a small saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion; cook and stir until tender, 3-5 minutes. Add brown sugar and garlic; cook 1 minute longer. Add the tomatoes, basil, oregano, bay leaf, salt and pepper; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes or until liquid is reduced. Remove bay leaf.

Nutrition Facts

1/2 cup: 69 calories, 4g fat (1g saturated fat), 0 cholesterol, 407mg sodium, 9g carbohydrate (5g sugars, 2g fiber), 2g protein.

This is a simple pasta sauce that you can use for more than just spaghetti. Puree this recipe for pizza sauce or a great dipping sauce. I also like to make a variation for bruschetta by omitting the olive oil, using fire-roasted diced tomatoes and simply combining the uncooked ingredients. Refrigerate for at least two hours before serving on toasts. —Deborah Markwood, Chester, Virginia