Tomatoes will soon be in season. And when they are, I’ll head to my favorite farmers market for a batch of seconds with which to make quick pasta sauce. In the meantime, this fabulous canned tomato pasta sauce is a family favorite. Using just a few dried herbs and grated vegetables, the canned tomatoes become a thick and delicious old school red sauce.
This sauce includes pasta in the name, but don’t let that fool you. It is way more versatile than just a topping for noodles. Use it for any dish that uses a good old fashioned Italian red sauce. Lasagna, eggplant parmigiana, or stuffed shells – all of them are wonderful with this sauce as the base.
This canned tomato pasta sauce melds tomato flavor with a few vegetables and herbs. The thick and satisfying blend is so good you won’t miss fresh tomatoes as a component. You might even decide to make it when you can get fresh tomatoes.
Most Italian-style tomato sauces follow the same basic pattern: a few vegetables and herbs, lots of tomatoes, and slow cooking. Among the recipes I checked out before coming up with this one are those by Mario Batali and America’s Test Kitchen. My canned tomato pasta sauce is basically a mash-up of those two recipes – taking what I considered the best parts of each and melding them together.
Two features of this version make it perfect for a busy home cook. First, it does not require either fresh tomato or herbs. All the ingredients are staples that many of us routinely keep in our pantries and refrigerators. Second, the sauce does not have to simmer for hours. Recipes for traditional Italian red sauce often require simmering the sauce for hours – not so here.
The ingredients are simple – butter, onion, carrot, garlic, dried oregano and basil, canned tomatoes, a a bit of sugar, salt and a touch of olive oil at the end.
The onion and carrot are grated or cut so small that they almost melt into the sauce.
Then the tomatoes and the vegetables and herbs are cooked together for a half hour or less. The resulting sauce has a thick but not chunky texture and a fresh flavor that does justice to my memories of the best Italian pasta meals I’ve eaten in lovely restaurants with checkered tablecloths and candles in Chianti bottles wrapped in baskets.
Simple Canned Tomato Pasta Sauce
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1/3 - 1/2 cup onion grated or finely diced (about 1 medium-large onion)
- 1/3 - 1/2 cup carrot grated (about 1 medium-large carrot)
- 3-4 garlic cloves mashed or finely diced
- 1 teaspoon each dried oregano and basil
- 2 cans tomatoes 28 ounce cans, either peeled whole or crushed or a combination, including juice, 28 ounce
- 1/4 teaspoon sugar optional
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- In a large, heavy pot, melt the butter. Add the grated or finely chopped onion and cook it, stirring frequently, for about 3-4 minutes.
- Add the grated carrot, oregano and basil, and continue cooking for another 5 minutes until the carrots and onion are well softened.
- Add the garlic and cook another 30 seconds.
- If using whole tomatoes, place them in a bowl and crush them into small chunks, with the juices freely flowing. Add the tomatoes (hand crushed or bought crushed in the can) and their juices to the pot containing the vegetables and herbs. Stirring frequently, bring the mixture to a boil. Lower the heat until the mixture is at a simmer and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until it is as thick as oatmeal.
- Add the optional sugar (see note), salt, and olive oil.
- Serve over pasta or use in a recipe.
The sugar is added to help sweeten the tomatoes. If you taste the sauce and it is not too acidic (i.e. it does not need sweetening) or you do not use sugar for other reasons, then by all means leave the sugar out. Conversely, if you need a bit more sugar than 1/4/ teaspoon, you can add it after tasting the fully cooked sauce.