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Best Homemade Spaghetti Sauce Recipe From Fresh or Canned Tomatoes

Vespa's recipes have appeared in "Midwest Living" and "Taste of Home." She belongs to Cook's Recipe Testers for "Cook's Illustrated."

Here is my Italian spaghetti with tomato sauce recipe!

Here is my Italian spaghetti with tomato sauce recipe!

How to Make Spaghetti Sauce From Fresh or Canned Tomatoes

It was high noon when we stepped into Santa Rosa, the local market, in search of fresh ingredients. We'd invited fifteen hungry friends to our home for dinner and we wanted to welcome them with a feast: a bubbling pot of garden-fresh tomato sauce, courtesy of an old family recipe.

A cacophony of voices and the odors of decay and freshly cut flowers assaulted my senses as I strolled toward the vegetable section. Then I spotted her—A Peruvian casera, or vendor, who had traveled from her farm on the coast to sell produce.

Her smile reminded me of one of the reasons I fell in love with Perú: the genuine friendliness of the people. The day’s special? Fresh tomatoes, one kilo for just one Nuevo Sol, or about 2.2 pounds of homegrown tomatoes for thirty-five American cents. To make things interesting I purchased seven kilos, or a little over fifteen pounds, of homegrown tomatoes.

After carting home my enormous load, I was more ready for a siesta than an afternoon in the kitchen! Nevertheless, the challenge was on. The thought of blanching and peeling so many tomatoes was overwhelming. So why not roast them in the oven? Like tomatoes grown on American soil, Peru´s tomatoes tend to be acidic. Roasting sweetens the tomatoes and concentrates their flavor. It would lift my homemade sauce to new heights.

I gave the tomatoes a cool bath in the kitchen sink, crowded them onto two cookie sheets, popped them into a 350°F oven, and baked them for about an hour. Skins just beginning to split, they were soft and juicy. After letting them cool a bit I quickly peeled them and pulsed them in the food processor in batches, being careful to leave enough chunks to add texture to my sauce. Then it was a matter of adding onions, garlic, and spices, and voila! A batch of spaghetti sauce big enough to feed a crowd.

Roasting the tomatoes gives this satiny sauce depth of flavor and natural sweetness. In case you don't have seven kilos of tomatoes, I've halved the recipe for easier preparation. With just eight main ingredients and eight herbs and spices, the sauce comes together quickly. Enjoy!

Roast the tomatoes . . .

Roast the tomatoes . . .

. . . and peel the tomatoes

. . . and peel the tomatoes

The Best Canned Tomatoes

San Marzanos are grown near Sorrento, Italy, where the soil imparts a special flavor to these tomatoes. Most importantly, these tomatoes have a sweet rather than acidic flavor profile, which makes them superior to most varieties available in North American supermarkets.

The packing method used by Italbrand preserves the sweetness of these vine-ripened tomatoes better than any other brand I've sampled. This is the brand I recommend if you decide to use canned tomatoes.


  • If using canned tomatoes, please my recommendation, above, for the best brand.
  • Fresh Romas are ideal for cooking tomatoes as they're fleshy, thick-walled, and contain fewer seeds. However, any tomato can be used as long as it's ripe and flavorful.
  • Choose ripe tomatoes. Leave the green ones to ripen on the windowsill.
  • If tomatoes are very seedy, squeeze out most of the seeds before blending and compensate by adding an extra pound of tomatoes to the pot.
  • Don't be afraid to cook with anchovies. The hairy little fish will melt away without a trace and give your sauce an amazing flavor.
  • Substitute red wine or chicken broth for the water in the recipe.
  • Use fresh or dried basil and oregano.
  • If your tomatoes are very acidic, try oven-roasting the onions to sweeten the sauce even more. Ground beef or pork, browned and added to the sauce, will also help round out flavors.
  • Since tomatoes vary in sweetness, it’s important to taste the sauce as it simmers. After about an hour, the sauce will reduce and you can begin to sample it. Add more tomato paste for rich flavor and deeper color, more liquid if the sauce is too thick, and sugar if too sour or bitter. Add more herbs and spices according to preference.
  • Simmer sauce for at least two hours, if possible. Make the sauce a day or two in advance and it will be even tastier once the flavors marry.
  • I needed two pots to start a 15-pound batch of tomato sauce. After simmering for about an hour, though, the sauce had reduced enough to fit into my 8-quart dutch oven.


  • 7 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes, roasted, peeled and chopped (or 4 [28-ounce] cans whole, peeled tomatoes)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 10 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 4 anchovy fillets, minced
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) tomato paste, to taste*
  • 1 cup liquid: red wine, chicken broth or water
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seed, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon rosemary (fresh or dried), chopped
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper, optional
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons salt, or to taste
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped (garnish)

Metric Conversion

  • 3.4 kilograms fresh tomatoes
  • 60 milliliters olive oil
  • 40 grams butter
  • 2 medium onions
  • 10 garlic cloves
  • 4 anchovy fillets
  • 227 grams tomato paste*
  • 240 milliliters liquid
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 10 grams fennel seed
  • 10 grams dried oregano leaves
  • 10 grams dried basil
  • 10 grams rosemary
  • 5 grams crushed red pepper
  • 40 grams sugar
  • 40 grams salt
  • 10 grams ground black pepper
  • A palmful of chopped parsley

* If the tomatoes are a meaty variety such as Roma, you can use less tomato paste. Start with 1/2 cup (120 grams) and add more as needed.

Saute the peppers, onion, and garlic until translucent.

Saute the peppers, onion, and garlic until translucent.


  1. In a large dutch oven-sized pot saute onion, garlic, and anchovies (if using) in oil and butter, over medium heat, until softened.
  2. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, liquid, herbs and spices, sugar, and salt, stirring well to combine.
  3. Gently simmer for 2 hours or longer, until tomatoes have broken down and the sauce is deep red. Add parsley and simmer for 20 minutes more.
  4. Serve over pasta with freshly grated parmesan cheese.
Gently simmer the sauce for 2 hours.

Gently simmer the sauce for 2 hours.

This sauce becomes even more flavorful when simmered with meatballs or chicken cacciatore. You could also serve it over fried eggplant for a delicious eggplant parmesan.

Yield: 4 quarts or 16 cups of tomato sauce

¡Buon Appetito!

Homemade Spaghetti Sauce From Homegrown Tomatoes

© 2012 Vespa Woolf