The Best Simple Pasta Sauce

This simple pasta sauce is ready in only 20 minutes. Seriously!

Store-bought pasta sauce is undoubtedly convenient. So long as you have one 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. Would you be more interested in making it from scratch if it cooked in the time it takes to boil pasta? Our recipe not only gets you there, but you only need a handful of pantry staple ingredients to make it, too.

How Do You Make a Pasta Sauce from Scratch?

Homemade pasta sauce is super simple to make. Our recipe uses onions, garlic, dried herbs, crushed tomatoes and a pinch of sugar, salt and black pepper. It’s almost as easy as using hacks to make store-bought tomato sauce taste better, but making it from scratch allows you to control the ingredients. Most of our favorite brands list tomatoes as the first ingredient, and they don’t have any crazy sounding additives. That’s good, but they all have one thing in common: A ton of sodium (often more than 20% of your daily recommended intake). When you make the sauce at home, you don’t need to use as much salt, so the flavor of the tomatoes really gets to shine.

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 tomatoes out there, but this recipe is designed around using 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, and 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.

How to Make Simple Pasta Sauce

Simple pasta sauceTaste of Home

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

Yield: 8 servings

Instructions

Step 1: Cook the vegetables

This step is where we build all the depth of flavor for this sauce. Start by 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 ten minutes, until the liquid is reduced and the flavors have come together. Remove the bay leaf before serving.

Editor’s Tip: 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.

How to Use This Easy Pasta Sauce

This simple pasta sauce is perfect for spaghetti, but you can also use it on a variety of other dishes.

  • Turn it into bolognese sauce by adding browned ground beef and sausage (or keep things veggie-friendly with mushrooms).
  • Use it for chicken Parmesan (and turn the leftovers into sandwiches).
  • Puree the sauce to use for pizza.
  • Use the pureed sauce as a dipping sauce for calzone or mozzarella sticks.
  • Serve it over polenta (it’s especially good with grilled polenta).
  • Use chunky fire-roasted diced tomatoes instead of crushed tomatoes and serve it on toast as a tasty bruschetta appetizer.
  • Use it for seafood dishes like cioppino.
  • Fancy up eggs by making eggs in purgatory.

Tips for Storage

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. The tomatoes are very acidic, and they can stain your plastic containers. Keep the sauce covered with plastic wrap or close it tightly with a lid.

Can you freeze pasta sauce? Yes.

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.

Nutrition Facts

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.

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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.