How To Make Tomato Sauce

Look at this sauce:

Is your mouth watering? It should be. This sauce is delicious. And you will make it.

You will make this sauce because it is: (a) easy to make; (b) delicious; and (c) a great way to get started in the kitchen. I am speaking specifically to site readers who read my site as patrons of great humorous non-fiction literature and not as patrons of great food making. This is the sauce that started it all—the first thing that I made that made me say: “Holy *#!@ I can cook! And it was totally worth my time! I love the way this tastes! I want to cook more things! I want to ladel this sauce on my head! [Ladeling sauce on my head.] Holy *#!@”

[To learn how to make this sauce, click below. I am trying out this feature to conserve space on the main page. Do you like? Let me know.]

Ok. So how do we start? I will give you step by step directions. And by the way, this sauce comes from a very expensive cookbook. I won’t tell you the cookbook’s name for copyright-legal-I-don’t-want-to-be-sued reasons.

Anyway, first things first. Get your ingredients.

1) Go to your supermarket.


I live on top of a Whole Foods so I go to Whole Foods. You may go to any supermarket you want.

2) Buy the following: (to make sauce that feeds one or two people)

– one 28 oz can of whole peeled plum tomatoes

– olive oil (if you don’t already have it)

– Thyme (<--this is the key money ingredient!) - 1 head of garlic IMG_3.JPG

– 1 large onion

– 1 carrot (Whole Foods sells individual carrots; saves money)

– 1 box of fussili pasta (it catches the sauce better)

– Kosher salt (just because it’s good to have)

3) Walk/drive back home.

4) Open your door.

5) Go inside.

6) Go to your kitchen.

7) Begin assembling your ingredients:

– Chop half the onion. (Save the other half in case of emergencies). How do you do this? Many people ask me how this is done.

1. Peel the onion. Cut off the top and bottom.

2. Place it on the cutting board.


3. Cut it in half.


4. Now the tricky part. Place the onion half cut side down. Point the bulb end away from you (this is the browner end that seems to be holding the onion together). Now make cuts that look like a sheet of notebook paper if you turned it side ways. The cuts should look like this:

| | | | | | |

But don’t cut all the way to the brown end! You want to leave it entact. So cut almost all the way. Here’s what it looks like:


5. Now slice on the z-axis (if you remember Algebra 2). You will not be slicing down on the cutting board; you are thrusting your knife into the onion perpendicular to the cuts you just made. It is hard to desribe this. Think of it this way. You have a stack of CDs. You have just cut down, making your slits through the plastic. Now I am asking you to make cuts where the spaces between the CDs are. This step isn’t crucial, it just makes for a smaller dice.

6. Now complete the chopping by cutting along x-axis. This part should be obvious. It is the cut that will make the onion fall to little pieces. Here is the end result:


7. I hope that made some sense.

– Hold up a head of garlic for the camera.


– Remove two cloves (cut the top off to make this easier).

– Place the unpeeled cloves on the cutting board.


– Whack them with your knife! By this, I mean: take the tip of your knife and place it several inches ahead of the clove. Now quickly lower the flat side of the knife onto the unpeeled clove. WHACK! Don’t be afraid to smash it. This will make the peeling process much easier. In fact, if you do it correctly, this IS the peeling process.


– Now, simply chop those two cloves of garlic.


– Perfect!

– Now wash and peel your carrot.

– Get a bowl and a grater.


– Grate half your carrot.


– Get out your Thyme:


NOTE: Thyme is what makes this pasta sauce the mac-daddy of pasta sauces. It gives your end product a depth of flavor that will make all other pasta sauces pale in comparison. Take that, Prego!

– Chop (or simply drag your finger down the stalk) the leaves into the carrots. Do about 1.5 Tbs worth.

– Open a can of tomatoes:


– Dump into a wooden bowl (or any bowl):


– Now carefully crush the tomatoes with your hands. Carefully because they will squirt everywhere!

Now you’re all ready for cooking!

8) Take one large pot and fill it 4/5ths of the way with water. Put it on one stove and turn up on high. This will be for the pasta and the sooner you get it going the better of you’ll be. Remember: the more water in there, the better it is for your pasta.

9) In another pot (a smaller one) pour 1/8th a cup of olive oil. (I used the one I bought yesterday).


10) Turn the heat up to medium and wait a few moments.

11) Put your hand over the oil. Hot? Perfect.

12) Dump the onions and garlic in.


13) Listen to them sizzle.

14) Stir around with spoon.

15) Watch some TV.

16) What’s that smell?

17) Shit, the garlic is burning! This is bad!

18) Quick dump the carrots in!


19) Why is this a good idea? It’s not. Burnt garlic will ruin your sauce. You will have to dump all this out and start again.

20) Noooooo!!!

21) Yesssss!!!

22) Nooooo!!!!

23) Yessss!!!!

24) Dump it out. Repeat steps 1 through 23, except this time don’t burn the garlic. (Actually, it didn’t take me that long. But still: it sucked).

25) My suggestion is start the oil on a much lower heat. No need for a whopping sizzle. And my other suggestion is add the onions first. Let them cook for 5 minutes. Then add the garlic. Let cook for 2 minutes, watching carefully, and making sure the heat isn’t too high.

26) Add the carrots and thyme.


27) Ahh, that looks better.

28) After 5 minutes, add the tomatoes.


29) Bring to a boil.

30) Reduce to a simmer.

31) Let simmer for 30 minutes.

32) Make a salad.


33) Watch Sarah’s Secrets on the Food Network.

34) With 12 minutes left to go on the sauce, add the pasta to the boiling water. But first add a generous helping of salt. (This increases the water temperature and improves the flavor of the pasta. Remember: the water should be at a rolling boil!)


35) Add salt to your sauce. Do so according to taste. (It is ok to taste the sauce at this point like an Italian grandmother. Say “Mamma Mia!” if it tastes good.

36) Keep checking on the pasta. You do NOT want to overcook your pasta. You want to serve it al dente. When it is just perfectly done, bring it to the sink and dump it into a collander:


37) DO NOT RINSE WITH COLD WATER. This is a big boo-boo and any knowledgable pasta person will tell you not to.

38) Taste your sauce one last time.

39) Bring the pasta to the sauce and dump it in!


40) Stir it around until everything is coated. Let cook for a few seconds.

41) Put your pasta on a plate:


42) Carry over to the coffee table in front of the TV.

43) Sit down.

44) Put on Wheel of Fortune.

45) Is the Wheel rigged?

46) Dig in.

47) Moan loudly with pleasure.

48) Mmmm! Isn’t that the best thing ever? It really is the best thing ever. You won’t know what I’m talking about until you do it yourself.


Nothing would make me happier than to hear that a non-cook among you is going to try my pasta sauce recipe. As a reward, I will mention your pasta-sauce-making attempt on the mainpage and laud you and revere you for all to see. E-mail me directly if you do this. I will be so so happy.

9 thoughts on “How To Make Tomato Sauce”

  1. Adam, looks like a great basic pasta sauce. I have a really good one as well along those lines, but I am a hardcore basil girl whereas you are clearly a thyme man. It was not meant to be. Our love will never blossom. Good thing we have other things in common. I gotta ask, why the carrot? I assume for body and a little carby sweetness, but I thought that was an original and somewhat odd addition to the sauce. Rock on anyhow!

  2. Great basic tomato sauce recipe!

    Like Veronica, I am a basil girl believing that tomato and basil is one of The Big Kahuna’s great culinary combos.

    However, unlike Veronica, I don’t think the addition of a carrot is unusual. I certainly put grated carrot into my tomato-based sauces.

    Tip: If you want to add additional zing to the tomato sauce, add in some chopped capers. If you want to deepen the flavour a bit, add a couple of anchovies in olive oil from Italy. If you want to go the whole hog and make the classic Pasta Puttanesca, add the above PLUS sliced/diced black olives and chile pepper flakes for a kick.

    Just my two bits…

  3. dude, all the hype about thyme and yet i still have no idea at what point it goes into the pasta.

  4. And two years later, someone finds this site. Hurray, search technology.

    So, how does one add mushrooms to this sauce? What sort of mushrooms? Any suggestions?

    I will make it, though I am more of a semi-cook than a non-cook.

  5. I tried it and it was good, but 1 large onion is way okerkill for 28 oz of tomatoes, next time I will half that, and I think it would be perfect.

  6. I’ve never understood why people put carrots in tomato sauce.

    Thyme? No way. Basil and oregano maybe some marjoram. And salt and pepper and a pinch of sugar to tone down the acid in the tomatoes.

    I guess I make it totally differently.

  7. This is exactly how Mario Batali does it ;). Thyme is used a lot in authentic Italian sauces. Yes I love basil but you can add that to this AFTER the thyme. And suzette, carrots are basically the natural sugar plus it adds some body.

    Arrabiata – make as above, but add some red pepper and basil or parsley.

    Putanesca – make as above, but saute anchovie in olive oil until it melts. Add basil or parsley and some capers at the end.

    Ragu – make as above, but saute celery and simmer good whole italian sausage with the sauce. Take out, slice and add to final serving.

    Just an example of what basic sauce is meant for. It’s not meant to be the final product, get creative people! :)

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