Red Sauce

A pot of red sauce simmering with chicken thighs and meatballs

A good red sauce is the cornerstone of many pasta dishes.  No matter if you call it Sunday Gravy, Sugo, or just Sauce, it has graced the table of most Sunday dinners and every Christmas and Thanksgiving at my house .  It is easy to make and far superior to anything you will get from a jar.  I will describe below the process for making a good sauce.


6 cloves of garlic

1 heaping teaspoon of salt (kosher is best)

15-20 grinds of black pepper

1 medium onion

1/4 cup of olive oil

1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes

Two 15-ounce  cans of tomato sauce (Contadina)

Two 6 -ounce can of tomato paste (Contadina)

One 28-ounce can of whole plum tomatoes (Cento or Nina brands are imported and exceptional)


Start out by heating up your pan (empty) over medium heat for a few minutes.  Once it is warm add the olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan.  Add one chopped onion and one heaping teaspoon of salt.  Allow the onions to sweat in the olive oil and salt.  In about five minutes, they will turn translucent.  Do not let them brown.

While the onions are sauteing, open up your canned tomatoes.  Add the six-ounce can of tomato paste.  Tomato paste needs to fry a little bit so stir it up a bit with the onions and let it cook.  You will need to keep stirring it or it will burn.  What I look for is a color change.  The deep red will start to soften and it will start having an orange hue to it.  When you see this, it is done.  Now add six cloves of crushed garlic and stir it in.  I add the garlic at this point to ensure it does not burn or brown.  Burned garlic is bad and there is no masking the taste.  By adding it in the pan with the paste, I am able to cook it without having to worry about burning it.  Keep stirring and cooking for another three or four minutes over medium heat.  At t his point, I add about fifteen or twenty grinds of pepper from my pepper mill and I add the pepper flakes.

Now I add the tomato sauce.  The paste is thick and will need to be incorporated into the sauce slowly, so I add one can at a time and stir vigorously between the additions.  You will see the paste slowly start to loosen and then finally smooth out in the sauce.

Next I add the whole canned plum tomatoes.  They have to be crushed or blended (I use an immersion blender) into the sauce.  Hand crushing leaves larger chunks of tomato and will give a slightly rougher texture than using the hand immersion blender.  I use either technique depending upon the consistency I am going for that particular day.

The last thing to add is water.  I simply add one can of water from each tomato product.  That seems to be just about right.  Sometimes I adjust a little and add a bit more if the sauce is too thick.

At this point, the sauce is essentially done.  It just needs to cook.  Four hours on top of the stove on a low setting (I use a three on my stove) seems to do it just about right.  I usually add meatballs, chicken thighs, and sausage about two hours into the cooking.  However, this sauce will stand alone just fine without meat.

I have never been a fan of adding sugar to the sauce.  Contrary to popular belief, it does not cut down the acidity, and as mom used to say “If you cook your sauce long enough, the sweetness will come naturally.  Sugar is for people who do not have the patience to cook their sauce.”  She was right of course.  Cooking will concentrate the natural sugars in the tomato and bring out a natural sweetness that table sugar and under cooking can never achieve.

I also do not add wine unless I am not using a lot of meat.  I put enough meat in the sauce that it has complex enough flavors.  Adding the wine is not necessary and is a bit of a waste.  If I am going meatless, I will use wine (instead of some of the water) and I will add fennel seeds to give it an italian sausage taste without the meat.

I usually do not add herbs unless they are in season and fresh.  When they are, I will add fresh basil, oregano, or thyme.  Fresh thyme is usually my favorite, but fresh basil can be really good too.  I am not a huge fan of dried herbs in my sauce; however, there is always room to make this your own.  Add what you like.


All of the tomatoes you need




Just a little update I forgot to add.  If your sauce is too acidic and thus a little bitter, you can remedy this by adding a pinch (and I mean a SMALL pinch) of baking soda to your sauce during the cooking.

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5 thoughts on “Red Sauce

  1. This is one of the best Red Sauces I’ve ever made. I did not use all the water the recipe called for. I tasted the sauce every 30 minutes, the 4 hour cook time is a must. The flavor is incredible at the end of the fourth hour. This is now my new go to recipe for Red Sauce. Thank you