struggling to find a good authentic from scratch Italian red sauce. Find a lot that promise to be, but none that succeed. Help!



susanm January 10, 2012
happy to share mine: one caveat- you must, must MUST use San Marzano tomatoes!

saute diced pancetta in a bit of olive oil over low to med heat until it is nice and crispy.
add one medium finely chopped sweet onion and one clove of minced garlic, season with s&p, and continue to saute until the onion is translucent.
add 3 tbls of tomato paste, stir and cook a few minutes, until it starts to color the bottom of the pan.
turn up the heat and add about 3/4 cup of red wine. decent red wine...something you would drink.
reduce until about half the liquid is gone.
add 2 large cans of San Marzanos (milled if you have a food mill, otherwise you can squeeze them with your hands as you add, or whir them up in the blender or processor...whatever you have)
then season with more s&p, 1 tsp of sugar, 1 tbsp oregano and 1tsp (or more if you like) of red pepper flakes
then turn it down to a low simmer, and let it cook for about an hour, stirring regularly.
then taste it.
might need a bit more of everything, but thats the basics...good luck!
GIOVANNI50 January 13, 2012
I add ONE CLOVE and a pinch of nutmeg to make it parfume the sauce. No significant flavor difference
casa-giardino January 10, 2012
@domenicacooks - Tomatoes are dropped in boiling water just for a few seconds and removed immediately. I disagree with you - not soft, (slimy because they sit in hot water too long). I was born in Casalbordino, approx. 1 hour from Chieti. Yes, Abruzzo is lovely.
marcella F. January 10, 2012
@casa-giardino, I agree completely. May I add that you have to cut a cross in the skin on the bottom of the tomatoes, and start peeling them up from there, once removed them from the boiling water. Also, I drop them immediately in cold water and peel them when they are cool enough to handle - it also helps stop them from cooking.
I can't find anything wrong in this method, which I also use to peel peaches, and which is infinitely less messy and time-consuming than grating.
casa-giardino January 10, 2012
These food writers make me laugh...why a box grater? I have been making simple tomato sauce for 50 years using garden, fresh tomatoes. It takes exactly 10 minutes to peel and chop a pot full of tomatoes. Bring some water to a boil, drop the tomatoes for few seconds, remove, peel and chop. Add 1/4 cup of olive oil in a pot, add chopped onion and cook until golden. Add 4 fresh chopped tomatoes, salt, black pepper, and sprigs of fresh parsley and basil. Simmer gently for 20 to 30 minutes. NO SUGAR, NO WINE, NO VINEGAR.
domenicacooks January 10, 2012
@casa-giardino I guess it's just a matter of personal preference. My mom would probably agree with you, but I have never liked the method of dropping tomatoes in boiling water. It makes them soft and slimy. I either use a vegetable peeler to peel the skin off, then cut the tomato in half, scoop out the seeds, and chop. Or (my preferred method) I use the grater, as described above. The grating turns the tomatoes into a perfectly textured pulp. BTW, did I read above that you were born in Abruzzo? That is where my mom is from. She is from Chieti. Abruzzo is my favorite place on earth.
java&foam January 10, 2012
stephjkeogh, i was reading Domenica Marchetti's new cookbook "the glorious pasta of italy" and saw a really interesting idea if you are making tomato sauce during the summer and want to use fresh tomatoes instead.

she suggests (based on an idea from Janet Fletcher's "Four Seasons Pasta") cutting the tomatoes (plum, in her case) in half, scooping out the seeds with your fingers and then gently grating it cut side-first against a box grater. she says if you do this while pressing gently and stop when the peel is all that's left, that you get a fine pulp if you don't have a food mill. I haven't tried it yet...but the technique sounds interesting and i thought might be worth mentioning. Happy cooking!
jscalera January 9, 2012
From my Sicilian grandmother...2 tbs good olive oil, 1 small chopped onion, 2 cloves minced garlic, 1 large can San marzano chopped tomatoes, 1 tbs red wine vinegar, 1 tbs sugar, salt, pepper, torn basil leaves...over medium heat sauté onions in oil until soft, add garlic and cook until fragrant, careful not to burn...add vinegar and cook a bit more...add tomatoes, sugar and salt and pepper to taste and bring to a boil...cover and cook over low heat for 20 mins, stirring occasionally...take off heat, add basil and serve over pasta!
angiegeyser December 13, 2011
I love Bon Appetit's pasta al pomodoro...
ashipper November 27, 2011
I agree with's the OP from Smitten Kitchen on tomato sauce with onion and butter:

I've found that some of the butter can be replaced with olive oil if you're health-conscious. I also always add some torn fresh basil at the end. This sauce is mind-blowingly good and never fails.
bigpan November 27, 2011
Taught to me by a famous (seriously) Italian chef
Heat some olive oil, add 2 or 3 garlic cloves
And heat until starting to brown. Remove the garlic, add a tin of Italian Roma tomatoes that have been chopped fine, add some finely chopped onion.
Thicken with toato paste. Enjoy.
Nora January 15, 2011
However you make the sauce, finish it with a little cream. Ummm. I don't know if it's done in Italy, but I love a little tarragon in there, too.
WeLike2Cook December 29, 2010
Visit for full recipe for authentic Italian tomato sauce from scratch.
mejesster December 5, 2010
Can't believe nobody mentioned this before, but Marco Canora does authentic (well, relatively) Italian and has these sauce recipes:
For authoritative answers on authentic Italian cuisine, check out
casa-giardino November 8, 2010
I was born in Abruzzo. Good marinara sauce should be simple.
Fresh tomatoes, if available, olive oil, chopped onion, basil and parsley.
If the sauce is for fish, substitute slivered garlic for the onion.
Geepers November 7, 2010
I make a great vegan sugo all'amatriciana -- you dice the tomatoes and pan fry them in some oil just until they release their fluids but still have a good diced shape. remove the diced pieces and drain them in a collander and collect the liquids. throw in garlic and 1/2 cup of wine if you have it and cook down the liquids until they are thick and throw in a basil confetti to wilt and add the tomato chunks back in before serving. for a more authentic version start by frying bacon/pancetta in the pan and use that fat instead of olive oil.
lapadia November 4, 2010
Thanks for sharing your recipe! I love those old "Ellis Island" stories, my mom went through Ellis Island with my grandmother. My grandfather came to America a few years before that, he worked to make enough $$ to send back for them to finally join him...the rest is history!
Stockout November 3, 2010
Ok, I have been making gravy for over 50 years now. My grandma came through Ellis Island and married my grandpa and lived in Jersey City, NJ the way they lived in Naples. She had me rolling pasta with a broom handle and drying it on her bed before I could dial a phone number. This was her way of making gravy.
Spareribs, short ribs, onions, whole heads of garlic, palmfuls of Italian dried oregano...cook in olive oil from a big tin can until browned. Add large cans of whole san marzano tomatoes until they reach 3" from the top of the saucepot. Add 2 small cans of tomato paste and 3 cans of tomato paste cans of water. Cook for 5 hours, lid ajar. Clean splats on stovetop as you cook. After 5 hours, add red wine, some anchovies (mashed on a board) and hot Italian sausage. Two hours later shut off the heat, remove the meat you want to keep and toss the bones. What remains is what you either can or freeze. Enjoy and copy, because you will never see this recipe anywhere else.
mr.ikslopot October 30, 2010
You can use extra-virgin olive oil while making the dough as well. May help. Don't forget bit of salt.

Boil water. When you put in home made pasta it only needs to cook 30 seconds to a minute. Test with a few pieces. If you bite into the piece and look closely and still see white uncooked you are on your way. If you see no white dot you went to far. It will take experimenting. Greatness does not come like Athena from the head of Zeus. It takes time and diligence.
mr.ikslopot October 30, 2010
My grandmother made a sauce the same as DonnyG recommends.

I prefer the puttanesca sauce nowadays. I love strong flavors. It would be an alternative. There are many variations. Do the research. Make it from scratch.

Also, if you are making your own sauce you should make your own pasta. Easy, like falling off a bike. I prefer semolina flour; however, some mix it with unbleached all-purpose flour depending on the weather. Total of 3 or 4 cups of flour. You could use all whole eggs, or mostly egg yoke, or just egg yoke depending on what kind of pasta you want to make. Salt.

Make a flour mountain. Make a hole in the volcano. Then, break an egg into it. Take a fork and beat in the flour from the middle and go around the edges. Do not break the circle. Use your hand and push flower around if you do as you go. Crack eggs as you go and when you have a dough that is to much to mix with a fork you are ready to go. Start kneading it with your hands adding flour if need be to the table top you are kneading over. When it is a good mass and substantial then wrap it in plastic wrap for twenty or thirty minutes.

Now, go make your sauce. When that is going well the twenty or thirty should be up. Then, roll out your dough out thin. You know this. You could actually get a machine with hand crank and crank out spaghetti or roll it out very thin.

Better yet! Measure it with a ruler, and cut it with knife. Take the time and do it right. Make ravioli by rolling out no more than 1/8 of inch thick rectangle. Fold in half, slice the half, put in a good cheese. Seal edges with egg brushed on. Put top of ravioli on. Cut the squares with a knife or better yet a fluted pastry wheel. I am lazy. I make big ravioli. I was raised on a farm.

anyone October 5, 2010
The Ozai Scampi spelling comes from my families cook book which has notes dating back to the late 1800's. And thier dialect is different than most Italians or so I have been told. Within thier village they spoke a different dialect then what they spoke when they traveled through Italy. Also, Ozai I was told was a type of bird or slang for the type of bird they used to hunt and scampi meant Scamper. Alot of the time they were hunting bird they weren't using a shot gun, becuase in the old days ammo either could not be afforded or was unavailable. So they trapped alot of birds, rabbit, and other varmints. So if they (by pulling a string) closed the trap the birds didn't always fly away they just "scampered". Some of the methods that I have been told about in trapping would crack you up. These were very hungry people.
pierino October 5, 2010
DonnyG, you are close on the "birds": in standard Italian it is "uccelleti scappati" which does indeed mean the birds that escaped the hunter. Dialect is another thing, so similar plates can have names that are close but not precisely exact. Anyway, in this dish another cut of meat would be substituted for the " 'scaped birds".
anyone October 5, 2010
Ok another post on the sauce_ My mother just told me the amount of tomato would depend on the amount of people. I guess my grandmother only added one jar (1 Qt) to the meat. If there were more than four she would add another jar. The reason I was under the impression that it was a gallon is that on sunday there was always alot of people over and they all brought food. So my grandmother would add more tomato based on the amount of people that were eating dinner. Funny, Ive been making this with a gallon of tomatoes for at least twenty-three years. Alot gets lost in the translation when communicating with my family in Italian.
anyone October 5, 2010
@PIERINO-It's 3lbs of meat to 1 gal of tomato product.
anyone October 5, 2010
Lapadia- thanks for the post, your sauce sounds great as well. I always like hearing stories like yours and having someone like pierino that has taken the time to study the regions of food and get that input as well. Pierino and I have crossed paths many times here lately and is always a good read. I hope to hear more from you as well.
anyone October 5, 2010
@pierino- My family never really had a name for this but your right as far as hunter style. Everthing was hunterstyle. My uncle would refer to it as grava but I think he was just trying to say gravy in broken english. One of the family's dishes that does have a name was Called "ozai scampi" which was loosly called in english as the "birds flew away" but was always made with the pheasant that was shot during a hunt. It was another three meat stew. I would equate it with a cock au vin but with white wine foul, pork and beef stock. As far as the gallon goes it was three if not four quarts. But all the meat wheather it was left overs or raw were ran through a meat grinder. Duck, pheasant, goose and whatever bird they can trap in the yard is what they use. I once worked at an Italian restuarant in brooklynn fresh out of culinary school and they had a similar sauce and they called it a bolegnaise. I try not to get too hung up these sorts of things and have never had the time to study the regions of Italian food. My culinary background is French, but I have worked in several different styles and cultures but could never say that I ever became an expert in one cuisine other than French theory. It's been fun, thanks!
lapadia October 5, 2010
Thanks for sharing your family story DonnyG; I am first generation born in America too, and I really relate to it! Actually, I feel when it comes to the sauce/gravy whatever a family calls it, all of them are similar, and technically each has a name, as pierino states above. Anyway, whoever the family, I know it is going to be good with their special added touch. Hmmmm...come to think of it, do you think that perhaps the reason people are on a quest to find how to make a great sauce is because they just don't have the special Italian touch we grew up a thought. Growing up, I had all the styles pierino describes; the sauce I posted happens to be my personal preference, with either meatballs, braciole or plain and it is one that is raved about in my circle of family, friends and friends of friends.
pierino October 5, 2010
Donny, are you sure about the "gallon" of tomato product? Seems like a lot to me. A jar or two of "passato" should be enough. The sauce you describe is essentially "cacciatora" or "hunters' style" especially with the use of those herbs. It can be made with any number of meats; alone or in combination. Good with rabbit. Pappardelle pasta would be my preference.
anyone October 5, 2010
My family hails from northern italy ( I was born here). For the most part it took a trip to my family's hometown (Crispano de Grappa) to understand what kind of Italians they were. Not the typical New York Italians I had expectations of. There in Italy at my cousins home I Iearned alot about why my grandmother does things the way she does. For the most pat in that region they are country folk. They live out in the country and grow everthing they eat. Can fruits and vegetables for the winter. And grill most of thier protiens over hard woods. Their lives are very simple and alot of thier time is spent gardening or cooking and some hunting. It was there that I learned about the sauce that they make. The tomatoes are grown on the property. The suace is usually made from thier own canned tomatoes and they always add meat to thier "Red Sauce" and not just one meat but many meats. It's a little if this and a little of that. But here at home my grandmother uses three meats. She adds chicken, pork and beef as well as chicken stock made from the bones. I will run through her method step by step. First she adds the meat and starts browning it, Then onion, followed by a handfull of finely chopped fresh Oregano, rosemary and Sage. At this point she will add a little salt a pepper to the meat, onions and herbs. Then she will add chicken stock once the meat is browned and onions are translucent. She reduces the stock sown to about a quarter of what it was. Then she add tomatoes that are cooked peeled de-seeded and now chopped. As well as some tomato juice. And this will cook for hours. Towards the end she starts adjusting with salt and pepper some pepper flakes or hot sauce and honey. If it does not have enough herb flavor I have seen her throw a sprig of rosemary in for a while and then pull it out later.
2 Onions, 3lbs of meat total, 1 quart or so fo chicken stock, 1 Gallon of tomato product, and about 3tbls of finely chopped fresh herbs as listed above.
This Sauce is unbelievable. Never had anything better.
KLL5 October 3, 2010
I am a huge fan of red sauce and make it at least once a week. IMO always buy WHOLE canned tomatoes. I think they taste better than crushed or diced because they have to use only the nicest tomatoes for whole cans whereas if they are crushing/dicing they can put in lower quality tomatoes. Perhaps this is all in my head, but I really do think it is true. Also, that way you can control the consistency more. I like chunky sauce, but sometimes I want to have a smooth puree. With whole tomatoes you can decide. Diced are just wrong and crushed can be too pasty.
marcella F. September 19, 2010
sauté a small onion and some carrot thinly sliced, add a can of crushed tomatoes, simmer for 20 minutes or so with a bay leaf in it. It has to reduce and thicken a bit. No salt or sugar needed. You can use olive oil or butter to sauté the vegs and add some hand-shredded basil just before serving (take the bay leaf out before). Add a little olive oil straight on the pasta. This is the tomato sauce you would eat at my place. Enjoy :)
luvcookbooks September 15, 2010
Edward Giobbi makes the best red sauce ever. Can be found, I think, in Eugenia Bone's preserving book, possibly in Cooking for the Good Earth, also published at some point in the NYT Magazine as part of his lasagna recipe. Not sure if the archives on line go back that far.
wtbryce September 9, 2010
Batali recipe from Babbo cookbook rules at our house. Highly freezeable. Grated carrot is the genie of it. Do not use dried thyme. (Skip if you don't have fresh, or use a little oregano.)

The Frankie's Sunday gravy is good too -- -- but I like the Mario recipe better.
Cookie16 December 23, 2011
I tried this before and was surprised I didn't like it :/ Maybe I need to try again. However, I find his Cherry Tomato jarred sauce to be fantastic!
pierino September 9, 2010
Coincidentally the current issue of "La Cucina Italiana" (the Italian edition) devotes quite a lot of attention to tomatoes in sauce. I just happened to luck out and buy a copy yesterday because it can be hard to find. But even if you don't read in Italian just from the illustrations you will see that in the regions of Italy they treat tomato sauce very differently from their Italian-American cousin.

Voted the Best Reply!

lishlash September 9, 2010
smitten kitchen has a variety of excellent, and successful, red sauce recipes (

My go to sauce at the moment is the tomato and butter sauce - one large can of good italian plum or chopped tomatoes, one onion peeled and halved, a quarter stick of butter. put everything in a pan, simmer for 45 minutes. done. really.

its mindblowingly good, ridiculously easy and a great crowd pleaser! also, easy to double or triple for larger quanitites. total winner.
pierino September 8, 2010
That's (metaphorically) another can of tomatoes. Begin by tossing out any notion of what's "Italian" because it's all regional, and more specifically micro-regional. The recipes already recommended are essentially in the style of Campania, the heart of Italy's tomato industry. Myself, I'd chop up some anchovies to add a little bottom flavor---nobody will know that you did that. But travel to Lazio or Umbria and you will see that things are done differently. It's not just the tomatoes...
lapadia September 8, 2010
Please click on the link to check out my adapted Grandma Angelo recipe:

Recipe can also be found on my page here on Food52.
ShoeboxKitchen September 8, 2010
Here's one we use - great if you love garlic like we do:

phyllis September 8, 2010
Onions, garlic, one carrot, san marzano tomatoes (crushed), oregano, salt pepper, and a pinch or two of red pepper. Saute first three ingredients for 10 mins with spices, salt & pepper, add tomatoes and simmer for 45 minutes. If bitter, add a tsp of sugar.
Cookie16 December 23, 2011
I think frying the tomatoes is totally key here. And choosing the San Marzano variety. A must.
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