Classic Tomato Sauce for Pasta

Cooked classic tomato sauce in a pan with a wooden spoon

The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

  • Total: 30 mins
  • Prep: 5 mins
  • Cook: 25 mins
  • Servings: 14 servings
  • Yields: 7 cups
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
54 Calories
3g Fat
6g Carbs
1g Protein
See Full Nutritional Guidelines Hide Full Nutritional Guidelines
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 14
Amount per serving
Calories 54
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 3g 4%
Saturated Fat 0g 2%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 91mg 4%
Total Carbohydrate 6g 2%
Dietary Fiber 2g 6%
Protein 1g
Calcium 19mg 1%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Making pasta sauce from scratch is surprisingly easy. Once you try it, you'll wonder why you were so dependent on jarred pasta sauces. This recipe makes a stunning, full-bodied red sauce to star in your pasta dish. It relies on a few pantry staples, including canned tomatoes, making it quick to whip up, even on a busy weeknight.

There are as many recipes for tomato sauce as there are cooks who make it. Customizing this sauce to your taste or the meal you're planning is a snap. For instance, the tomato paste thickens the sauce and adds richness, but leaving it out creates a thinner sauce. You can also change up the seasoning to fit another recipe or add vegetables or meat for a more robust pasta main dish. One family-favorite option is to heat up some meatballs—homemade or frozen—and cook spaghetti for a simple and delicious spaghetti and meatball dinner.


  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion (finely chopped; about 1 cup)
  • 2 cloves garlic (finely minced)
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes (in puree)
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • Optional: 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (kosher or coarse)
  • Fresh black pepper (to taste)

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for tomato sauce
    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and cook for 5 minutes.

    Onion and garlic added to the olive oil in a saucepan and heated
    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga
  3. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, oregano, basil, and, if using, red pepper flakes. Add salt and pepper and bring sauce to a simmer.

    Crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and dried herbs are added to the saucepan
    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga
  4. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until sauce thickens slightly—about 20 minutes.

    A wooden spoon lifts up some of the thickened tomato sauce
    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga
  5. Enjoy.

    Spaghetti on a white plate topped with classic tomato sauce and a sprinkle of herbs
    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

Recipe Variations

  • Skip the tomato paste for a thinner sauce.
  • For a lighter flavor to use as a backdrop in another recipe, cut back on the garlic and herbs. 
  • Add more seasoning or use fresh herbs if you like. Half a tablespoon of Italian seasoning can replace the oregano and basil. Use 1 tablespoon each of fresh oregano and basil instead of the dried herbs; add them during the last 10 minutes of cooking for the best flavor.
  • Chopped sweet peppers can be sautéed with the onion and garlic. Use a single bell pepper or a few mini sweet peppers.
  • Cut the tomato's acidity with about 2 teaspoons of sugar (to taste). This sweeter tomato sauce recipe also includes chopped carrots.
  • For a basic marinara sauce, you'll add more vegetables and water with one can of crushed tomatoes (San Marzano is best).
  • Adding ground meat creates a sauce that's more like a classic Tuscan-style ragù.

How to Store and Freeze

Leftover sauce can be stored alone or with pasta in an airtight container in the refrigerator and used within 5 days. In a freezer-safe container, it will keep in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Is Tomato Sauce Healthy?

Tomato-based pasta sauces—both homemade and jarred—are generally pretty healthy and have fewer calories than creamy pasta sauces. The nice part about making your own is that you can control the ingredients. Jarred pasta sauces may include excess salt and preservatives, though some are better than others. With homemade sauce, you know exactly what you're eating and can make healthy decisions about the individual ingredients.

Article Sources
The Spruce Eats uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Food Data Central: Branded Tomato Pasta Sauce. Published April 1, 2019.