A few days ago I received this query from Erika.

Hi – thank you for these helpful post. I didn’t realize there were that many angles to a sauce and ways to correct problems.

One thing I’ve had trouble with is tomato pasta sauce. I’ve not had much luck making recipes turn out quite right. I have tried adding salt, adding sugar, made sure it had plenty of time to simmer the flavors together, but something still doesn’t seem right. What are the more common problems with making tomato sauces have a balanced flavor?

I’d love to finally nail a sauce like this, so I look forward to seeing your answer.

Erika K.

The answer is probably the canned tomatoes you are using.  It’s the main ingredient for a tomato based sauce .   You should use the best canned tomatoes possible.  Italian tomatoes, only tomatoes from Italy.

If your local supermarket doesn’t carry canned tomatoes from Italy you’ll find what you want at an Italian grocery store.  Look for whole peeled tomatoes.  Then chop-mash them yourself.  The quality of whole peeled tomatoes is better than chopped canned tomatoes.

The very, very best canned tomatoes are San Marzano tomatoes.  Grown in volcanic soil these tomatoes are the perfect tomatoes for lightly cooked  sauces.  They are generally double the price of peeled tomatoes but their superb flavor makes it all worth while.

Erika is doing a lot of things right with her tomato sauces.  Just remember if you cook your tomato sauce longer than 20 minutes the tomatoes become quite acidic.   That’s when you add a little sugar.   The tomato sauce I make for pizza, quick pasta dishes and risotto takes just 20 minutes to make. I call it a fresh tomato sauce even though I use canned tomatoes.


2-3  tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 fat garlic cloves, minced

chopped fresh red chili pepper or hot red pepper flakes to taste

2 cups canned whole Italian tomatoes  (roughly chop these.   Whole peeled Italian tomatoes are a better quality than chopped canned tomatoes.  Hey, you can chop.)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Add the garlic and chili pepper to a generous sized  skillet  with a little  olive oil,  and stir quickly once or twice.  Saute the garlic over medium heat for just a couple of minutes.   Now add the chopped canned tomatoes and all their juices, and season with salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes and the juices have thickened, 4 to 6 minutes.  Using a large skillet allows the tomato mixture to thicken quickly. This is what I do.  I freeze it in portion sized containers and it is always ready to add to risotto, pizza  or pasta.

Now that’s a good tomato sauce!!!

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