Top tips: How to cook the perfect tomato sauce.

When someone says Italian food to you… what’s the first thing that pops into your head? It’s common knowledge that most people here in the UK would say pasta, pizza or anything with a tomato sauce. The tomato red sauce has been associated with Italian cooking for years. Over the last few years, I have felt it’s been my mission to share with you all the other amazing foods my beloved fatherland has to offer. However, there is one thing I can’t deny you; the culinary pleasure you do get from a simple bowl of pasta and tomato sauce. Hands down it’s still one of my all-time favourite Italian dishes.

Pasta tomato sauce
Pasta tomato sauce

To make a great tomato sauce it’s important to use great quality tomato products. There are three products that I always have in my kitchen cupboards to ensure I create the perfect tomato sauce.

  • Tinned peeled plum or cherry tomatoes. Ideally, you want the whole tomato and not chopped, as its the pulp that gives the flavour and texture to the sauce. By buying peeled tomatoes, you are guaranteed to get mainly pulp and less liquid. Some of the best-tinned tomatoes are San Marzano from Naples and Pacchino from Naples. Both can be found at your local Italian delicatessen. Great for pasta sauces and stews
  • If you struggle to find whole peeled tomatoes, then by adding tomato concentrate puree, can really help intensify the flavour. You can loosen it up in some cooking liquid or water and add to chopped tomatoes or ingredients.
  • If you are looking for a smoother texture rather than chunky rustic created by peeled tomatoes, then passata is your guy. Plum tomatoes that have been pureed and passed through a sieve create a smoother consistency. These are perfect for soups, ragus and risottos.

All three tomato products can be found at any local supermarket. However, if you really want to enhance your tomato sauce experience there are a number of brands I recommend.

Most of these brands can be found in an Italian delicatessen or a food specialist store. Mutti and Cirio can be found in some selected UK supermarkets.

Now, I am sharing with you my top 5 cooking tips to cook and serve the perfect pasta tomato sauce with tinned tomatoes. In true TTI fashion, its straightforward and quick recipe so why not bring some pasta tomato sauce heaven into your life. However, this recipe can be used to top a homemade pizza, for baked eggs or serve with a lovely cut of meat or fish.

So before you are tempted on buying and using that ready-made jar of sauce, why not try to make it yourself. I can guarantee you will never touch one ever again when you realise what you have been missing out on.

Simple tomato sauce (4 people)

  • 2 tins of peeled tomatoes or 1 litre of passata

  • 2 cloves of garlic

  • Salt

  • Sugar (optional)

  • Olive oil

  • Fresh Basil

  • Lemon zest (optional)


  • Add the tomatoes whole to a sauce pan, and add the garlic whole, a good pinch of salt. Add some sugar if your brand of tomatoes are quite bitter. the sugar will help bring out the sweetness of the tomato. If using tinned peeled tomatoes, add 400ml of water.
    Cover and cook on a low/medium heat for 30 minutes. Keep an eye on it, you don’t want it to dry out.
  • After 30 minutes, remove the lid and BREAK the tomatoes with the back of your wooden spoon. The sauce will have reduced down to delicious creamy consistency. At this point remove your garlic. Cook for another 15 minutes without the lid. Then take it off the heat and let it cool down.
  • In Puglia, they serve their tomato sauce with cheese, which is the opposite in Naples, Campania. It’s perceived as a food faux pas in those ends. In Puglia, they traditionally serve it with grated cacio ricotta (a cow and sheeps milk hard ricotta cheese), which you should be able found at you local Italian delicatessen. However, grated parmesan or pecorino gives the sauce a great flavour dimension. I like to add the cheese as soon as the sauce is cooked and stir it through. Or you can choose to sprinkle on top with your pasta.
  • Next, we add the fresh basil to the sauce and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Stir through.
  • Cook the pasta, drain, add to the tomato sauce and mix together until all the pasta is coated evenly. Finally, the secret ingredient (from the half Sicilian Geordie I recently went on a date with) is to finish the dish with grated unwaxed lemon zest. It brings all the flavours together and really uplifts the dish to something truly special.

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