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San Marzano Tomato Sauce

This San Marzano Tomato Sauce is a family recipe using only the best quality ingredients. 

Excellent tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, and fresh basil make a rich and luscious sauce in only 30 minutes. This sauce is simple and basic, but the flavors will blow you away!

San Marzano tomato sauce in a skillet with a sprig of basil in the centre.
The quality of the tomatoes is the key to this recipe!

San Marzano Tomato Sauce has a special place in my heart. This recipe was taught to me by my late cousin Claudio many years ago. Since then, it has been a staple in my family. Whether it’s quick weeknight meals or a lazy Sunday supper, I turn to this recipe time and time again!

The San Marzano tomato is a variety of plum tomatoes that grows well in warm climates. But it’s only the tomatoes grown in the volcanic soils near Mount Vesuvius in the Campania region of Italy. These are certified in the same way as French Champagne or Parmigiano Reggiano. So unless you’re in Italy, you won’t find them fresh at your local market. But instead, look for the certified, canned tomatoes labeled “Pomodoro San Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese- Nocerino DOP.”

Why you’ll love this recipe

  • Quick – If you don’t have time to make my dad’s authentic Bolognese sauce, this pasta sauce is for you! It doesn’t need to be simmered for hours to achieve the best flavors. In fact, in 30 minutes, it’s thick, tasty, and an ideal pasta sauce without tomato paste. This recipe uses canned San Marzano tomatoes.
  • Sweeter -San Marzano tomatoes are a premium product; you pay a little more for the quality. The tomatoes are very red and sweet with fewer seeds and less acidity; the juice they are canned in is thick and luscious. This is the best choice when you have a recipe where the tomatoes are the star, like this San Marzano tomato sauce.
  • Convenient – This recipe uses canned San Marzano tomatoes. Remember to look for the certification on the label.
  • Flavor – You’ll love this pasta sauce recipe’s smooth, sweet flavors. This San Marzano tomato sauce isn’t overwhelmed by garlic or herbs. Once you’ve made it and seen how easy and tasty it is, you’ll never return to store-bought tomato sauce!
  • Versatility – What’s so wonderful about a basic sauce like San Marzano tomato sauce is that it’s excellent with pasta, but it can also be used as a base for many other dishes. It can also be used as a dip just as you would use Homemade Salsa, for bread, crackers, or sandwiches like mozzarella in carrozza. This recipe is so versatile and easy. Make a double batch and freeze half for later!

This type of sauce is often referred to as marinara sauce. However, in Italy, it’s simply a tomato sauce or “sugo di pomodoro.” Italian Marinara is a tomato-based sauce mixed with seafood. But a “marinara pizza” is topped with just tomato sauce, extra virgin olive oil, oregano, and garlic. It can be confusing!

What is so special about San Marzano tomatoes?

San Marzano tomatoes look different even compared to Roma tomatoes. They are thinner and more pointy. Fewer seeds mean that they are sweeter. Plus, the “walls” of the San Marzano tomato are thicker, which results in a less watery tomato sauce. 

Graphic showing a whole san marzano tomato and two cross sections.

For complete ingredient quantities and full instructions, please scroll to the printable recipe card at the bottom of the page.

Ingredients

If you want your tomato sauce to taste great, then you must use great tasting ingredients. If the ingredients don’t taste delicious on their own, then they certainly won’t taste great when cooked.

Ingredients to make the recipe prepared on the counter top.

The ingredients for this recipe will be very familiar if you have made Italian tomato sauce before. This recipe relies on just a few ingredients so everything needs to be of the very best quality particularly canned San Marzano tomatoes.

  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Choose an oil you like the taste of because it will influence the final result. Olive oil, like all oils, has a shelf life. For extra virgin olive oil, it’s usually 12-18 months from bottling. Old oil tastes bitter and spoils the recipe, so use fresh oil.
  • Garlic Cloves – Plump, juicy garlic is a sign that it’s fresh and the best to use. 
  • Onion – You’ll need one small or half a large onion. The onion adds flavor, but we want the tomatoes to shine in this sauce.
  • Canned San Marzano Tomatoes –  Check the label to ensure you get the real deal.
  • Salt – Seasoning any food really brings out the flavors. Oversalting is not good, but undersalting results in bland-tasting food. You can start with half the quantity but then taste and adjust to bring out the sweet flavors of this San Marzano sauce.
  • Basil – Fresh basil is the way to go in this recipe. Dried basil has very little taste, so please don’t use it. 

Instructions

Before you begin, have all ingredients at hand and ready. Prepare the garlic by placing the cloves on a board and with the flat side of a knife, press the cloves to slightly crush them – you’ll be able to remove the skins, but the clove will still be intact but cracked.

Finely chopping onions with rocking knife.

Firstly, chop the onion very finely. Large onion pieces aren’t pleasant in the smooth sauce, so chop them finely. Alternatively, mince the onion.

Two cloves of cooked garlic.

Heat the extra virgin olive oil and the cracked garlic in the skillet over medium heat, allowing the garlic to simmer and become pale gold. Then, remove the garlic and discard it.

Finely chopped onion being stirred in a skillet with wooden spoon.

Add the very finely chopped onion and cook over medium heat for 5-8 minutes, stirring regularly.

Tomato puree being added to cooked, finely chopped onion.

Add the pureed tomatoes, salt and pepper. Simmer gently uncovered for 20 minutes until slightly thickened. In the last 5 minutes, stir in chopped basil.

The technique for making this San Marzano tomato sauce may not be one you’ve used before. Initially, the garlic gives up all its flavors to the oil. Once the garlic has done its job, discard it. Yes, that’s right. This sauce is delicately flavored with garlic but doesn’t contain garlic.

Hint: The canned tomatoes should be pureed using a stick blender or a small food processor. You can also pass the tomatoes through a sieve. If you prefer, crush the tomatoes with your hands or chop them, or crush the tomatoes with a fork as they cook for a coarse sauce. Always use whole tomatoes for this sauce – the quality is much better than canned crushed tomatoes.

Substitutions

  • San Marzano Tomatoes – Italian canned Roma tomatoes can be substituted if you can’t find canned San Marzano tomatoes. Use a reputable brand that is produced in Italy, and check the ingredients, which are just whole peeled tomatoes and tomato juice. Some brands may also contain salt, which is fine, but no other additives.
  • Basil – Add or substitute other fresh herbs for the basil. Fresh oregano, parsley, or thyme would be the best choice.

Variations

  • Extra complexity – A little dry white wine can be added with the tomatoes – just a ¼ cup is enough.
  • Hearty – Together with the tomatoes, simmer a Parmesan rind in the sauce to make a hearty tomato sauce. Remember to remove and throw away the rind before serving the sauce.
  • Spicy – A pinch of red pepper flakes or a sprinkle of cayenne pepper isn’t authentic but adds a bit of spice if that is what you enjoy.

Storage

This sauce can be successfully made in advance. Allow it to cool completely, then pour into a sealed container and store in the fridge for 3 or 4 days.

San Marzano Tomato sauce can also be frozen. Cool the sauce, then pour into an airtight container, label, and freeze for up to 3 months.

Top Tips

Close up of a spoonful of tomato sauce with the pan in the background.
  • The best thing you can do is use canned San Marzano tomatoes. It does make a difference. San Marzano tomatoes are sweeter and have a good tomato flavor. Plus, whole, peeled tomatoes are superior in quality. 
  • Be sure to chop the onion very finely, or if your knife skills aren’t the best, mince or grate the onion. Remember to follow the recipe and only use half or a small onion.
  • For a mild garlic flavor, cook the garlic cloves in the oil until golden, then remove and discard them. This flavors the oil without an intense garlic hit, which is the key to San Marzano tomato sauce because it allows the beautiful, intense tomato flavor to shine through!
  • Allow the onion to soften but not color beyond golden. Monitor cooking the onion closely and adjust the temperature accordingly.
  • Please season the sauce well. Tasting is the only way to know if you have enough salt. You may think you can add it after cooking, but the salt always tastes “raw” when you do that – it really needs to be cooked into the sauce.
  • Finally, you don’t need to simmer this sauce for hours. This recipe’s brightness and fresh tomato sauce flavor make it the best!

FAQ

Which is better Roma, or San Marzano tomatoes?

Both Roma and San Marzano make good tomato sauce. However, San Marzano tomatoes make better tomato sauce. There are fewer seeds, and San Marzano tomatoes are sweeter.

Which canned tomatoes are real San Marzano?

Look for the DOP designation on the can so that you know you’re getting the real deal. The label should read “Pomodoro San Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese- Nocerino DOP” or “San Marzano Tomatoes from Agro Sarnese-Nocerino DOP”. This indicates the exact region in Italy where they are grown. The can will also have the DOP.

When making an Italian tomato sauce from scratch with San Marzano tomatoes, should the seeds be removed?

No, I don’t remove the seeds when using San Marzano tomatoes. If you are substituting canned Roma tomatoes, removing the seeds is a good idea. You can do this by crushing the tomatoes and pressing them through a fine mesh sieve.

Serving Suggestions

Overhead view of tomato sauce in a black skillet with basil sprig in the middle of the sauce.

The most natural way to serve San Marzano tomato sauce is with pasta. This sauce is particularly good with homemade pasta like cavatelli, tonnarelli, and garganelli. All you need is a good showering of parmesan cheese to make the ultimate meal!

Why not top these Italian chicken cutlets with a spoonful of sauce and mozzarella cheese for a tasty and quick chicken parmigiana? Or it becomes a fabulous focaccia topping when combined with cheese and basil.

These are just a few suggestions for how to use San Marzano tomato sauce. I’m sure you’ll think of heaps more!

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tomato sauce in a black skillet with a sprig of basil in the centre.

San Marzano Tomato Sauce Recipe

Excellent tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil and fresh basil makes a rich and luscious sauce in just 30 minutes. This sauce is simple and basic but the flavors will blow you away!
4.99 from 87 votes
Print Pin Review
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings:4 people
Author: Marcellina

Equipment

  • Skillet

Ingredients

  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 small onion or ½ large onion
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 28 ounces (800 grams) canned San Marzano tomatoes See note 1 and 2
  • 1 teaspoon salt more or less according to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup fresh basil chopped

Instructions

  • Puree the contents of the canned tomatoes in a blender or food processor or press them through a fine sieve. Set aside.
  • Place garlic cloves on a board and with the flat side of a knife press the cloves to slightly crush them. Remove the skins. Set aside.
  • Chop the onion very finely or alternatively mince the onion. Set aside.
  • In a cold skillet, add extra virgin olive oil and cracked, peeled garlic.
  • Place the skillet over medium heat, allowing the garlic to simmer and become pale gold stirring regularly. Don’t let the garlic burn! Remove the garlic and discard.
  • Add the very finely chopped or minced onion to the garlic flavored oil and cook over medium heat for 5-8 minutes, stirring regularly. Allow the onion to soften but not color beyond golden. Check the cooking of the onion closely and adjust the temperature if you need to.
  • Add the pureed tomatoes, a sprinkle of salt and black pepper. At this stage don't add any water – you can always add some later if needed.
  • Reduce to low heat and simmer gently uncovered for 20 minutes until slightly thickened. In the last 5 minutes stir in chopped basil. Taste for salt and adjust as desired.
  • Delicious stirred through al dente pasta and topped with parmesan cheese!

Notes

  1.  Even though you will be pureeing the tomatoes, always use whole tomatoes for this sauce – the quality is much better than canned crushed tomatoes.
  2. Look for cans labeled “DOP” (Protected Designation of Origin). This guarantees the tomatoes come from a specific region in Italy known for its ideal growing conditions. You might see “Pomodoro San Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese- Nocerino DOP” or “San Marzano Tomatoes from Agro Sarnese-Nocerino DOP” on the label.
Tips for Success
  • Chop the onion very finely or mince it.
  • Flavor the oil with garlic by cooking the garlic cloves in the oil until just golden, then remove and discard the cloves. 
  • Season well and taste to check.
  • Don’t simmer for too long. Keep the sauce bright and fresh.
Remember to check above in the “Tips for success and FAQ’s” for more information
Tried this recipe? Give it a star rating and leave a comment below!

Nutritional Estimate Per Serving

Calories: 787kcal | Carbohydrates: 71g | Protein: 15g | Fat: 56g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 7g | Monounsaturated Fat: 40g | Sodium: 3380mg | Potassium: 2536mg | Fiber: 17g | Sugar: 40g | Vitamin A: 2029IU | Vitamin C: 84mg | Calcium: 321mg | Iron: 11mg

Nutritional Disclaimer

Nutritional information is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. For accurate results, it is recommended that the nutritional information be calculated based on the ingredients and brands you use.

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4.99 from 87 votes (74 ratings without comment)

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36 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Thanks Marcellina for this great recipe that’s so versatile and great to have on hand. It’s easy to freeze in a vacuum bag because it defrosts so quickly. I grew up in my Sicilian nonna’s kitchen, so the garlic stays in when I cook it. It’s in my DNA. Also add fresh or frozen (never canned) green peas and chicken as my homage to nonna Francesca.
    Perhaps this has been mentioned, but never ever buy San Marzano STYLE tomatoes. Buy the DOP only. I find there is a definite difference in quality. I’ve been ordering my Cento San Marzanos from Amazon for almost half the price as in the store. I go through so much, so I have a subscription.
    Buona cucina!

    1. You’re welcome, Suzanne! Yes, my family would have retained the garlic (and I still sometimes do) but my cousin removed it and I love that version too. I have specified in the information above the recipe card to be sure to buy only DOP canned San Marzano tomatoes. But I’ll include that in the recipe card notes as well. Thank you!

  2. Do you puree everything in the can – the tomatoes and the tomato juice? Or just the tomatoes and throw out the juice? Sorry, I’m an absolute beginner and need it spelled out. Thank you!

    1. No problem, Susan. Puree the whole lot – juice and tomatoes – nothing is wasted. I’ve also updated the recipe so it’s clear. Let me know if you have any other questions.

  3. 5 stars
    An extremely easy sauce for any occasion. Excellent flavor because of the simple ingredients. I like the fact that it is a simple sauce much the way the grandparents made it not Americanized with unnecessary ingredients. We make a double batch, freeze it and have it whenever a quick and tasty meal is needed.

  4. 5 stars
    This sauce is the best. I added artichokes and olives and it was really good. Marcellina I have learned so much from your recipes. Thank you and have a Happy New Year.

  5. Our friend grows these tomatoes. I prepared this recipe yesterday using only 6 tomatoes. It’s just my wife and I. I have another friend who brings us fresh pressed olive oil from California. I followed your recipe and added three pieces of Italian sausage to the mix. I must say that the result was the most delicious sauce I have ever tasted. This is saying something because my grandmother grew up in a Italian neighborhood in Hoboken NJ and prepared one hell of pot of spaghetti.

  6. 5 stars
    Excellent sauce and easy. Way better and less expensive than jarred sauce or the sauce prepared at most restaurants. Served with Marcellina’s Italian chicken cutlets ala parmigiana.

  7. I have been making my mother-in-law’s sauce for years, and everyone enjoys it. But I’ve never used San Marzano tomatoes, although I’ve heard how amazing they are so many times. I always thought “Do tomatoes that cost this much really make a difference?” Well, they did! This simple sauce was light, fresh, and delicious. The fresh basil was the crowning touch. My daughters preferred it as well. My late husband probably would turn over in his grave and wouldn’t love it…but it’s not Mama’s cooking! I served it over cavatelli with freshly grated Pecorino Romano. Now I’m inspired to make my own pasta to go with it. The only problem is I wish I had made more….and as it was, I doubled the recipe. This is
    my new go-to!

    1. Sue, it’s fantastic to hear that you and your daughters enjoyed this version of sauce. As you probably read, this is my late cousin Claudio’s sauce and we loved it when he made it for us many years ago and love it to this day. Yes, absolutely make your own pasta – you’ll love that too!

  8. 5 stars
    I really like your recipe but have not yet used it. Reason? We decided to grow our own Marzano tomatoes this year (which is a whole lot different than growing USA version tomatoes). We got a bumper crop on all three of our plants! So my question is, do you have a recipe made from fresh Marzanos?
    We learned a lot about growing these special plants, after a slow start in our shorter-than-normal spring/summer/fall. The Marzanos require a different level of fertilizer/pH levels than most domestic tomatoes, and they like a lot of calcium. Once we crushed egg shells and adjusted our nutrient levels, the plants took off like a covey of quail, and now we are looking for a way to cook and preserve our crop for a winter of great Italian sauce.
    Hope to hear from you soon…the Marzanos are picked and need to be used.

    Best regards and thanks for the great recipe,
    ThinkFresh in Central Oregon

    1. Ron, that is so interesting to know about the difference in growing San Marzano tomatoes! We will definitely use your tips when growing them next year which we plan to do. We haven’t grown San Marzano tomatoes in our garden as yet. However I do make this sauce with my fresh Roma tomatoes. Sometimes, I’m lazy and just add them chopped (without peeling) into olive oil and garlic or as in this recipe olive oil and softened onion. Other times I will go to the trouble of peeling before using. Just simmer until the sauce has reduced a little and the tomatoes have softened.
      Also, if the garden has produced well (as in your case!), I make tomato puree by simmering chopped tomatoes until they have broken down and softened. If a lot of water rises to the top, I’ll pour or scoop that off. Then pass the tomatoes through a food mill/mouli to separate the skin and seeds. It can be canned or frozen at this stage though often I return it to the pan to reduce further over the heat. I like to salt it before canning or freezing but that’s up to you. Also a fresh basil leaf is good added to each bottle.
      This is the sauce that I made from very young with my parents. We preserved all the tomato puree we needed for the year. It was always sweet and tasty. I’m sure yours will be too! Don’t hestiate to contact me if you need any other information. Take care, Marcellina

  9. 4 stars
    The sauce was simple to prepare but I wished I hadn’t added the full tsp of salt. I had to add brown sugar to make it edible. I’ll do it right next time. Thanks for the recipe.

  10. 5 stars
    This is such a simple, yet tasty, tomato sauce. And San Marzano tomatoes are my favorite so this was perfect- highly recommend this sauce!

  11. 5 stars
    Oh this sauce was so good, just like my nonnas. Brings back so many memories. Great recipe.

  12. 5 stars
    I love a good tomato/pasta sauce that is easy to cook! This is so good with just an addition of chili flakes if I want it spicy.

  13. Marcellina, thanks so much for the heads up about San Marzano tomatoes, I’ve been wanting a good recipe for a Marinara sauce. Family recipes are the best. Take care, Pauline

  14. Yes this is a Marinara sauce, but the true Italian sauce from southern Italy is with Neck bones, meatballs, peperoni pieces, braciolo, ect.

    1. Yes, E Nick Lepore, I know that sauce but this is a purely a tomato sauce – a recipe from my dear cousin from Northern Italy though it is made in the south as well. The meat sauce is very nice though xx