Classic Tomato Sauce (AKA Italian Gravy) – $.51

For a few years now I have been on a search to find the best method of making tomato sauce. Everyone does it a little differently; I know a Jewish Italian woman that puts a carrot in the pot to draw out a little sweetness. Another cook cuts up the garlic in slices instead of crushing it. Another cooks it literally ALL day. Some put the basil in at the beginning, some at the end. I’m going to show you MY way of cooking the best tomato sauce ever. This comes from tips from excellent cooks and a LOT of experimentation.

Also, sorry that these pictures suck. I don’t have a lot of light in my kitchen and I was in a hurry, so these pics make the sauce look brown. But trust me, it was VERY red and delicious, ok?

This recipe is only about 4 servings, so adjust accordingly.

  1. Cut up 1/2 onion in VERY small pieces. If you need a hand cutting one, go here. 
  2. Then cut up about 4-5 cloves of garlic.
  3. In a heated pan with lots of olive oil, add the onions, garlic and a big pinch of salt. Stir and cook until the garlic has a tad bit of color on it.
  4. Now add a large can of CRUSHED TOMATOES. If you really want some chunks you can add some, but your base needs to be crushed. Every great Italian sauce I’ve ever had has been crushed.

5. Now add about 1/2 cup water. Cook uncovered on the LOWEST setting for about 3-4 hours, more or less. If you see that it’s getting way too thick, you can add a bit more water. If you have a crock pot/slow cooker, use it. You really need to cook it for hours, low and slow. Don’t try to rush it. The flavor of the tomatoes transforms into something amazing.

Right before you’re ready to serve (5-20 minutes), add fresh basil and make sure your salt content is good. Not oregano, not rosemary, black pepper or thyme, JUST basil.  This was a basic lesson I learned in Cooking Sauces 101. When you add that basil at the beginning of cook time, it overwhelms the flavor of the tomato and gets a little bitter and weird, trust me.

  • 1 Can CRUSHED tomatoes – $1.59
  • 1/2 Onion – $.45
  • 4 Servings – $2.04

About Ande Truman

Ande has made mistakes in the kitchen since she could reach the countertop. From a restaurant head cook, to cooking meals for friends, to her own solo plate, experimenting & learning drives her. She’s also a freelance graphic & web designer, photo/videographer, guitar player and wanderlust-er. In her spare time, she works a full-time 8 to 5 cubicle job. She’s the creator of Broke & Healthy.

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Categories: Best Of, Featured, Italian, Recipes, Recipes by Ingredient, Sauces, Vegan, Vegetarian

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Comments for Classic Tomato Sauce (AKA Italian Gravy) – $.51 are now closed.

  1. […] Classic Tomato Sauce (AKA Italian Gravy) – $.51 […]

  2. Ande, I’m making some of this in my crock pot this afternoon – going to add some meatballs I had frozen and hopefully it will all come out tasting great. I’m happy because this is so much cheaper than buying store-bought sauce!

    • A question and a note….

      1. Question – If I am transferring this wonderful sauce to the crock pot, is it just as good to add the tomatoes straight into the crock pot, rather than the cast iron pan? On the one hand, the tomatoes could get some kind of flavor from being cooked in the hot pan, but not really the same way as you might caramelize tomato paste (crushed tomatoes are so wet). On the other hand, it’s obviously easier to put them straight into the crock pot, and then I could use a smaller skillet to cook the onions & garlic etc.

      2. Note – in my small crock pot (3 quarts?), I can fit about a triple batch.

      I love this recipe – making tonight with meat to have over spaghetti squash! Thanks!

    • One other note – I am going to cook it for about 4 hours on high, UN-covered in the slow cooker (as suggested by Ben below and in the recipe). I moved the cooker away from the kitchen walls so they won’t be spattered when we get home tonight! 🙂

      If I did want to cover it, I might leave out the extra water suggested in the recipe.

  3. […] Classic Tomato Sauce (AKA Italian Gravy) – $.51 […]

  4. I just made a sauce like this today from a great cookbook called Essentials of Italian Cooking. I learned a bunch of stuff from just the preface that helped me understand why some of the different things you mentioned above are important.

    One thing that I’ve found is that cooking the onions first till they are translucent then adding the garlic helps the flavor of the sauce a lot. If the garlic gets too brown it can start to taste bitter and it cooks much faster than the onions. I usually throw in the tomatoes right after the garlic turns light gold. If you don’t have crushed tomatoes you can always blanch a few (boil for a min and remove skins) and then just chop them up. One last comment is that if you do use a slow-cooker or crock pot you might want to leave the lid off so that the sauce thickens well.

    • Ben, every single thing you said is spot on! I always want to re-do this article so I can really get into WHY it should be done this way. I’ve spent years asking cooks, Italians, Jewish-Italians even! what their secrets are to the perfect sauces. They all had different variations- sliced garlic clove versus smashed, carrots versus none- but this is the basic, essential sauce and I can say that I’ve turned into a bit of a sauce snob too. Thanks for the comment! I think I’d like to write another article. You got my fired up about it…

  5. Thanks Cynthia! It's Ande actually, short for Andrea 😉 As for freezing tomato sauce: According to The Almighty Google, it looks like people freeze sauce all the time with no issues. Personally, if it's easy for you to get basil, I would freeze it without it. Then when you reheat it in the stove you can add it. Do you freeze sauces regularly? You probably already know this but you'll want to pour the sauce in the ziplocs an lie them flat in the freezer until they're frozen. Then you can organize them how ever you want once they're flattened. A trick my grandmother taught me. Good luck! Let us know how it turns out!

  6. Hi Andre —

    Let me begin by saying that I totally LOVE your blog. So helpful!

    Anyway I was wondering what your thoughts were on freezing this tomato sauce for later use. Do you think it will hold up? If I do that, should I just add the basil when I reheat it?



  7. Hey Jonathan, thanks!

    Great question! Sorry I wasn't more specific. I'm a bit of a basil snob… I think you've got to have FRESH basil, especially for Italian food and tomato sauce. Dried basil, to me, is far too strong and almost bitter? If you use fresh, I'd say maybe 3ish large basil leaves for one large can of tomatoes…more or less. If you use dried, only use a very small amount so it doesn't overwhelm- maybe 1/2 teaspoon?

  8. This blog is wonderful, thank you!

    How much-ish basil would you recommend?