How to Make a Basic Tomato Sauce: A Step-by-Step Guide

Read these simple steps for making a delicious tomato sauce, then watch our how-to video.

Marinara, or any simple pasta sauce, is something all cooks should learn how to make.

Step 1: Add Olive Oil and Onions
Use a wide skillet or a wide-bottomed pot. Start with plenty of olive oil and add diced onion. Sauté until translucent and very soft.

Step 2: Season
Season the onions with salt so they release their liquids. This will help to bring out the natural sweetness of the onions. Take your time with this — it’s the first step in layering good flavor.

Step 3: Add Garlic
Add in garlic and sauté until fragrant.

Step 4: Crush Tomatoes
Open a can of whole, peeled tomatoes and crush them with clean hands. The pros like to use San Marzano tomatoes for the best flavor. You can also use canned, chopped tomatoes if you're in a hurry. Most come packed with a basil leaf for flavor.

Step 5: Add the Tomatoes and Simmer
Add the tomatoes to the garlic and onions. Taste and season. Simmer for about 20 minutes until the flavors come together. Tip: If your sauce gets too thick, just add a bit of water.

Step 6: Add Flavor and Spice
We're making a basic tomato sauce here. If you want to mix it up, try adding chili flakes, capers or olives while it simmers. Add a little bit of fresh herbs, like basil, at the end. You can also finish with butter or a drizzle of olive oil.

Step 7: Enjoy!
And those are the basics for homemade tomato sauce. If you like a smoother sauce, just purée in a blender when you're done cooking. Use it with pasta or as an ingredient in stews like cacciatore. Watch our how-to video for more information.