I live, and grew up, in New Jersey. They have a fuckton of Italians here, guys. TONS. I live with the daughter of a Sicilian immigrant. They have an entire day devoted to jarring tomatoes for using in sauce. We have an Italian American Social Club, a Columbus Day Parade, and a Miss Columbus in my hometown. In New Jersey, if you find a strip mall without a family-owned pizza place, you have actually entered a parallel universe.
That’s why people get super judgey about jarred tomato sauces around here. Sure, people use them, but only as dips or pizza sauces- very rarely as sauce for actual pasta. Pouring tomato sauce from a jar feels dirty and unnatural to me- and I’m Irish and Polish!
I’ve always been curious about making my own tomato sauce. Over time, you get the impression that it’s an all-day process: laborious, shrouded in mystery, with a magically flavorful outcome of many uses. But really, once my parents and I found this recipe, I concluded that it’s close enough to making authentic tomato sauce that my lazy ass stopped looking.
As soon as the first person said to me, eyes rolling, “yeah, I suppose you just threw the sauce together,” I hit a new level of smugness previously unbeknownst to me. Jackpot. “There, that’s done!” I thought to myself. The street cred had been established.
It’s actually unfair how good this sauce is, for all its ease. It has a few very common ingredients and spices, it’s not overpowering or overly acidic, and it’s really versatile. I don’t add red pepper flakes because I cook for people who can’t handle spices, but it’s still delightfully flavorful.
Cook’s Illustrated is full of surprises, and this simple, easy gem is among them. Keep it handy. You’ll need it… especially if you cook for people from New Jersey. We’re nice, but man, we’re elitists. (Original is here, along with a chicken parm recipe that’s also delicious, but I love this sauce so much that I use it for way more than that.)
Super Simple Tomato Sauce
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves , minced
- Kosher salt and pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
- Pinch red pepper flakes
- 1(28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- 1/4 teaspoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh basil
- Heat 1 tablespoon oil in medium saucepan over medium heat until just shimmering. (Hint: this is hard to gauge. Keep an eye on it!)
- Add garlic, ¾ teaspoon salt, oregano, and pepper flakes.
- Cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant. This is about 30 seconds, tops.
- Stir in tomatoes and sugar; increase heat to high and bring to simmer. Hope you have long arms, because those tomatoes are SUPER ANNOYED AT YOU and will probably spatter everywhere.
- Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until thickened, about 20 minutes.
- Off heat, stir in basil and remaining 1 tablespoon oil; season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Cover and keep warm.