Five Minute Tomato Sauce

Five Minute Tomato Sauce Recipe

Let's talk about tomato sauce. Last week in an airplane miles above the expansive plains of the mid-west, in the midst of a flurry of turbulence, it dawned on me that I've never shared with you my all-time favorite tomato sauce recipe. I've included the recipe in one form or another in both of my books, but I've never gone into depth here on the website about why it is the little black dress of my cooking repertoire.

Five Minute Tomato Sauce Recipe

How to Make a Simple and Bright Tomato Sauce

I realize many of you have romantic notions of what a good tomato sauce should be. And I realize it is going to be a tough sell on my part to get you to make a break with some of those hearty, meaty, long-simmering sauces. But, I'm going to encourage you to give this ringer of a tomato sauce recipe a shot. It comes together in five minutes flat, and the only chopping required is a few garlic cloves. It is bright and clean, a vibrant red in color, and exudes the essence of tomatoes, in part because there isn't much to get in the way of the tomato flavor.

Video: How to Make Five Minute Tomato Sauce

 

 

A Short Ingredient List

Many of the tomato sauce recipes in this realm (in the U.S. in particular) include all sorts of ingredients. One camp likes to kick things off by browning onions and ground beef for a chunky stew-like sauce, others love to use carrots and celery and all manner of dusty dried herbs and seasonings. This recipe is going to be on the absolute other end of the spectrum - in all the best ways.

You wouldn't wear a wool coat to the beach, right? That's what heavy spaghetti and tomato sauces in warm weather feel like to me. This sauce is a relatively pure expression of tomatoes accented with a bit of edge from crushed red peppers, a hint of garlic, and my secret ingredient - a touch of lemon zest which brings its citrus aroma and a bit of surprise to the party.

Five Minute Tomato Sauce Recipe

So Many Different Uses!

The first time you make this sauce I recommend spooning it over light, fluffy pillows of ricotta-filled ravioli. Beyond that there are many other avenues to explore. It is transcendent in all manner of baked pastas and pasta-based casseroles (don't skimp on the zest). Toss it with good-quality spaghetti noodles, a sprinkle of freshly chopped basil, and a dusting of Parmesan - you've got a beautiful bowl of noodles.

Beyond the pasta realm, I use it on thin-crust pizzas, in my thousand-layer lasagna, as the foundation for stuffed shells, as a base for soups, and as a way to pull together various "grain-bowls". For example, quinoa tossed with a bit of this tomato sauce, your protein of choice, and accents like basil and a bit of cheese is simple and satisfying. 

Five Minute Tomato Sauce Recipe

Pictured above on my favorite pizza dough, with some mozzarella, and fresh basil. Be sure to to pay attention to the type of crushed tomatoes to buy in the recipe headnotes. I hope you love this sauce as much as I do, and appreciate it for what it is more so than what it isn't.

Variations

A bit richer. There are times when I'll add a splash of cream at the very end, totally changing the character of the sauce - it becomes silky with a bit of richness, while still being bright, and without compromising the tomatoes in the lead role.

Sarah noted in the comments below, "Mmm, I love a nice quick San Marzano tomato sauce — mine’s very similar, though I also toss in a few capers or maybe some black olive paste if I have them on hand." Love this take.

Enjoy! Again, it's perfect simplicity on homemade pasta. Or, if tomato sauce isn't your thing, try this pesto. Or this favorite creamy walnut sauce.

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Five Minute Tomato Sauce Recipe

4.09 from 57 votes

I'm very particular about the tomatoes I use in this sauce. Look for canned crushed tomatoes, some cans you will come across will say "with added puree" - this is also fine. I avoid diced tomatoes, pass on pureed, and skip whole tomatoes as well. Avoid the crushed tomatoes with added herbs, seasonings, etc. You want pure crushed tomatoes if possible. I also look for organic crushed tomatoes which can be tricky, I often come across with added basil in it - this is actually fine. Any leftover sauce keeps well in the refrigerator for three or four days.

Ingredients
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 3 medium cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed red tomatoes
  • zest of one lemon
Instructions
  1. Combine the olive oil, red pepper flakes, sea salt, and garlic in a cold saucepan. Stir while you heat the saucepan over medium-high heat, saute just 45 seconds or so until everything is fragrant - you don't want the garlic to brown. 

  2. Stir in the tomatoes and heat to a gentle simmer, this takes just a couple minutes. Remove from heat and carefully take a taste (you don't want to burn your tongue)...If the sauce needs more salt add it now. Stir in the lemon zest reserving a bit to sprinkle on top of your pasta.

Serves
8
Prep Time
1 min
Cook Time
5 mins
Total Time
6 mins
 
If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!

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Comments

  • Babette, it is my experience that when leaving the skin on tomatoes for a sauce, the skin flecks off anyway and then becomes a deterrent in the taste because it hardens and is always the thing i have to take out of my mouth,,,, i have done a lot of research into getting rid of the acidity in tomatoe sauce since my hubby oftens suffers heartburn - an old italian grandmother who i met at the butcher told me to add a raw carrot or two to the sauce when cooking....it works! more than extra sugar or anything else i have been told

    Anonymous
  • One of my all time favorite suppers is Quick Sauce! It was one of the first things I ever learned to cook and has gone through about a thousand incarnations. It kept me well-fed living as a money-conscious undergrad in Italy. I agree with Babette though, why use canned when you can use fresh? I used to buy fresh tomatoes from the markets in Florence and they always made the best quick sauce. I know it takes an extra few minutes, but it's worth it.

    fortunata
  • That sounds tasty, I am glad to find someone who agrees with my taste for citrus in tomato sauce; I love fresh squeezed lime juice in mine. Here are some other ingredient ideas for the experimenters out there: white wine, kalamata olive juice, and cocoa powder!

    Matt
  • I can't wait to try this sauce! I recently made your "Thousand Layer Lasagna" and was blown away by how AMAZING the lemon zest was in this recipe!! Also, perfect summer sauce--I agree! Nice and light!

    chocaholic320
  • I love the comparison to a little black dress. It's dependable and useful in so many circumstances. You just reach into your closet (pantry) and throw it on (the stove). Ten minutes later you can walk out the door (and into the dining room) knowing you're going to look great.

    Lillianne
  • But for the Lemon zest, this is exactly the sauce that I make for any pasta, with olives or mushroom, or roast chicken or even plain corn and capsicum. The Lemon zest idea sounds great. I was thinking of this 5 minute ultra amazing sauce could be used to dress up burgers and sandwiches instead of mayo? Say what? Something tangy+citrus to go with the regular burger?

    The Monk
  • This sauce is great. I made your "Thousand Layer Lasagna" earlier this summer, and I had to make an effort to stop sampling the noodles with the sauce as I put it together.

    Toni
  • I was actually disappointed with this recipe, not that it is bad in it self, but because you introduce it in the context of; summer = pasta and tomato sauce. To me summer equals wonderful genuinely ripe and luscious tomatoes, not the canned variety that serves well in the winter but has nothing to do with the seasonal summer treat tomatoes provide. With all the farmers markets and interest in old/heirloom varieties both here and in the states you can now buy wonderful ripe and tasty tomatoes most places - and not to take advantage of that in the summer is almost criminal! A mixture of different types and colours of sweet sun ripe tomatoes, peeled, or with the skin for organically produced crops, warmed through in a sauté pan with garlic flavoured olive oil, sea salt, pepper and not to hot chilly (Europe=piment de espelette) + perhaps a very small pinch of sugar, is a delicious pasta accompaniment. I start on a high heat with a few of the red tomatoes with the skin on to help intensify the sugar taste of the finished sauce, then I reduce the heat and gently warm through the rest of the mixture. Some of the tomatoes will pulp out and some will stay whole pending on the species/ripeness and if you leave the skins on. Once I have mixed the pasta into the sauce in the pan I sprinkle with parmesan and basil, and occasionally also with lemon zest if I have not already added a glass of good wine towards the end of the cooking. All in all I do not think it takes more than 10/14 minutes to cook, but most importantly is the universal success of the dish. Even guests with strong carnivorous leanings are happy after a plate of it. However I doubt they would find a tomato sauce based on the canned variety as evocative of summer!

    Babette Blaedel-flajsner
  • Heiddi, spectacular and easy red sauce I'm trying to learn more about sauces 'case my husband likes pasta and want to combine with red and white sauces. Thanks

    Angela Tapia
  • For the first time my husband and I (budding newbie gardeners) have some fresh tomatoes (a bumper crop) in the garden. I wonder if I can just make my own crushed tomatoes. I'm inspired. Yum. I've been trying to cut back on gluten, so there are some wonderful rice pastas in all different shapes to use this on. I could also use some baked tofu with the pasta and tomato sauce (and some veggies, too). Thanks!

    Uncle Hannah
  • Finally had time to read your diatribe about sauce! This is so like the one I just learned about on my recent cooking trip to Tuscany, lemon and all. Tikipundit is right stating that Italians use canned tomatoes all the time. We learned it with raw ones and a food mill is essential if you don't want to eat the skins. Sauce was your last urgent recipe you wanted to share during turbulence?? Surely there are more little gems to share before you go!

    Roofy
  • How convenient; I have a few servings of the chicken ravioli I made last weekend sitting in my freezer awaiting cooking, sauce, and consumption. I'll give this quick sauce a shot. Thanks! I had it with a simple sauce on Sunday, just reduced yellow heirloom tomatoes and a roasted orange bell pepper, but it lacked high notes. Lemon and grassy olive oil (finally a use for that Pasolivo oil I otherwise dislike) would help immensely, I bet.

    Brian
  • I always love wine in my sauce. Some for the sauce, the rest for me.

    Garrett
  • We have a surplus of tomatoes from our garden and I've been looking for an easy way to make sauce out of them. Can I just chop up my tomatoes and use them in place of the canned crushed ones?

    Sheila
  • This is pretty much how we make our pizza sauce but without the lemon zest. Need to give that a try, what a great addition!

    Andy
  • This is my kind of sauce!!!!!! I get ideas during moments of turbulence in planes as well....I always appreciate your great ideas....

    Jeannie
  • I love the idea of lemon peel, as well. And I use canned puree all the time as I cannot stand mushy, mealy, trucked from who knows where when locally gown is not available. I grew up with "Jersey Tomatoes" and am a bit of a snob. To answer Sheila's question, I think you can use a simple food mill to puree tomatoes, and the plus is that the skins are removed from the puree. I have one, never used it before, so if I am wrong, feel free to correct me. We have 8 tomato plants for 2 people, I'm so happy for this recipe.

    Stephanie
  • This looks like a great, simple recipe. I'm glad to see someone verify what I came across: canned, crushed tomatoes work FINE in sauce. That, and discovering that Italian cooks use a TON of puree in cooking, are two things that helped my previously supremely-awful tomato-based sauces rise to the level of merely awful now. Work continues, and I can't wait to try this this coming Saturday.

    TikiPundit
  • Sounds lovely; it's the lemon zest that really won me over.

    casey
  • Very handy indeed! I LOVE quick recipes and have laboured over slow simmering tomato chutnies and sauces with extreme frustration. Will definitely try this one out! Thnx!

    Snehal
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