Five Minute Tomato Sauce Recipe

Great tomato sauce in a flash. A quick, simple, easy (and absolute favorite) tomato sauce recipe. Bright and clean flavors, a vibrant red in color, exudes the essence of tomatoes.

Five Minute Tomato Sauce

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 easy 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. This page also includes an extended list of pizza topping ideas.


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.

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Five Minute Tomato Sauce Recipe

4.07 from 83 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.

  • 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
  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.

Prep Time
1 min
Cook Time
5 mins
Total Time
6 mins
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Recipe Rating


This recipe was exactly as advertised; quick, easy, delicious. I followed it to a tee, which I usually don’t do and I was pleasantly surprised how well it came out. I think all the comments on this recipe that complain it wasn’t using fresh tomatoes have missed the point. It’s 5 minutes people! Quick! No time for blanching and peeling. If you want that recipe it is out there. Probably on this very site.5 stars


    Absolutely go for it!

    Heidi Swanson

I just cooked this sauce and it was FANTASTIC! I added 2 tsp of dried Italian herbs and 2 tsp of sugar to bring it to the flavor I liked, but honestly, this is a great recipe.5 stars


It was amazing, especially since i spent 30 minutes looking for an easy, and quick recipe for tomato sauce, it rocked!!!! Thank you so much!5 stars


I’ve made this sauce a few times now, and have only now noticed that it called for lemon zest, not lemon juice. But I must say lemon juice also works perfectly in this recipe. Thank you for posting this, it’s become of my staples.


I always take Marcella Hazan’s advice from her legendary ookbooks, and only use whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes (canned), for tomato sauces. It seems that tomato canneries only use the best tomatoes for their “whole peeled” varieties, picking up the scraps for “diced” and “crushed”.


Hi Heidi,

This recipe has been a staple for me for nearly a decade, and it never disappoints — I’ve made it on countless weeknights, cooked it for potential suitors (one of whom has become my husband), delivered it to friends with newborns, had it requested for dinner parties… the list goes on.

Despite the many scenarios I’ve been through with this recipe, I’m finding myself in a novel one. As you can probably guess by my frequent employment of a 5-min-recipe, I’m not one to plan ahead — and while I’m an excellent and experienced cook, I’ll sound like a rookie in the question I’m about to ask. This week, my husband & I are preparing to leave for holiday travel for a full month, and I’m trying to cook everything perishable in the house, including the fistfuls of garlic and lemons I always have on hand (because they make EVERYTHING better!) — would I be able to make this sauce in bulk and freeze it? If so, how long would it keep for?

Thanks so much, for the many years of reliable deliciousness. May the turn of this decade be kind to you and yours!

Serena5 stars


    Hi Serena, sure! I’d use it within three months or so if freezing…(thanks for the nice note) xx-h

    Heidi Swanson

Speaking of canned tomatoes, I was wondering if you ever canned/jarred this sauce for later use. If you made a huge batch using either surplus tomatoes from the garden or canned crushed tomatoes found on sale, you could make enough sauce to last for a long while. This recipe is already a quick one, but how great would it be to take one more step out of the cooking process. If you’re using the sauce as an ingredient in other dishes, you could save so much time by having it already pre-measured/jarred in quarts and pints. Save time for future recipes and say move over Ragu.


Wonderful recipe to have in my recipe box! I can’t think of a more useful and elegant recipe that comes together in 5 minutes.

steamy kitchen

I love this recipe. I make something similar, except with fresh tomatoes, no garlic, olive oil, salt and fresh basil. Its delish. I haven’t tried lemon zest though – sounds good! B


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.


I always keep a can of crushed tomatoes in the cupboard because you can never know when it will come in handy (something my mother taught me) and in the winter when I’m feling like I need to stay in the house and cook, I make one of those long simmering sauces with meat and cheese….but this has opened my eyes! Thanks!


This sounds really nice! I generally avoid tomatoes and lemon because of the acidity but the zest would solve that problem. A friend from the ‘Italian’ part of Switzerland did something similar when we visited her near Lake Como. Although she used butter instead of olive oil which made for a rather decadent yet light summer sauce. Mmm…I bet a handful of peas would be lovely in this as well…

Sebastian Fort

I made this yesterday, and wow- it was great! I’m always coming to your site for inspiration. Keep up the good work!


I have tried a lot of tomato sauce recipes, and will gladly give this one a try. There’s nothing better that great tasting tomato sauce with al dente pasta and heartly extra virgin olive oil.


Count me in as one of the people intrigued by the idea of lemon zest in the sauce. Although I’m surprised that you avoid canned whole tomatoes. I’ve heard that idealy that when not using fresh vegetables, you want to buy ones that have had the least amount of processing, such as canned whole tomatoes. I just pop them open, pour them in a large bowl and crush them with my hands. It gives them a wonderfully rustic texture. Although it does add an extra step and puts us over the 5 minutes I guess.


This sounds gorgeous! I have all the ingredients and will try it this week. On a side note, I want to thank you for your website. I’ve been visiting it for about 6 months and LOVE it! Your recipes are vibrant, delicious, and feel so natural (love the ultimate veggie burger!!!). I also thoroughly enjoy your whimsical posts and beautiful photos. Browsing the site always feels like a magical 5 minute vacation, so thank you 🙂


Hi Heidi,
I often stop by your site, but hardly ever leave comments. However, having tried the lemon zest in my usual pasta sauce today, I felt I owed it to you to drop in and say a big THANKS! It has elevated my ordinary pasta sauce to something truly sublime. Now you can rest assured that every so often, someone in Dublin, Ireland will think of you and feel grateful as she relishes her pasta.


Wow! your tomato sauce looks fantastic. I’m going to try that.

The Cooking Ninja

Until now I wouldn’t have thought a person could make a gloppy, glistening pile of oily tomatoes look good on a camera. But wow, you proved me way wrong!! Those beautiful photos mean I’ll be making this recipe very soon!
I’m picky about two things in my tomato sauce: (1) the type of tomatoes (imported italian whenever possible) and (2) lots of olive oil. One day I started thinking about how red sauces with oil in them stain tupperware so strongly and then realized why that was: fat soluble compounds! I think all the flavor to be extracted from a tomato sauce, even a simple one, requires plenty of olive oil.
I never have thought of adding lemon zest. Will definitely be trying this!!


It is tomato season but hey! every cook needs pantry options that deliver supper, pronto, no grocery, no thinking required. (In other words: three cheers for the confidence to share a recipe using canned tomatoes in the middle of tomato season!) That’s how this worked for me, Friday. The frig was bare, the farmers market was already closed and I was oh-so-tempted to just order a pizza and be done with it. Instead – there was a long-neglected can of San Marzano tomatoes in the pantry and inspiration from 101 Cookbooks. Thirty minutes later, supper was on the table and the cook had had time to make a salad and pour the wine, too. I even splurged and used ‘all’ the 1/4 cup olive oil (more than needed for my taste …) and ‘all’ the 1 1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes (also a lot but satisfying in its own way). The brightness of the lemon (lime in my case …) was great. So thanks, Heidi, for ‘real food’ … in all its forms.


Simple, quick and versatile… this is just a wonderful recipe and I am putting it in my meal plan for this week!

Deborah Dowd

Kathy, you can use the given recipe. All you have to do is prepare the tomatoes. Peel them with small knife, or pass a tomato in boiling water 20 seconds then peel by hand. Cut them and take away the seeds.
Another way is to crash gently the chunked tomatoes with a mortar, then pass that through a net to retain seeds and peel.
Then follow the recipe.
You can can this sauce, or another one, or just the tomatoes. Clean jars and stop Heidi s recipe just before *simmer the tomatoes*. Put everything in the jars and sterilize the jars.


This sauce is mesmerizing.


I have about a half a zillion freshly grown tomatoes and would like to know if there is a recipe to use fresh tomatoes instead of canned. Can you, or your readers, please post it here? Thanks, kathy

Kathy Rudkin

I was taught a very similar recipe by a very Italian friend of mine–a basic favorite of his family as well. I use it myself almost weekly now. I’ll never by a jar of tomato sauce again. There’s no reason to–this recipe is cheaper!
Also, I find that Sclafani crushed tomatoes work quite well.


Great recipe. Never tried lemon, but always use a little anchovy – just add to the saute and it will dissolve quickly. Don’t use too much, but a small amount adds nice depth with zero anchovy flavor. My little secret.


I just made it – and it surpassed my expectations. I had never thought of using so much olive oil in a tomato sauce…that’s definitely the key to why its texture is better than the previous tomato sauces I’ve made. Penne was the only thing I had in my cupboard to try it with, so I spooned it over that, and when I ran out of penne, I just ate it like tomato soup, with a spoon.

Herman Schenker

Never heard of lemon zest in the sauce….
and I am Italian. It is amazing how in US all the recipes change….


I have to disagree with the “fresh tomato” poster above to a degree.
For cooked tomato sauces, in general, you get a consistent, and delicious results from good quality canned/jarred tomato sauces each and every time. Even the most sensitive of palates can’t discern the difference from using fresh tomatoes. I have tested this many times.
Although if you want to make a very fresh tomato sauce (not cooked for long), or if you are going to either use unique fresh tomatoes or prepare them uniquely (such as caramelize the skins), you certainly can taste the difference between using fresh and canned.
However, this time of year, when tomatoes are in abundance (at least here they are), you certainly can use fresh, and I do just to use them up.
I make my quick sauce just like this one except that I usually have finely chopped onion in the oil before I add the garlic. I use either lemon zest (never juice) or red/white wine to add zip or brighten the taste (as with lemon zest). You can throw in a handful of basil leaves too if in the mood for basil. regano and marjoram, or whatever herb you have around can be added, but you should add it to the oil just after the garlic is added and allow them to sweat a bit before adding the tomatoes.
If you want a ragu, after adding tomatoes add ground meat (veal/pork), skip the lemon zest and simmer slowly for about 2 hours adding hot water if it gets too thick.


This sauce sounds wonderful – I’m wondering how it would respond to canning? I would like to take advantage of the farmer’s market tomatoes and do some canning, but I’m wondering how the flavors of the sauce would hold up? Any thoughts?
Thanks! I’m looking forward to trying this sauce!


This is identical to the light sauce recipe I use for gnocci, plain spaghetti etc except for the lemon zest. Several others have commented on this but it is a wonderful touch. Haven’t tried it yet but I just know it’s going to work. 🙂


That sauce looks yummy… Have never tried lemon zest in my sauce but I will, cos it sounds like a good adition. I’m a compulsive tomato-eater, I know about tomatoes, and I agree with Babette in that fresh tomatoes would give a much better and summer result. Heidi, do you have an alternative version using fresh tomatoes?


I always wanted to make my own tomato sauce but thought it was too daunting of a task! This makes it look so easy. Thanks!
Also, I LOVE crushed red pepper flakes so that looks like a great addition to the ordinary tomato sauce! Way to go!




I consider the addition of lemon your latest stroke of genius.


Made this for dinner last night. It’s beyond fantastic! The lemon zest is pure genius and works so well with the red pepper. Thanks!


wow! that looks incredible. and lemon zest in the tomato sauce? that’s new !
will definitely try it. makes me smile just to think of eating it 🙂


Lemon zest, eh? Interesting addition. I think I can see where that would be just wonderful. I must make note to give it a try.

almost vegetarian

Is your preference for crushed tomatoes here just a texture issue?
I love the idea of the lemon zest. I’ve long done a simple tomato sauce simmered with olive oil, garlic and crushed red pepper with a little fresh basil tossed in at the end, but this sounds like a great variation.


What a great recipe! Looks simple and delicious.


I’m actually planning to make spaghetti tonight for friends so this recipe comes at a very apropos time. I would never have thought to add lemon zest. I’m looking forward to seeing exactly what sort of flavor the sauce takes on from that simple addition. Thank you for always having such lovely items and ideas to share!


That sounds like the perfect hot/warm tomato sauce. For warm summer days I like something even simpler: Cut fresh tomatoes in half and grate until all that’s left in your hand is skin (tomato skin…). Toss with pasta, sprinkle with fresh basil.


I use the same little extra as Babette, a pinch of sugar. Lemon zest is also fantastic in tomato sauce, I agree (it seems especially good in chicken dishes)


Looks absolutely delicious! For sure I’ll give a try. Thanks for sharing!


Nice, looks great. I follow the same technique mostly but vary it by using diced tomatoes with italian spices or using black pepper instead of red pepper…of Course, the lemon zest never thought of 🙂


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


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.


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!


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!


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.


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.


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).

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!


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.


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


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?


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!


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


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.


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.


Sounds lovely; it’s the lemon zest that really won me over.


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!


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