San Marzano Tomato Sauce {Family Recipe}

Updated: Apr 3rd, 2024 · By Bethany Kramer
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My family’s beloved San Marzano Tomato Sauce. This luscious red sauce is simmered for several hours to develop the richest taste. It’s filled with fresh herbs, authentic Italian flavors, and the most inviting aroma. Easily the best tomato sauce I’ve ever had! From my family to yours. 

a pot of san marzano tomato sauce with fresh herbs

This Italian tomato sauce (also known in Italian as “Pomodoro sauce”) is unique from all my other recipes because it was the first recipe my mom ever taught me how to make. It was the very beginning of my love for food. For years, this sauce has brought my loud, bold, and very loving family together and has been a part of many memorable family dinners.

When you make this homemade pasta sauce, you will find the results are luscious, rich, and developed in flavor. It is the perfect sauce to complement your favorite Italian dishes! Although tomato sauce is quite simple, using quality ingredients matters. And letting your sauce cook low and slow for hours will give you the most beautifully rich and savory sauce you’ve ever had.

The first steps for making this sauce are to put on some Frank Sinatra, grab a glass of vino, and enjoy the sweet aroma of simmering tomatoes & garlic. ‘Cause, that’s Amore!

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Ingredients Needed

You’ll need just a handful of pantry items and fresh herbs to make this recipe happen. Here’s the full list: canned San Marzano plum tomatoes, garlic cloves, quality tomato paste, olive oil, salt & black pepper, and fresh herbs – basil and oregano.

Ingredients for San Marzano tomato sauce arranged either in cans or small bowls or placed whole on a wooden board.

Why are San Marzano Tomatoes the Best?

These tomatoes are not just a staple in my family’s recipes, but are considered to be the best tomatoes in the world to use in sauces!

San Marzano tomatoes are grown in Southern Italy, between the cities of Naples and Salerno. The one key factor contributing to San Marzano tomatoes famous taste is the potassium-rich volcanic soil they’re grown in.

When it comes to the taste, these tomatoes are set apart from others because of their rich, sweet flavor and lower acidity. There is no need for adding sugar to your sauce if you use these tomatoes! They also have a thicker consistency than other canned plum tomatoes, and you’ll find they have less seeds too (making it ideal for cooking).

Pro tip: to know you are using certified San Marzano tomatoes, the can should say “Pomodoro San Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese Necorino D.O.P.” This ensures the tomatoes are grown in the authentic region.

Brands we like to use that are authentic and D.O.P. certified: Sclafani, Rega, La Fede, and Strianese. Your local grocery store also might have some other great options!

Brands we like to use that are quality but not D.O.P.-certified: If you do not care about using a D.O.P.-certified brand of tomatoes, I recommend at least using a tomato that is a product of Italy! The brands we like are Cento, Bella Terra, and Delallo (they have D.O.P and non-certified tomatoes). Just to name a few, there are many more quality tomato brands you can use!

Five cans of San Marzano tomatoes stacked on top of each other in front of a dark background.

How to Make San Marzano Tomato Sauce

  1. 1

    Sauté the garlic. In a large sauce pot, sauté the minced garlic in oil for about 30-60 seconds (stir constantly to avoid burning the garlic).

  2. 2

    Add the tomatoes and simmer low and slow. Once the garlic is fragrant, add the canned tomatoes with the paste and salt, then partially cover the pot with a lid. Let the sauce cook on the lowest setting for 4-6 hours. Stir occasionally to prevent any burning.

  1. 3

    Add the herbs last. When the sauce is finished cooking, add the chopped basil and oregano. Taste, season with any additional salt if needed, then serve!

Tips for Success

step 1 get san marzano tomatoes step 2 sun-dried tomato paste

  • Use quality San Marzano Peeled Tomatoes: to make a perfect tomato sauce you need San Marzano. These tomatoes give your sauce a thicker consistency and are sweeter, richer, and less acidic in flavor. I grew up with my mom always using Cento, but I also love using D.O.P-certified brands and preferably organic tomatoes. Be sure that whatever tomato you do use, is a product of Italy to ensure its top quality!
  • Use Amore Sun-Dried Tomato Paste: Rather than using regular tomato paste as a thickener, my family loves to use this sun-dried tomato paste for a richer taste. If you do not have this available to you, no problem, swap it for regular tomato paste!
  • The best herbs for tomato sauce – traditional Italian tomato sauce always calls for fresh basil or oregano – or a combination of both! Sometimes you’ll see thyme thrown into red sauces too. Using fresh herbs is key for authentic flavor. I do not recommend using dried herbs in a lot of my recipes, especially when it comes to homemade tomato sauce.
  • Add a Parmesan cheese rind: When you purchase a block of Parmesan cheese – save/freeze your cheese rind for recipes like this! It’s a unique ingredient that instantly adds flavor. The rind won’t melt (though it will get soft); it will just sit in your sauce or soup and infuse it with extra umami and savor. Add the rind during the simmering time of the sauce, then use a utensil to carefully remove it before serving.
  • Achieve rich flavor by using lots of garlic! As a born and raised garlic lover, I encourage you not to shy away from the number of garlic cloves listed. So much flavor in red sauces comes from the aromatics (garlic, onions, etc.). We use lots of garlic in this sauce to create a complex flavor! It will not taste “garlic-y”- but wonderfully balanced and rich.
A black and silver hand-immersion blender.

Make Your Sauce Smooth in Seconds

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wooden spoon stirring tomato sauce with chopped fresh herbs on top.

How to Avoid an Acidic Sauce

Add a carrot to simmer in the sauce: my mom always did this when she made sauce, and it’s a little-known secret many Italians use to balance the acidity of sauces. The sweetness of the carrot releases its flavor and naturally absorbs any acidic flavors from the tomatoes. How to: Remove the stem, peel the carrot skin off, and place the whole carrot into the sauce to simmer. Then, remove and discard the carrot once the sauce is finished.

Use a stainless steel pot: When making tomato sauce, choosing the right pot is essential. My top recommendation for sauce is stainless steel. Other pots, such as non-stick or cast iron can cause the acid in the tomatoes to mix with the metal and result in an unpleasant metallic taste.

Your Questions Answered

Can I add meatballs to cook with the sauce? Of course! We love cooking our Italian meatballs with this sauce. If the meatballs are about 2 inches in size, after being browned in a pan or baked, you can add them to the sauce to cook for the last 60-30 minutes. If they’re much bigger, let them simmer in the sauce for 2 hours. Stir the sauce gently to prevent breaking the meatballs, and ensure you use a large enough pot!

Can this sauce be made with fresh tomatoes? Yes! We love to make tomato sauce with fresh garden tomatoes. Use our fresh tomato sauce recipe for this process! This recipe will take less time, but the flavor is equally as delicious.

Can I make this in a slow cooker? Of course! I recommend first sauteing the garlic in a pan. Then add the garlic to a slow cooker with the rest of the sauce ingredients, and set it on LOW for 5 hours. Stir a few times throughout the cooking process. Add the herbs at the end.

Why does this recipe call for no onions? This was the way my mom taught me how to make tomato sauce, just with garlic as the aromatic. Many traditional tomato sauce recipes only call for garlic, so it’s common to see onions not included. But we have tried it with onion, and it’s delicious too! If you want to add onion, dice it small and saute the onion (before the garlic) for about 3 minutes. Then add the garlic!

Do I need to chop the tomatoes before adding them to the sauce? Only if you want the sauce to be very smooth, with no texture/chunks of tomatoes. San Marzano tomatoes are so tender that they will naturally break down as they cook, especially in this recipe since it calls for a longer simmering time. So no, they do not need to be chopped before cooking!

Can this sauce be canned? Yes, homemade sauce like this recipe can definitely be canned. Although I’ve never canned this recipe, we’ve had many readers have great success with it!

Tips for Storing Leftovers & Freezing

Store & keep fresh: Let sauce cool to room temperature, then store in an airtight container or glass jars. Chill in the refrigerator for up to 5-7 days.

How to freeze: First, let the sauce cool to room temperature – then store it in an airtight container or freezer-friendly ziplock bag. Freeze for up to 3 months.

Our Favorite Ways to Serve it Up

The best way to serve this tomato sauce is with your favorite Italian dishes! Some of our favorites are…

Lasagna. We love layering this sauce in our vegetable lasagna, spinach lasagna roll-ups, and Italian sausage lasagna! For a healthier take on lasagna, we also love making our zucchini lasagna or eggplant lasagna too.

Baked pasta. This sauce is always the perfect addition to our baked ziti or baked rigatoni! And we can’t forget our baked cauliflower ziti too.

Meatballs. Make my family’s Italian meatballs with this sauce, or try it with our vegetarian zucchini meatballs or eggplant meatballs – so yummy!

Eggplant & Chicken Parmesan. My mom has always made this sauce with her famous chicken parmesan. And I love to serve it with this classic eggplant parmesan!

Rollatini. We love making zucchini rollatini or eggplant rollatini with this sauce as well.

Pasta noodles. You can also keep it simple, and serve this red sauce with your favorite Italian noodles such as penne, rigatoni, fusilli, spaghetti, or shells! And whatever you serve this sauce with, don’t forget to add crusty rosemary garlic bread on the side for dipping.

I hope you love this homemade tomato sauce as much as we do! It’s a staple for complimenting my favorite Italian recipes – especially around the holidays.

More Tomato Sauce Recipes

If you love this sauce, you might also like our fresh tomato sauce, Italian meat sauce, authentic Italian Bolognese Sauce, or spicy arrabbiata sauce!

a pot of san marzano tomato sauce with fresh herbs

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San Marzano Tomato Sauce

4.98 from 129 votes
A famous family recipe – San Marzano Tomato Sauce. A luscious red sauce simmered for several hours to develop the most rich and hearty tomato sauce. Fresh herbs, authentic Italian flavors, and the most inviting aroma. Easily the best tomato sauce I’ve ever had! From my family to yours. 
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 4 hours
Total Time 4 hours 5 minutes
Serves 10 servings

Ingredients

  • 8 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4-5 28oz cans San Marzano Peeled Tomatoes (with juices)
  • 2-3 tbsp amore sun-dried tomato paste (or use regular tomato paste)
  • 1/2 tsp (each) salt & black pepper
  • 3 Tbsp fresh basil (for dried basil – 1 Tbsp)
  • 2 Tbsp fresh oregano (for dried oregano – 2 tsp)

Instructions

  • Cook garlic: In a large stainless steel pot on LOW-MEDIUM heat sauté garlic in olive oil for 30-60 seconds. Stir constantly to keep garlic from burning.
  • Add tomatoes and simmer: pour canned tomatoes with juices in with the garlic. Add tomato paste, salt, and black pepper. Mix ingredients together, partially cover with lid – but not completely, and simmer on LOW heat for 3+ hours. Stir every so often to avoid burning. Note: if using a parmesan rind, add it in this step and let it simmer with sauce until finished. Remove and discard rind when ready to serve.
  • For smooth sauce: when sauce is finished cooking, use a hand immersion-blender to puree. Note: If you prefer a chunkier/thicker sauce (like I do), you can skip this step as the San Marzanos naturally break down while cooking.
  • Add herbs: when sauce is finished, mix in chopped fresh herbs. Season with additional salt & black pepper if needed and serve!

Video

YouTube video

Notes

Add a Parmesan rind: When you purchase a block of parmesan cheese – save/freeze your cheese rind for recipes like this! It’s a unique ingredient that instantly adds flavor. The rind won’t melt (though it will get soft); it will just sit in your sauce or soup and infuse it with extra umami and savor. Add the parmesan rind with tomatoes and let simmer with sauce – remove rind with tongs before serving. 

Storing & Freezing Instructions

Store & keep fresh: Let sauce cool to room temperature then store in an airtight container or glass jars. Chill in refrigerator for up to 5-7 days. 
How to freeze: First, let the sauce cool to room temperature – then store in an airtight container or ziplock freezer bag. Freeze for up to 3 to 4 months
Course Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine Italian
Keyword homemade tomato sauce, italian sauce, marinara sauce, san marzano tomato sauce
Freezer Friendly Yes
Author A Simple Palate

Nutrition

Serving: 0g | Calories: 63kcal | Carbohydrates: 7.7g | Protein: 1.7g | Fat: 3.6g | Saturated Fat: 0g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0g | Monounsaturated Fat: 0g | Trans Fat: 0g | Cholesterol: 0.6mg | Sodium: 164.7mg | Potassium: 0mg | Fiber: 0g | Sugar: 2.8g | Vitamin A: 0IU | Vitamin C: 0mg | Calcium: 0mg | Iron: 0mg

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Recipe Rating




478 Comments

  • Denise says:

    5 stars
    OMG! I made this last night. It turned out great ! I was a little skeptical because of the tomatoes. I’ve always used Puree’. I used my emersion blender (for the first time ever) to make it saucier. I have people in my family who do not like chunks. I cooked it for 5 hours. I can’t wait to have it tonight. Of course, I taste tested it and it was wonderful 🙂

  • Deb says:

    5 stars
    Awesome, simple, easy…never would have thought something this good is so simple. Growing up in South Philly South Jersey, Sunday gravy was a must but homemade not my strong suit. Chose to leave it “chunky”. Added a baby carrot (perfect). This is a perfect, basic sauce that can be the foundation for anything. Sunday gravy and and Eagles game… life is good. Thanks!

    • Bethany Kramer says:

      Thank you so much, Deb! Nothing better than Sunday gravy. So happy you enjoyed the recipe! 🙂

  • Joe G says:

    5 stars
    Perfection! Growing up in NYC I understand the importance of making the perfect sauce. This is it. I’ve tried many versions. This is the real deal. I followed exactly. Used the carrot trick. The Cento tomatoes. Fresh herbs. Simmered for hours. With the chicken parm recipe this was the best I’ve ever had. And I’ve been to Rao’s! Thank you for making this so simple and achievable. Was so bright and fresh. I’ll be making this sauce forever

    • Bethany Kramer says:

      Joe, thank you so much for taking the time to share. This means so much! I cherish reviews like this. Thrilled to hear that you enjoyed my family’s recipe so much!

      Also, I will need to know your secret on how to get into Rao’s restaurant! 😉

  • Elfriede M. Gross says:

    5 stars
    It’s great

  • Mike says:

    5 stars
    Love, love the recipe. It goes in the recipe book. We’re going to Florence in Feb – going to go Pomodoro crazy. We order Margarita pizza at our fave pizza joint ’cause they use real Pomodoro for their pie. Hats off to you.

    • Bethany Kramer says:

      Thanks so much, Mike! So happy you love the sauce. And have an amazing time in Florence!! How exciting!

  • Misha says:

    Looks amazing! My toddler-mom brain wants to know: Could you use an instant pot for this recipe to shorten the cook time? I’m new to this, and I don’t know how to convert the time. Thanks for sharing!

    • Bethany Kramer says:

      Hi Misha! That’s a great question, since instant pot’s are so popular. As far as this sauce, I think it’s best to do a low and slow approach rather than super hot and fast. It wouldn’t develop the flavor it needs to when it’s at a gentle simmer for hours. But if you’d like to cut the time in half on the stove top you can, it just might not be as rich! You can also do it in a slow cooker too. Hope this helps 🙂

  • Muriel Norman says:

    5 stars
    Flavor filled and delicious! Saving this as my go-to recipe!

  • Kim says:

    Hi do we have to use a stainless steel pot or can we cook the sauce in a dutch oven?

    • Bethany Kramer says:

      Hi Kim, stainless steel is recommended for the best results. If you were to use a dutch oven, I would only use one that has an enameled interior. Not one that is straight cast iron, since the iron can mess with the acidity and flavor of the tomatoes. Hope this helps!

  • C says:

    why does it call for 4-5 28oz cans of whole tomatoes but video shows only 2 cans? Is this a mistake or am I reading that wrong?

    • Bethany Kramer says:

      Hello! I did not record all the cans being put into the pot, I’m sorry for the confusion. Hope you enjoy the sauce if you make it!

  • Al Hooper says:

    5 stars
    FANTASTC!!!!!THANKYOU

  • Melissa Brady says:

    Hi
    I have everything to make this lovely sounding sauce. My question is Can this be water bath canned ?

    • Bethany Kramer says:

      Hi Melissa, yes I’ve had a lot of readers use the water bath method for canning! Hope you enjoy it 🙂

  • JoAnna says:

    Sounds delish – do you put any water at all?

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