Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Basic Italian Tomato Sauce

I always make my own tomato sauce so I can add ingredients that I like in the proportions that I like.  Here's a recipe that you can tweak to come up with one that's perfect for you.  Price comparison is discussed below.

Preparation time 30 minutes
Makes one litre (four servings)
Cost £1.70 per kilo (without optional extras)

This is what it cost me, based on purchasing ingredients at the lowest price I could find.  This includes supermarket offers on produce and branded items as well as supermarket value-priced brands.


  • 1 400g  tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 142g tin tomato puree
  • 1 large carrot.
  • 1 tablespoon virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • 1 stock cube
  • 4 cloves (2 heaping teaspoons) crushed garlic
  • 2 teaspoons oregano
  • 1 teaspoon basil
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Slice the carrot and cook until soft.  Peel the onions and roughly chop them.  Put the (cooked) carrot and half of the (raw) onion into a food processor and puree. 

(If you don't have a food processor, you can grate or dice the carrot and chop the onions as large or small as you please.  You'll just end up with a chunkier sauce.)

Put the olive oil in a large saucepan and turn the burner to medium-low (3).   Add the vegetable puree, chopped onion and crushed garlic.  Stir for about 5 minutes until the onion begins to soften.  Pour over enough water to cover the vegetables and add the stock cube, vinegar and sugar.  Stir until the cube dissolves.

Stir in the tomato puree and add the herbs.  Simmer for  about five minutes.  Stir in the chopped tomatoes. 

At this point you can add any optional extras and continue stirring until they are heated through.

 Optional extras

  • Sautéed mushrooms
  • Sautéed sliced peppers
  • Chopped chilli peppers
  • Black olives
  • Spinach (fresh or frozen)
  • Cooked mince (beef, pork, turkey - whatever's cheap)
  • Sliced cooked sausage
  • Cooked brazing or stewing steak
  • Chopped bacon
  • Meatballs
  • Anchovies


There are many variations you can make on this sauce.  I add carrot because I think it mellows out the tartness of the tomato, but you can leave it out if you want.  Traditional Italian recipes include celery.  If you've got some hanging around, chop it or puree it and put it in along with the other veg.  For a smooth sauce, puree all the veg and add tomato passata instead of chopped tomatoes.  Taste as you cook and add more herbs if you want or use fresh rather than dried.

 About the cost

You can buy cheap brands of tomato sauce in a jar for around £1.50 a kilo.  They aren't made with olive oil and they're thickened with corn flour.  However, they are marginally cheaper than homemade.

The 'authentic Italian' brands with ingredients similar to the ones I use go for £3.50 or more per kilo.  If you want a full-bodied, full-flavoured sauce, you can make your own for less than half that price.

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