Simple Tomato Sauce (With Variations)

A neighbor recently asked if I had a simple pasta sauce I could tell her about. Now with the Attack of the Tomatoes almost at hand, here’s the one I like best.

I favor a long-cooked sauce, which now is less favored. I find fast-cooked tomatoes (or anything with the name “prim- avera”) unappealing, but this may reflect my being raised among sicilianos, in Brooklyn. If you like watery meek tomato sauce, this recipe isn’t for you. Nyah-nyah-ny-nyah-nyah.

Jerry Weinberg

Simple Tomato Sauce (With Variations)

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Course: Sauce
Cuisine: Italian


  • 3-4 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1-2 Tablespoons garlic (finely minced*)
  • cups onions (chopped)
  • 1 can anchovies (OPTIONAL – with their oil)
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (OPTIONAL)
  • 1 cup mushroom (OPTIONAL – halved then quarter sliced)
  • cup black olives (OPTIONAL – oil cured; pitted, chopped)
  • 3-4 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 cans tomatoes (or fresh tomato equivalents — –plunged in boiling water so you can remove the skins (remove seeds, but save juices))
  • 2-3 Tablespoons basil (fresh, minced)
  • 2 Tablespoons Italian flat-leafed parsley (fresh, minced)
  • 2 teaspoons cumin (ground)
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg (ground)
  • 1 cup red wine (dry)


  • In a 3 or 4 quart sauce pan, heat the oil and add the garlic till fragrant. Add the onions and cook three or four minutes and, if you wish, add the flaked red pepper, the anchovies, the olives, and the mushrooms–or any of these that you wish. If you use them, you're more-or-less making a puttanesca sauce–but don't tell the censors–if you add a half-cup of chopped parsley, instead of the 2 Tbls called for, above.
  • Cook until mushrooms are done and/or the anchovies are completely broken up by stirring. If using anchovies, leave out the salt, though this won't be a salty sauce.
  • Add the tomato paste and stir it very well into the vegetable mix. Add the tomatoes, basil, however much parsley you want, cumin or nutmeg, and the wine. Stir very well, cover. Heat, stirring occasionally till the sauce is steamy, ten or fifteen minutes, being careful sauce doesn't get too hot. Even then I keep the heat almost low–just slightly above absolute low– just to keep the sauce steamy. And keep the saucepan on a back burner so it can't slide off the stove.**
  • For the last few hours, leave the lid off so sauce can thicken and get even richer.
  • Serve with a bold chianti (no fava beans), a summer salad, and a crustyfrench bread–plus minced garlic in olive oil, for the bread.


* I subscribe to the “Goodfellas” treatment of garlic: don’t chop. I don’t know if chopping actually causes a bitter taste. I just don’t want my body buried in the New Jersey Meadowlands.
** I once burned a tomato sauce though I thought the fire was very low. To avoid that fate, I elevate the saucepan using one of those heat-dissipaters they sell in hardware stores, or the bottom of a stove-top potato baker. Carefully balance the saucepan on top of one of these (you may also use a skillet that will hold the bottom of the saucepan snugly, with a space for insulation).

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