Ingredient: Red Sauce Base

In this post, I’ve described how to make a base for Italian red sauces.  This is an ingredient or a first step to many Italian recipes and (generally) is not something that would stand on its own.  Scroll down below the recipe to learn more about the ways to use Red Sauce Base.

Red Sauce Base

  • Servings: as many as you want
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A seasoned tomato purée base for all your red sauces.

Borrowed with permission from: my friend P.


  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • Two cloves garlic, minced
  • Dash onion powder (or a small amount of minced onion)
  • 1 29 oz can of tomato sauce/puree + 1 can of water
  • 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
  • pinch salt, sugar, and pepper (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon dried sweet basil (or oregano, or thyme), sprinkled around the rim of the pot


  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in the bottom of a saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Brown 2 cloves of garlic (minced) and a dash of onion powder (or small amount of minced onion), about a minute.
  3. Add tomato sauce/puree and 1 can of water
  4. Add 1 tablespoon of tomato paste, mix in thoroughly
  5. Add a pinch of salt, a pinch of sugar, and a pinch of pepper (Optional)
  6. Go “around the rim” of the pot with dried sweet basil
  7. Add a dash of oregano, or thyme, mix in thoroughly
  8. Bring to a boil, lower heat, cover, and gently simmer for 30 minutes.

Additional Notes

Suggestions for use:  Keep some in the fridge to add to meatball subs.  Freeze it in 8-16 oz containers for quick additions to last-minute dinners.  Add some oregano, spread it over English Muffins, add cheese, and pop on the toaster oven for quick mini pizzas.  It’s fancy tomato sauce–get creative!

Spaghetti is one of those things that means something different to everyone.  If someone invites you over for spaghetti, you might end up with a marinara or a meat sauce.  It might be chunky or it might be pureed.  It will have tomatoes but lord knows what else.  Dad once told me about a box mix Kraft Dinner-style of spaghetti and powdered sauce that he grew up with in the late ’50s.  Apparently, it tasted about as good as the cardboard box it came in.

I grew up in a home where dinner was homemade nearly every night (with the exceptional delivery pizza nights and out-to-eat Red Lobster nights). Some sort of pasta dish happened about once a week.  And while sometimes we went with pre-packaged sauces (Chicken Tonight’s Chicken Cacciatore over egg noodles was a common favorite), most of the time, my parents made chunky tomato sauces from scratch.  Usually some combination of onion, bell pepper, and mushrooms sautéed in olive oil and garlic before dumping in a jar of tomato puree/sauce, a can of diced tomatoes, and some spices.  Not bad for family with a primarily Northern and Western European cooking pedigree.  And while my brother and I have branched out into some more fancy cooking recently (vodka sauce and alfredos–and my brother’s marinara that will knock your socks off), when I make spaghetti, I’m drawn toward the way my parents made it.

So when I was told I was doing something very basic in sauce-making wrong, I was shocked.

Enter my dear friend P., from the Merrimack Valley north of Boston whose family on both sides hails from Italy and Sicily.  Whose mother taught me how to check the doneness of long pasta by throwing it against kitchen cabinets.  (If it sticks, it’s done.  True story.)  According to his family, with whom I’ve spent numerous holidays and evenings, one simply cannot  just dump a can of puree into sautéed vegetables.  Canned puree is considered to be raw by his standards.

Wait, what?

Enter Red Sauce Base, or as I’ve come to refer to it, “Fancy Tomato Sauce.”  No muss, no fuss.  Just some oil, garlic, and minimal spices.  It’s an ingredient, not a final product.

This Base came up in a convo with P. when I asked him for an orzo recipe (that I’ll post in the next few days) that called for “red sauce base.”  I asked, “What, like marinara?”

No.  Not like marinara.  Oops.

So I started googling recipes for red sauce base. But an answer to red sauce base?  Nothing.  Not a thing came up.  Because what is it?  Basically just fancy puree.  Back to P. for another recipe… Which, once he explained it to me, I realized he and I had cooked together several times before.


As described in the directions, this is a super easy recipe.  Brown your garlic, throw in a dash of onion powder or a bit of finely minced onion, and pour in your sauce/puree and tomato paste.  Stir thoroughly to incorporate.  Add in salt, pepper, and sugar as needed.  Then comes my favorite new measure of any spice: go around the rim of the pot.

Now, I should mention here that I doubled this recipe (the tomato paste I bought came in two tablespoon servings).  So, necessarily, I doubled the the size of my pot from my typical saucepan up to a small dutch oven. I was instructed by P. to sprinkle my dried basil around the rim of the pot to get enough into the recipe.  Because family recipes are amazing like that.  But, as you might imagine, the diameter of your pot is really going to affect this.  So I measured out some basil in my hand so I had a sense of how much I was using and sprinkled it around the pot (hence the picture that I used as the lead photo for this recipe).  So yes, while I do feel a little guilty about hacking the traditional math on this, “around the rim” is still a pretty amazing way to measure out a spice.

This version of red sauce base is basil heavy, which means you’ll need to account for that when you use the base in your future recipes.  If you know your base is going to be used for, say, a pizza sauce, you might go with oregano as your lead spice.  Whatever works for what your intended final product would be.

Now that all of your ingredients are in your pot, bring to a low boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for thirty minutes (or longer–what you want here are the flavors of the garlic, onion, and spices to infuse throughout the sauce base).  When it’s done, it should have the consistency of Campbell’s Tomato Soup.  If you need to cook it uncovered for a while to remove some of the water (sauces/purées vary from brand-to-brand), go ahead.  Stir only as often as you want–this really can be left alone on the stove for a while. As long as your heat isn’t too high, it shouldn’t burn or stick.

img_3268So now that you have your base, what do you do with it? Anything you’d normally do with a
jar of tomato sauce/puree.  Keep some in the fridge to add to meatball subs.  Freeze it in 8-16 oz containers for quick additions to last-minute dinners (as you can see to the right, I prepped mine for the freezer it in 3-5 cup containers, as I plan to make some pretty industrial-sized pots of sauce over the next several weeks).  Add some oregano, spread it over English Muffins, add cheese, and pop on the toaster oven for quick mini pizzas.  It’s Fancy Tomato Sauce–get creative!

Stay tuned for a red faux-risotto recipe using this Red Sauce Base to post in the next few days.  Please leave me any questions you have in the comments!

4 thoughts on “Ingredient: Red Sauce Base

  1. Of course you would mention the English muffin pizza! They were a staple of my childhood as an after-school snack. I have not partaken of those in so many years! If only English muffins kept as well as the frozen base 😦


      1. I used to do that, but then I starting hearing conflicting reports (likely from some food hipsters, I don’t recall the source) that ice crystals destroy the bread or some nonsense. Perhaps I will try this again! (I keep my biscuit dough in the freezer, so why not?)


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