One recipe, 5 sauces.

In the culinary world, tomato sauce is one of the five mother sauces. With a few variations on a basic, easy, recipe, you can create several types of sauces. Read on to find out how I make homemade pasta sauce, pizza sauce, ketchup, and BBQ sauce. These sauces are made the same way. They vary only in the selection of spices and additional ingredients.

Why would you want to do this? Well, because nothing beats the flavor of a homemade sauce. It's also a great way to use up a bumper crop of tomatoes from your garden. Or maybe you scored a large bounty of tomatoes from a friend or the farmer's market.

What you need

Before we begin, gather the things you will need;


You will obviously need lots of tomatoes. About three or more dozen large to medium sized. As for the type; go for a medium fleshy variety such as San Marzano or Roma. I grow Early Girl tomatoes in my garden and find them to be good for making sauce. I also have mixed in yellow heirloom varieties for natural sweetness.

The basic recipe also needs onions and garlic. One large onion will be OK for a 3 quart pot. Use about 1 to 2 cloves of garlic per quart of pot size. Add to that a few tablespoons of butter or olive oil.

There are other specific ingredients depending on the type of sauce you are making. I'll cover them in the specific instructions for each sauce.

Prepare your tomatoes.

Time to setup a production line to prepare your tomatoes. You can do this all yourself. But, things run smoother if you can recruit a friend or draft a family member. First, fill one of your bowels with very cold water. Place this bowel in the sink if possible. You will be dropping hot tomatoes into this bowel and it is easier to keep it cold if it is under running water. Next, fill your 3 quart pot half full and bring it to a slow boil. While you are waiting for the pot to boil, place the colander in the sink. If there is no room in the sink, place it in another bowel on the counter. You will need to have another small bowel to hold the discarded skins of the tomatoes. Set this up so that you start at the boiling pot, move to the cold bowl, then to the colander.

Now begin. Grab a tomato and, using a medium knife, cut an X across the blossom end of the tomato. Drop it into the boiling water for about 15 seconds or so. If you are fast, you can X three or four tomatoes and toss them in the pan. Using the slotted spoon, scoop the tomatoes out of the pot and drop them into the cold water. Leave them there for several minutes. When you take them out, the skin should be loose and ready to fall off. Simply use the knife to slice the tomato in half from the bottom to the top. Remove the stem. The skin should just peel off. Drop the two tomato halves into the colander. Discard the skin and the stem.

Small cherry tomatoes are done a bit differently. Dump them into the boiling water, then scoop them into the cold water. Then pick up a tomato and stab the blossom end. Aim the blossom end at the sink and squeeze. What will come out first are the seeds. Then aim the tomato at the colander and squeeze harder. The skin should split and the inside of the tomato will plop out.

Keep doing this until you have skinned and halved all your tomatoes.

Start cooking

With all the tomatoes prepared, dump the water out of the pot and turn the heat down to medium-low. Place the prepared tomato halves in the pot. It should be very full. Add four crushed garlic cloves to the pot. Skin and quarter the onion and throw the parts into the pot. Add a tablespoon of butter or Olive oil to the pot. At this point you just let the pot simmer for about three hours. Stir occasionally. After the first hour, use the slotted spoon or potato masher to crush the tomatoes.

After two hours the tomatoes should be cooked down to resemble sauce. But it will still be chunky. To make a smoother sauce, transfer to a blender or food processor and process for about a minute. Return to the pot and keep simmering. Place a lid on the pot if the sauce starts to thicken to quickly. You may want to add a teaspoon of salt to suit your taste.


Spaghetti sauce

Begin with the basic recipe as given above. One hour before the sauce is finished simmering add: 2 tablespoons parsley flakes, 2 tablespoons oregano leaves, 2 tablespoons basil leaves. Use less if you use fresh herbs. You can cheat and just add 5 tablespoons of ready made Italian spice mix. Optionally, you can add 16 Oz of diced mushrooms or 1 cup dry red wine. Adding in the red wine will require that the sauce is simmered longer to establish the right thickness. These measurements assume that you started with a 3 quart pot that was brim full of tomatoes. Adjust lower or higher depending on how many tomatoes you started with, and your taste.

Pizza sauce

Make this the same as the spaghetti sauce except double the amount of garlic and simmer down to a thicker consistency.


Start with the basic sauce recipe but, add 1 cup. or so, of apple cider vinegar. Use more or less depending on how astringent you want your ketchup. Add one cup of white sugar for sweetness. Other sweeteners that work well and lend a nice flavor note are peach, apricot, or pinecot (pineapple and apricot) preserves. You can reduce the amount of added sweeteners if you have yellow tomatoes in the sauce.

To make the ketchup smooth you need to simmer for the last (3rd) hour with the lid on. The sauce should be smooth but runny. At this point drag a wire mesh strainer through the sauce. Hold it over (down in) the pot and shake vigorously. You can also tap the strainer against the inside of the pot side. It shouldn't take long for the liquid to separate out and fall back into the pot. Dispose of the seeds and dross in the strainer. Repeat this until the amount of dross becomes significantly reduced. At this point you can leave the lid off the pot and simmer the ketchup down to the desired consistency.

Hot sauce

Make this like the ketchup but, at the beginning, add 4 to 12 hot peppers to the pot, depending on how hot you like it. Prepare these peppers by removing the stems and slicing lengthwise. Keep the seeds and strands in the peppers if you want it really hot. Use different types of peppers for varied flavors.

BBQ sauce

Make this like ketchup but use brown sugar or molasses for the sweetener, although the fruit preserves also work well. Use less vinegar to allow the sweet and hot flavors rule. Add several chili peppers for hotness. If you don't have peppers, you can use chili powder or Tabasco sauce instead.

Shortcut method

OK, so cooking down a pot of tomatoes isn't for everyone. Sometimes you just need to make a sauce real quick. In that case, use a 24 oz can or two of crushed tomatoes. Process the other ingredients in a food processor and stir them into the can of tomatoes. Yes, make the sauce right in the can. I have been known to make pasta and pizza sauce this way.


You should end up with about 3 to 6 pints of sauce. You can can it for long term storage if you like. For small batches like this I just pour it into clean jars and store it in the coldest part of the fridge.

Notice that I didn't really give you a recipe. I want you to use this as a general guide and a starting point. Experiment and try different things, make a truly personal tomato sauce. Then when you share it with your friends and they ask: "Where did you buy this?" You can reply "This can't be bought. I made it myself."

Bon appetit!