Classic Tomato Sauce, one of the five Mother Sauces of the classic French kitchen and the starting point for countless dishes. Classic Tomato Sauce, or Sauce de Tomate or Red Sauce is found across many cultures. It’s amazingly versatile, as the foundation of many great pasta, chicken, beef, lamb, vegetable, and egg dishes. Truth be told, the classics never go out of style!
In its French incarnation, modern Classic Tomato Sauce is made with four ingredients: Tomatoes, Onions, Garlic, Salt & Pepper. That’s it. Everything else is secondary. Mother Sauces are called Mother Sauces for a reason; each of them is the head of their own family of sauces. From Tomato Sauce we get Spanish Sauce, Portuguese Sauce, Provençal Sauce, Creole Sauce, and Bolognese.
Pro Tips for a Fresh Take on Tomato Sauce
This a rapid sauce, with a bit of pro-innovation, using fresh, ripe tomatoes. (Alternatively, you can use canned tomatoes. If they’re whole, just give them a good squish with your hands to break them down). It cooks in about 40 minutes flat, just enough time to reduce all those ripe tomato juices and make it cling to your pasta and relies heavily on technique. First, blanch your tomatoes.
If blanching is new to you, pop on over to this handy post: How to Blanche Tomatoes for a step-by-step guide. It’s a basic technique, useful for tomatoes and peaches or anything you’d like to just barely cook to reserve for later, like green and yellow beans. Blanching is a quick way to cook something while preserving peak freshness, crunch and flavour. It involves partially cooking something by plunging it into boiling water for a short time, then “shocking” it in ice water to stop the cooking.
Blanching will shock the skins right off tomatoes so they peel quickly and easily. Why don’t we just use the tomatoes, skin and all? Because the skins don’t cook as well and it will make your sauce orange. Red Sauce is Red, not orange.
Most recipes then call for you to chop your tomatoes, to a medium dice. Sure, that could work. But a better, faster method is to grate your tomatoes with a plain old cheese grater into a bowl. This will reduce your tomatoes into a fine pulp. The finer the pulp, the faster your tomato sauce will cook.
I love easy and this, is dead easy, with terrific results.
Know your Mother Sauces
Classic Tomato Sauce, part of our Mother Sauce Series. Learning your basic sauces will do three things for you in the kitchen; first, it will make the basic sauces (béchamel, velouté, Espagnole, hollandaise, and tomato) second nature. Whenever we become comfortable with a new skill we automatically gain confidence, and confidence is essential in the kitchen. And third, it will make meals faster, because you won’t have to look up a recipe. The minute you aren’t following someone else is the minute you find your own way in the kitchen to create on your own.
And that, my friend, is freedom. The basic sauces of French Cuisine are the foundation for thousands of recipes across dozens of Western cultures. Cook with confidence.
Classic Tomato Sauce, or Sauce de Tomate or Red Sauce is found across many cultures. It’s amazingly versatile, as the foundation of many great pasta, chicken, beef, lamb, vegetable and egg dishes. Truth be told, the classics never go out of style!
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped (about 1–1/2 cups)
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
12 ripe Roma or San Marzano tomatoes
OR 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes in puree
1 dried bay leaf
2 teaspoons fresh thyme OR 1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, crumbled OR 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Blanche tomatoes: Score each tomato on the bottom, marking a small ‘X’ on the bottom with a sharp paring knife. Bring a big pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Reduce heat slightly. Quickly slip tomatoes in, one by one being careful not to splash. Cook lightly, about 2 minutes depending on how ripe your tomatoes are. Remove from hot water with slotted spoon. Place immediately in waiting ice water bath. Skins will split and begin to slough off as they cool. Once cool enough to handle, remove skins and reserve skinless tomatoes in a bowl at room temperature.
Do your prep. Chop onion. Mince garlic. Grate tomatoes into a large bowl, one by one.
In a large pan, over medium-high heat add a thick slick of olive oil (about 3 tablespoons). When oil is hot, lightly sweat onion until just transparent, about 3 minutes. Season with salt & pepper and stir as needed.
Add garlic & bay leaf to the pan, stir, add more oil if needed. Sweat until garlic is soft, and bay leaf is fragrant. Onions and garlic should remain blond, without colour.
Add tomato pulp (or canned puree if using), stir to combine.
Add herbs: thyme, oregano and basil (fresh or dried) and stir to mix. Bring to simmer.
Reduce heat. Simmer, on medium low heat for 40 – 45 minutes or until tomato has turned from bright red to a deep, rich red and sauce has reduced to a thicker consistency. Watch for splatters. A splatter guard is a good investment for reduction sauces.
Season to taste with salt & pepper.
Use as a base for any recipe requiring tomato sauce; pasta, lasagna, lamb, beef, chicken or egg dishes. You can never go wrong with Classic Tomato Sauce.
Cooking in her home kitchen just outside Ottawa, Canada; Cori Horton is a food photographer and recipe blogger. A Cordon Bleu-trained Chef, Cori spent five years as the owner of Nova Scotia's Dragonfly Inn and has been sharing all things delicious - right here - since 2010.