Once you taste this naturally sweet, homemade San Marzano pasta sauce, you'll never use another type of tomato for your Italian dishes. These tomatoes are slightly sweeter than conventional grocery store tomatoes, so there's no reason to add a sugar to the sauce. But don't be fooled by copycat San Marzano tomatoes. Read on to tell how to get the real deal to make the best fresh pasta sauce.
You're gonna want to make a big batch of this pasta sauce and freeze it for later! This semi-chunky, meatless, Pomodoro sauce is simply a tomato-based sauce with minimal ingredients, allowing the full flavor of the San Marzano tomato to shine! Use this fresh, from-scratch sauce on spaghetti, rigatoni, linguine or in a hearty lasagne with meat sauce or on a pizza!
What is a San Marzano Tomato?
Authentic San Marzano tomatoes make the best pasta sauce, or "red gravy" as Italians call it. These delicious Italian tomatoes are grown in the volcanic grounds of Campania near the Mount Vesuvius, and offer a very distinct and rich flavor.
Their elongated shape resembles what Americans know as “plum” tomatoes, but don't be fooled...the flavor of a San Marzano tomato is undeniably distinct and sweeter than a plum, vine-ripened or heirloom tomato! San Marzano tomatoes have fewer seeds and are less acidic than conventional plum tomatoes. The lower acid content contributes to their natural sweetness.
How to Identify Authentic Italian San Marzano Tomatoes
In American grocery stores, there are several brands that label their tomatoes as San Marzano on the front, but the ingredient list labels them as “San Marzano style tomatoes”. Tomatoes labeled as such are not true San Marzanos. It’s like buying a knock-off Louis Vuitton bag…it’s not the real deal. I can usually find Delallo Imported San Marzano Whole Peeled Tomatoes, Cans, 28 oz on the very bottom shelf at the grocery store.
In Italy, there are strict labeling rules regarding San Marzanos. The label must include the DOP, (the Italian protected designation of origin), which entails strict requirements for the growth and production of these red beauties.
A true San Marzano tomato brand will include the:
- DOP on the front and a round seal with a series of production numbers underneath. The front label might read something like, “San Marzano Tomato of Agro Sarnese-Nocerino area D.O.P” or “Pomodoro S. Marzano dell ’Agro Sarnese-Nocerino D.O.P.”
- The label will also indicate the product is produced and packed in Italy
- Look for a statement of certification (in Italian).
The texture of this sauce is somewhat smooth, but not silky smooth. I use canned, crushed or whole-peeled tomatoes; if all I can find is whole-peeled, I pulse them in the food processor for a minute. As one might expect, these Italian tomatoes cost more than the “San Marzano style” but the difference in taste is definitely worth the cost.
Cookware for San Marzano Tomatoes
Even though San Marzano tomatoes are less acidic than other varieties, they still contain acid therefore, you want to use an aluminum or ceramic stockpot for the San Marzano Pasta Sauce. As with all tomatoes, avoid using a cast-iron skillet to cook tomatoes as the acids conflict with the elements of the cookware and cast off a weird, metal flavor.
How to Make San Marzano Pasta Sauce
This homemade red pasta sauce requires only a few ingredients. The texture of this recipe leans more toward a semi-chunky Pomodoro sauce, rather than a sily-smooth Marinara sauce. The secret to a full-flavored sauce is to bring it to a boil, then let it cook on low for at least 30 minutes. For best results, cook the sauce for 50 minutes.
- In a large stockpot, heat oil on medium; add chopped onions; cook 5 minutes
- Add chopped garlic; cook 5 minutes
- Add crushed San Marzano tomatoes, tomato paste, beef broth, dried Italian seasonings, nutmeg and crushed red peppers (optional) to stockpot
- Bring to boil for 3 minutes; reduce heat to medium-low and allow to cook for at least 30 minutes
- Taste for salt and pepper; adjust seasonings and serve
Make Ahead or Freeze for Later/How to Reheat
You can make San Marzano pasta sauce in advance and freeze it in a properly secured freezer-container for up to 6 months, if not longer. If you want to refrigerate leftover sauce, it will safely keep at 40ºF for 7-10 days.
When reheating, pour pasta sauce in a saucepan and heat on low; you may have to add a little water as the tomatoes thicken when stored in the fridge or freezer.
San Marzano Pasta Sauce
- 2 28-oz. cans San Marzano Italian Tomatoes whole or diced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil good quality
- 1 6-oz. can tomato paste
- 1 15-oz. can beef broth
- 1 cup onion finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg ground
- 2 tablespoons Italian herbs dried - OR -
- ¼ teaspoon of each: parsley, thyme, oregano, rosemary, sage and marjoram SEE RECIPE NOTES: Herbs
- ½ teaspoon salt -or to taste
- ½ teaspoon pepper -or to taste
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper optional
- In a large stockpot on medium temperature, add oil and chopped onion; saute 5 minutes or until onions are translucent; then add garlic; combine and cook for 2 minutes
- If using whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes, pulse them in food processor (1-2 minutes) and add to onion mixture; if using crushed tomatoes, just add them to the onion mixture
- Add tomato paste, beef broth, Italian seasonings, nutmeg and red pepper flakes; NOTE: if using fresh italian herbs, don't add them now; we'll add them at the end
- Bring sauce to boil for 5 minutes and stir; reduce heat to low
- Allow sauce to simmer for at least 30 minutes; (for best results, allow to cook on low for 50 minutes); taste and season with salt and pepper;
- If using fresh herbs, add them now and allow to cook for 5 minutes
- Serve over warm pasta or refrigerate up to 5 days
- San Marzano tomatoes are so mild and flavorful, you could really do without any herbs if you prefer.
- Do not cook tomatoes in a cast iron skillet; the acidity interferes with the iron and gives off an unpleasant flavor.
- The ratio of fresh to dried herbs is 3:1. If using fresh herbs, use 3 tablespoons and add them in the last 5 minutes of simmering (after you've tasted and adjusted for salt and pepper.)