Workhorse Pantry Tomato Sauce


It’s winter in the northern hemisphere and you want tomato sauce. What to do?


Nothing beats tomato sauce made with summer vine-ripened fresh tomatoes. But when it’s off season; you don’t have a garden; or live in a cold summer climate (San Francisco summers are foggy and cold, and tomatoes rarely ripen), your pantry is your best friend.

Really, truly, definitely don’t bother making a tomato sauce with supermarket winter tomatoes. It just won’t be the same as using summer, vine-ripened tomatoes. “Fresh” supermarket tomatoes taste like cardboard. Cooked aren’t much better. Roasted… maybe. But you can make a good tasting, workhorse tomato sauce from your pantry. Once made, here are a handful of ideas for how to use it:

  • Pasta (obviously!)
  • Chicken cutlets
  • Meatballs and other meats
  • Salmon and meaty white fish
  • Base for braising cabbage rolls
  • Pizza sauce



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Workhorse Pantry Tomato Sauce

  • Servings: Makes 4-cups
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher (not table) salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 28-ounce (or 2, 14.5 ounce) can diced or whole San Marzano or plum tomatoes, skins removed in natural tomato juices
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon fresh oregano, finely minced (or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano)


  1. Heat a large (3-4 quart) sauce pan to medium. Add in the olive oil and heat until it shimmers
  2. Add in the diced onion and salt and cook until the onions are translucent, but not brown
  3. Add in the garlic, and tomato paste. Cook for 2 minutes to deepen the tomato paste flavor
  4. Transfer the onion, garlic and tomato paste to a blender or food processor. If you have a hand held (immersion) blender you can use the sauce pan you’ve started in. If you don’t have any of this equipment, no worries! Just super finely mince the canned diced or whole tomatoes (while keeping the juice from the can.) and add the tomatoes to the sauce pan
  5. If you do have a blender or food processor, add the canned tomatoes and oregano and blend/process until you get the consistency that you like (just like peanut butter, your tomato sauce can be smooth or chunky, your choice!). If you have a handheld blender, just blend the tomatoes directly in the pot
  6. Return the processed tomato sauce to your sauce pan and bring to a soft boil. Use a splatter guard if you have one, or partially cover with a lid, letting steam escape
  7. Reduce until you reach the consistency/thickness you prefer (for me, that’s about 20 minutes at a medium heat and a hard simmer)


Pictured: Turkey meatball bathed in tomato sauce (meatball version of my Herb Ricotta Turkey Burgers)

Author: gregnelsoncooks

Visit weekly for original and adapted recipes as well as cooking tips to make your kitchen life easier — and more delicious! I’ll include simple, straight forward instructions along with recipes that are truly worth your time making. And, recipes that elevate the familiar and introduce you to the new and unexpected.

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