Simple authentic Italian tomato sauce (sugo di pomodoro)

cooking class in Rome make marinara sauce

In Italy we have some of the best tomatoes in the world and canning tomatoes during peak production has been a long standing Italian tradition. Growing up, I spent one week every August canning 200 kg (400 lb) of tomatoes with my parents for the winter.

If you don’t have a vegetable garden, excellent organic canned tomatoes are available year long in most supermarkets. However, if you are unsure how to select a good product, follow these simple tips :

  1. Check the ingredients list: there should be no sugar added. Inferior quality tomatoes are sweetened to mask their unpleasant acidity and lack of flavor.
  2. Texture: no matter if puree, diced or simply peeled, canned tomatoes should be suspended in a thick, almost creamy juice like in the photo below. This way you can cook them for the briefest time to keep a fresh taste or can even use them on pizza without cooking them first.
  3. Flavors: to make a proper tomato sauce, don’t buy canned tomatoes added with herbs or other condiments. Again, added ingredients often mask poor quality tomato and often taste stale. Add herbs and seasoning yourself so you can control the quality.


thick and sweet with no sugar added
a good tomato product: thick and sweet with no sugar added

Once you have your perfect tin of tomato and your best extra virgin olive oil you can prepare a lovely tomato sauce and enjoy it with your favorite pasta. Note that in Italy we name this “sugo di pomodoro” and not “marinara”.

Photo credits Pratik Gupta on Unsplash



  • One 400 gr./12 ounces can diced/crushed canned tomato
  • 2 tablespoon white wine
  • 1 small onion, diced small
  • optional: 2 tablespoon fresh, flat leaf parsley, very finely chopped or a handful of basil leaves
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 300 gr. (10.0z) spaghetti, penne or other short pasta


In a pan large enough to hold all the pasta, combine the olive oil and the onion in a shallow pan over low heat. Cover cook until soft and slightly caramelized. Increase the heat and, when the onion is sizzling, add the white wine and reduce quickly. Lower the heat again, stir in the diced tomato, cover and cook for approx. 10 min until slightly thick.

Cook the pasta al dente according to package instructions. Strain, transfer into the sauce, add in the fresh herbs if using, stir quickly to incorporate. Serve immediately topped with with grated cheese and a drizzle of your best extra virgin olive oil.

You can substitute the onion with garlic as in the fresh tomato sauce. You can also use onion and garlic together if you want a sweeter sauce. In the winter, my mother occasionally made tomato sauce with onion and butter instead of olive oil. Just like the lovely Marcella Hazan, but not so famous. I miss you mum, you were our superstar.

Serves 2-3.

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