Basic Italian Tomato Sauce

Makes 3 Cups; Enough for 1 Pound of Pasta
I suppose my family would say that this sauce, doused over pasta of any kind, is our most basic comfort food; we probably cook and serve it more often than anything else in this book. Any time a tomato sauce is called for, this is the one I use. I add fresh basil if I have it on hand, and butter, swirled in at the end, if I want an extra-unctuous batch of sauce.


  • 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 28-ounce can best-quality tomatoes, pulsed in a blender
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 sprig of fresh basil (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter (optional)


  1. Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Swirl around the olive oil to coat the pan, and when the oil is hot, add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Stir constantly for 30 seconds, just long enough to release the garlic’s fragrance and transform it slightly from its raw state. Don’t cook it to golden.
  2. Raise the heat to high and stir in the tomatoes and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. In the last 5 minutes of cooking, add the basil sprig, if using. Remove the basil before serving and swirl in the butter, if using.
cook's note
Fried Pasta: The day after a meal of spaghetti tossed with tomato sauce, we fry the pasta into a crispy heap for an unusual meal! It works well with any leftover pasta. Heat a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium high, then add olive oil to coat the pan. Fill with leftover pasta and fry untouched to form a golden crust on the bottom. Turn the pasta to heat through and serve with grated cheese.
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