Recipe for Marta’s Simple Tomato Sauce

Looking for an easy, timeless, and delicious Tuscan tomato sauce recipe? Look no further.

Tuscany is synonymous with great food. And I’ve been fortunate to have taken a variety of cooking classes there — from hanging out in the kitchen of a Michelin-star chef, to joining Mamma Laura in her home kitchen, to hand-rolling pasta at my favorite agriturismo.

I’ve brought home several of these recipes, but my favorite culinary souvenir is  this simple tomato sauce. My wife and I joined Chef Marta (the daughter of Mamma Laura) in her restaurant kitchen, where she taught us how to make the best tomato sauce I’ve ever tasted. This versatile, explosively flavorful sauce — which is fantastic with all kinds of pasta, or can elevate just about any dish — immediately became a go-to recipe for my extended family. We call it “Marta’s simple tomato sauce.” (That’s “simple” in the best possible sense: easy, unfussy, and delicious.)



Ample extra virgin olive oil, 6 cloves garlic, 2 large cans of whole peeled tomatoes (San Marzano are best; in season you can use fresh cherry or Roma tomatoes); a bit of water as needed; salt, sugar, and red pepper flakes to taste. Serves about 8; the sauce freezes very well. (We usually eat half right away, and stick the rest in our freezer for later.)



Use a pan with as big a surface area as possible. Pour in lots and lots of olive oil (about 1/2″ in the bottom of the pan). Don’t be shy…when you think you’ve used too much oil, add some more.

Drop in the garlic and heat it at high temperature until oil begins to bubble, then turn to low. Add the tomatoes, a small handful of salt, a pinch or two of sugar, and red pepper flakes to taste.

Turn the heat back to high, allowing it to sizzle and bubble, and cover it to reduce spattering. (There will be spattering.) Boil for about 10-15 minutes, until it gets “creamy” around the edges. Stir frequently, and have fun crushing the tomatoes with a big wooden spoon. (If using fresh tomatoes, cook for 30 minutes.) If it’s thicker than you’d like, you can add some water partway through the simmer (a half-cup to a cup).

When it’s done cooking, remove the three biggest garlic cloves and puree the sauce with a hand mixer (or transfer to a food processor or blender).



For lots more on Italy’s heartland, check out my series with 12 Tips on How to Experience the Best of Tuscany.

8 Replies to “Recipe for Marta’s Simple Tomato Sauce”

  1. a small handful of salt? not in canned tomatoes….fresh, yes. better yet, salt to taste…. and rinse the cans out with red wine.

    1. Depends on how salty your palate is. But many Italians have told me that the secret to great cooking is NOT going light on the salt…and through my own experimenting, I agree. Here’s another tip: One great Italian chef confided in me that most people under-salt the water in which they boil their pasta. Her secret: You wait for the water to boil, then pour in tons of salt. “It should be as salty as soup.” Then you throw in the pasta. You’ll taste the difference.

  2. I have been cooking this recipe for a long time. Recipe was courtesy of a former coworker’s gramma from Arezzo. She uses lots of garlic and instead of sugar, she told me use 2 tbsp of grape jelly( secret ingredient ) and don’t forget a handful of hand torn fresh basil.
    I will always remember fondly the gramma asking me if I was really Filipino when I mopped the last drop of sauce on my plate during dinner I was invited many years ago, with a big smile on her face.

  3. I picked a bunch of our tomatoes last night and turned them into sauce this afternoon. Absolutely delicious. Fresh, bright, lightly spicy and very easy to make. Used a palmful of salt and just a couple tsp of sugar. Already dreaming of making eggplant parmigiana with eggplant from my daughter’s garden. Great sauce recipe. Thanks.

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