Amazing Pizza and Pasta Sauce

January 08, 2013

While I've never done a blind tasting, my guess is that 10 out of 10 people would be able to tell the difference between jarred pasta sauce and homemade pasta sauce....and prefer the latter.

Awesome Pizza and Pasta Sauce
Awesome Pizza and Pasta Sauce
This is one of those recipes I've been tinkering with for quite some time - and I doubt that I'm done.  For now, this is one awesome marinara sauce to go on pizzas, pasta, polenta and even pancakes.  OK, I'm kidding about the pancakes.

About the Tomatoes

If you're fortunate to have fresh tomatoes, this is a great recipe for you.  In Chicago, tomato season lasts about 3 weeks, so I use canned tomatoes (which are now available in cans without the BPA-laden liner).  In this case, it's a mix of crushed tomatoes and whole peeled tomatoes (go with San Marzano Tomatoes if you feel like being a big spender).  Whatever you do, don't get any tomatoes that are already seasoned.  Some unfortunately will contain basil, oregano and an unnecessary amount of sodium.  You're in control of the seasoning, not them.  

I'm also using a can of tomato paste here.  I found that without it, the sauce tended to be watery.  This is rather undesirable for pizza and can make the crust soggy while cooking.  The addition of the paste not only helps thicken the sauce, but gives it an even more robust tomato flavor.

Other Ingredients

For other ingredients, I like fennel seed.  Toast them ahead of time to really open up their flavor and give an added earthiness to the sauce.  It also helps make your dish pork-friendly.  Any sort of canadian bacon, ham, sausage or pepperoni will go great with the fennel in the sauce.  If you want to give it a more traditional pasta sauce flavor, add the Italian Seasoning Mix.  If you have some on your shelf, make sure it's no more than 6 months old or it's going to be bitter and ruin the sauce.  I like to buy small amounts from the bulk section at Whole Foods and write on the lid when to toss it out.


This recipe is definitely built for scale and the quantities below will get you through several meals.  Because of the time involved I like to make a large batch and freeze the rest.  If you have a super large stockpot, feel free to dial it up even more.

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Pizza and Pasta Sauce Recipe
An amazing tomato (marinara) sauce for pizza, pasta, polenta and more...
Prep time: Cook time: Total time:
  • 4 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 2 Large White Onions
  • 8 Cloves Garlic
  • 2 Tablespoons Sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Fennel Seed
  • 1 Tablespoon Italian Seasoning Mix (optional)
  • 1 6oz can Tomato Paste
  • 2 Tablespoons Fresh Basil
  • 2 28oz cans Crushed Tomatoes
  • 1 28oz can Whole Peeled Tomatoes
  1. Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the garlic first and give it about 30 seconds alone in the oil. If you slice it paper thin, like Paulie Cicero in Goodfellas, it will supposedly melt into the pan. I've never had that happen, but it does give off more flavor than simply crushing. Be careful not to let it burn!
  2. Add your onion and continue to cook for about 10 minutes to soften the onion and allow them to turn translucent
  3. Add the sugar, fennel seed and seasoning mix. Stir this in well and give it 2-3 minutes to work into the onion and garlic
  4. Carefully pour in the whole peeled tomatoes (don't drain them) and the crushed tomatoes. To help the tomato paste mix in better, you can heat up 1/2 cup of the crushed tomatoes and stir in the paste to thin it out. Add this to the pot as well along with 1 tablespoon of the basil
  5. Optional: a splash of vodka at this point is supposed to open up the flavors even more. I've never tried this recipe blindly with and without the booze to know if it really makes a difference...but there are plenty that swear by vodka pasta sauce
  6. Bring this to a boil and then simmer for the next 30 minutes. The longer the better. Add the remaining basil just prior to plating.


  1. I've been looking for a new go-to pizza sauce. This sound mouthwatering! Thanks for the recipe!

    1. No problem! Hope it works out for you!

  2. I really, really need a new go-to sauce myself. I can't even handle eating the jarred stuff anymore. If I have to - I use Newman's because it's natural.. but still! This looks great, and thanks for sharing your recipe!

    1. Hi Rachael - Glad to hear this is filling a void with you as well.

  3. Found you through GYB hop... I started my blog for the same reasons... love to cook and love photography. Your pictures make your recipes mouth watering. I am now following you through bloglovin. I would like to invite you to our Foodie Friends Friday Linky Party. It starts this evening and ends Sunday morning. Always great fun.

  4. How many ounces are the cans of the tomatoes, crushed tomatoes and tomato paste?

    1. Great catch, Anon, quantities have been updated.

  5. Sounds like a great recipe! Thank you for stopping by my blog from the 3Jan GYB blog hop ;)

  6. I'm pinning your sauce recipe... I can make the dough but trying to find a recipe for homemade sauce - I'll give it a try!!

    1. Hi Deb - Thanks for stopping by and pinning the sauce. I see the dough recipe you referenced ( and it looks great. Going to pin that one myself to try later.

  7. Dont kid about the pancakes. I will eat them with anything. This looks like a really good sauce. What an interesting addition of the fennel seeds. I bet they take the sauce to a whole other level.

    1. Hey Bintu - The fennel is definitely a little different. A nearby Italian restaurant had a really tasty pasta sauce and I asked what their secret was...the chef told me about using toasted fennel, golden raisins and dark rum (instead of vodka) all to bring out sweetness of the tomatoes and better pair to Italian sausage. So I'm trying little tweaks like this to see what I like as well.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  8. I am really enjoying your blog. Not only do you have great recipes, you are well organized and so versed, so to speak. Can you blog about what the main difference is between pizza sauce, basic tomato sauce, marinara and spaghetti? It is hard to determine what is what and when to use; varies on if you cook the tomatoes, add the herbs or not, but who doesn't add some kind of herb to tomatoes? The net has conflicting info. I know to a large degree it comes down to personal taste/preference. But, through your findings, do you have a cut and dry way to categorize all of it? Sauces 101. Thank you!