Getting sauced

Tomato sauce's wondrous adaptability

Indispensable Tomato Sauce

Knowing how to make a simple tomato sauce is crucial for  one’s pasta recipe repertoire. I personally will go out of my way to make a huge batch of pasta (especially the eggplant recipe below) just so I can eat it cold for a few days (I hope I am not alone when I say cold pasta is one of my favourite things to eat). The basic recipe is a perfect standalone with any pasta, but is incredibly versatile and, most importantly, satisfying.


Olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely or grated

One large can of tomatoes (whole, diced, or crushed), or one large bottle of passata (blended Italian tomatoes)


In a large pot, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat for a minute or two

Add the onion, and sweat (that is, cook slowly, without browning) for about five minutes

Add the garlic to the onion and cook for 30 seconds only

Add the tomatoes (if whole, crush them to a pulp with your hands, one at a time, before adding), and then add about half a can’s worth of water

Bring to a boil and then cook for at least fifteen minutes over low heat, adding more water if it seems to be getting excessively thick


Enough for most standard recipes.


  • Eggplant sauce: This is one of my favourite sauces to go with pastas like spaghetti. Dice half of a medium eggplant and cook with the onions in plenty of olive oil (about a quarter cup). Extend this frying time until the eggplant is soft and turning golden. Continue with the rest of the recipe normally.
  • Bolognese: before cooking the onions, brown about 500g of ground beef. Drain some of the fat, remove to a plate, and then cook the onion as per usual. Add the beef back after adding the garlic. Extend the cooking time of the sauce to about half an hour and add a bay leaf or two. If you can, use red wine instead of water.
  • Meatless Bolognese, courtesy of my roommate: After you have added the tomato, add a full can of water instead of half and then add either a cup of quinoa, a grated or finely chopped block of tofu, or a mixture of the two. This works well with canned lentils, chickpeas, or cannellini beans.

Other Suggestions:

  • Add any of the following after the onions cook for a while: big chunks of red pepper, sliced chillies, red pepper flakes, mushrooms, bacon (pancetta or prosciutto would be even better), sausage, chicken, or a can of tomato paste (for extra richness).
  • Add any of the following in the last five minutes of cooking: olives, tuna, mussels (cook until they all open, which may be up to ten minutes, and do not eat any unopened ones), artichokes, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, capers, fresh basil or parsley, roasted garlic, cooked meatballs, grilled vegetables, sautéed prawns or shrimp, chunks of white fish (cook for about ten minutes) or ¼ cup of cream with a few glugs of vodka or wine.