Recipes / Fast Tomato Sauce, with or Without Pasta

Fast Tomato Sauce, with or Without Pasta

By Mark Bittman

Published March 7, 2024

Here you have many choices, starting with the tomatoes. Canned are by far the most convenient, and they’re reliable all year long. Use whole if you want big chunks, diced for smaller pieces. In the summer, try fresh tomatoes for a real treat; the kind is less important than the ripeness—you want them downright squishy.

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
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I never peel or seed tomatoes anymore, which are both a pain and reduce flavor. To avoid tough skins—and eliminate the task of chopping—pulse them in a food processor until as coarse or puréed as you like. And then consider making extra sauce and freezing the leftovers. You can thaw it slowly in the fridge, faster in the microwave, or heat gently in a covered pan, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.


Make The Recipe!

Fast Tomato Sauce, with or Without Pasta

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Makes 4 servings 1x

Time 20 minutes

Units Scale


  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil or butter, plus more if needed
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 28ounce and one 14-ounce can whole or diced tomatoes; or 2 pounds fresh tomatoes (see the headnote)
  • 1 pound any dried pasta (optional)
  • Grated Parmesan cheese or Pecorino Romano for serving (optional)
  • Chopped fresh parsley or basil for garnish (optional)


  1. If you’re serving pasta with this sauce, bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Put the oil or butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot or the butter foams, add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil.
  2. Lower the heat to a gentle bubble. Cook, stirring and mashing the tomatoes occasionally with the back of the spoon, until they break down and the sauce comes together, 10 to 15 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings; keep warm. Or let cool, cover, and refrigerate for up to several days; reheat gently before serving.
  3. If you’re serving the pasta, cook it until tender but not mushy; start tasting after 5 minutes. When it’s done, drain it, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water. Reheat the sauce if necessary. Toss the pasta with the sauce, adding a little more oil or some of the pasta cooking water if it seems dry. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then toss with cheese and parsley if you’re using them.

— Recipe from How to Cook Everything

Recipe variations

Garlicky Tomato Sauce

Omit the onion. Using the flat side of a large knife, lightly smash 2 to 10 (or even more) cloves garlic and cook them in the oil or butter as described in Step 1. Proceed with the recipe. Garnish with parsley or basil.