Don't settle for the jar when fresh sauce can be so quick and easy.

I love pasta with red sauce. A slow-simmered Sunday gravy, thick with meat, or a light marinara, or spicy arrabiata, with any shape of noodle, and I’m a happy girl. But in the summer, what I really crave is a barely cooked, five-minute fresh tomato sauce that takes advantage of the sun-ripened tomatoes and lush basil that are overrunning everyone’s garden and farmers’ market.

Fresh tomato sauce in the summer has the added benefit of coming together quickly, in less time than it takes to cook the noodles, so you don’t overheat your kitchen. Being super simple, it’s a great dish to teach your kids, or for people who think they aren’t great cooks. And it only has five ingredients.

mr-Fresh Tomato Sauce image
Credit: Kelsey Hansen; Food Styling: Margaret Dickey and Ivy Odom; Prop Styling: Audrey Davis

Get the recipe: Fresh Tomato Sauce

Having said that, you can riff on this however you like, adding vegetables, spices, different herbs. Once you have the technique down, experiment as much as you like!  You will note that there is no garlic in this recipe. I think for a sauce that cooks this quickly, fresh garlic doesn’t cook long enough to mellow and can be a bit harsh or overwhelming. But that is my personal preference, so if you are a garlic lover, feel free to add it! Or a swirl of garlic oil at the end can add the flavor in a more subtle way.

Here’s how to make fresh tomato sauce:

Prep the tomatoes

This dish is a little different in that the tomatoes are grated instead of chopped. Since they won’t cook long, you want them really broken down before you start. This is also useful since really fresh summer tomatoes are soft, so they can be hard to chop, and has the added benefit of easily eliminating the skin.

Credit: Stacey Ballis

Stacey Ballis

To grate your tomatoes, slice the tops off to give you a flat surface and remove the core. Using the largest size of hole on your box grater set into a large bowl, carefully grate the tomatoes starting on the cut flat side, keeping your hand flat. Grate until you are left with the skin behind. You want about one large or two small tomatoes per quarter pound of pasta.

Credit: Stacey Ballis

Stacey Ballis

Credit: Stacey Ballis

Stacey Ballis

Prep the onion

Onion is the other major flavor in a fresh sauce like this, and it can be any type of onion you have on hand. Scallion, leek, spring onion, or shallot all work fine in this dish, as will regular white, red, or yellow onions. If you want fewer things to clean or prefer a smoother sauce, feel free to grate it into a separate bowl from the tomatoes. If you want a little more texture in your sauce dice it finely. About a quarter of an onion per two tomatoes.

Prep the herbs

Fresh basil is a natural choice for this sauce, but parsley, marjoram, oregano and even mint work well too. Wash the fresh leaves in cold water, then pluck off the stems. For small leaves, leave them whole. For large leaves, chop coarsely. About 1 tablespoon per two servings of pasta.

Get the recipe: Marinara Magnifica

Cook it

Cook the pasta according to package directions in well-salted water to al dente. While the pasta is cooking, place a pan large enough to contain the sauce and the pasta. Add a splash of olive oil and a nugget of butter. Butter and tomatoes are good pals and will smooth out the sauce. Heat the pan over medium high heat until the butter is melted, then add the onion. You don’t want it to caramelize here. Just make the onion tender and translucent, a couple of minutes will do it. Then add the grated tomato. Stir frequently while the water in the tomatoes boils away which will intensify the tomato flavor.

Credit: Stacey Ballis

Stacey Ballis

After about five minutes of cooking, taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste, and red pepper flakes if you want a bit of heat. Add your cooked pasta and toss to combine. Stir in your herbs, and serve with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil on top and grated parmesan cheese on the side.

Credit: Stacey Ballis

Stacey Ballis