A simple Italian tomato sugo recipe – this is an incredibly flavorful tomato or pomodoro sauce made with just a few ingredients and ready in about 30 minutes.
This Italian tomato sugo recipe is probably the simplest, best tomato sauce recipe ever. An authentic Italian tomato sauce made with a handful of ingredients, a sauce you will use for everything, not just for pasta.
What is sugo?
Sugo di pomodoro is a classic Italian tomato sauce or red sauce, the base of many traditional Italian pasta sauces like arrabbiata or amatriciana. It’s a simply perfect sauce made from high-quality tomatoes, onions, extra virgin olive oil, and fresh basil.
Before we get to the recipe, I would like to point out that an Italian sugo cooked in an Italian kitchen is always made with fresh, ripe tomatoes.
However, I don’t live in Italy (or anywhere warm where good tomatoes grow), and the probability of me getting hold of ripe sweet tomatoes that would make a good sugo is very low, even in the middle of summer.
That’s why I prefer a mixture of very high-quality passata di Pomodoro and canned chopped tomatoes, to which I add a pinch of sugar. And my sugo recipe is still excellent and full of flavor; you will love it.
Check out more tomato sauces: Easy Neapolitan Pizza Sauce (No-Cook) and Hearty Marinara Sauce (for Pizza, Pasta and Lasagna).
- A mixture of passata di Pomodoro and canned chopped tomatoes. OR fresh ripe, sweet, best-quality tomatoes.
- If using fresh tomatoes, it’s preferable to use garden tomatoes or from the farmer’s market. Make sure they are perfectly ripe, firm but not stony, deeply red, juicy, and not watery.
- If using canned tomatoes, ensure that you buy the best quality – it really makes a difference in this case. DOP San Marzano tomatoes are a great choice (DOP = Protected Destination of Origin). Don’t use a brand that has citric acid added (Amazon affiliate link).
- Extra-virgin olive oil – I use it for cooking the onion and finishing the dish.
- One small onion -very finely chopped. You can also add one small clove of garlic (garlic is always great), but my Italian source, who gave me this recipe, insists that garlic doesn’t belong in an authentic sugo.
- Basil: Always use fresh herbs for this recipe. You will need one sprig to cook in the sauce, and some more fresh basil leaves to add to the finished dish for extra flavor.
- Sugar: It cuts through the tomatoes’ acidity (especially if you used canned) and brings out the flavors. It will not make the sauce sweet in any way; the amount is minimal.
- Fine sea salt or Kosher salt, and ground black pepper.
How to make Italian tomato sugo?
- Tomatoes: If using fresh ones, remove their peel and chop them finely. If you have canned whole tomatoes, chop them finely.
- Sauté onion: Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Cook the finely chopped onion with a pinch of salt on medium-low heat for about 6 minutes until soft. Make sure it doesn’t get too brown; it should be golden and soft; if it browns too quickly, reduce the heat to very low. Stir often (1).
- Add passata, chopped tomatoes, ½ teaspoon fine sea salt, ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon granulated sugar, and one sprig of fresh basil (2).
- Bring to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes until the sugo is slightly thicker.
- Adjust the taste with more salt, pepper, and sugar if necessary. Remove the wilted basil sprig, stir in the chopped basil leaves and add a drizzle of olive oil.
Make sugo al arrabbiata
- Add 3 small dried chili peppers (very finely chopped) and 3 garlic cloves (grated) to the onions during the last 3 minutes of their cooking time. Add tomatoes and continue with the recipe.
Make sugo all’ amatriciana
- Sauté 5 oz (150 g) guanciale or pancetta in olive oil for about 3 minutes; add the chopped onion, about ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt. Cook until the onion is soft, 5-6 minutes. Add tomatoes and continue with the recipe.
- Don’t be tempted to add other ingredients to this tomato sugo recipe. You can, of course, and the sauce will probably be delicious, but if you want to go the authentic Italian way, stick with the recipe.
- Remove the peel of fresh tomatoes: Bring a large pot of water to boil. Score an X at the bottom of each tomato. Plunge them for about 30 seconds in the boiling water. Remove them with a slotted spoon, refresh them under cold water and remove the peel.
- Adding a little salt gradually at different stages of the cooking process will make the sauce extra delicious.
- Blend the sauce: You can blend it with an immersion blender to make it completely smooth if you wish. However, the chunkiness is minimal if the tomatoes are finely chopped; we love this texture.
The main difference is in the texture; sugo is a bit thicker and chunkier than marinara. Marinara also contains garlic, oregano, and maybe a bit of chili or other spices.
A ragu is made with meat.
You can, although traditional pizza sauce is not cooked (See Neapolitan Pizza Sauce).
Refrigerate sugo in tightly sealed jars for up to one week.
Freeze it in an airtight container for 3-4 months. Defrost in the fridge and reheat before serving.
Reheat in a small pan or microwave.
How to serve?
- Serve the homemade sauce with hot pasta and a simple green salad. You can top the pasta with Parmesan cheese.
- We also love it with cheesy polenta, grilled polenta slices, with boiled or Fried Gnocchi.
Check out the web story for this recipe: How to make Sugo Sauce
More delicious Italian recipes
Italian Tomato Sugo Recipe
- Large saucepan
- 1 bottle passata di Pomodoro 25 fl.oz/ 750 ml
- 1 can tomatoes chopped, 14 oz/ 400 g Notes 1,2,3
- 1 small onion finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil + extra for drizzling
- 1 teaspoon sugar more if necessary
- 2 sprigs fresh basil divided
- ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt or Kosher salt, more to taste
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper more to taste
- Tomatoes: If the tomatoes are fresh, peel and chop them finely. If the canned tomatoes are whole, chop them finely. Set them aside.
- Sauté: Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Cook 1 small finely chopped onion with a pinch of salt on medium-low heat for about 6 minutes until soft. It should get golden and not brown; if it colors too quickly, reduce the heat to very low. Stir often.
- Add passata, chopped tomatoes (or fresh chopped tomatoes), ½ teaspoon fine sea salt, ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon granulated sugar, and one sprig of fresh basil (left whole).
- Simmer: Cover the pot leaving a small crack open, bring the sauce to a simmer and cook slowly for 30 minutes until it is slightly thicker, occasionally stirring.
- Adjust the taste with more salt, pepper, and a little more sugar if necessary. Remove the cooked basil sprig. Stir in the chopped basil leaves and add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
- Optional: Blend the sugo until you reach the desired consistency; you can make it completely smooth (I never blend it all).
- Use high-quality passata and canned tomatoes. DOP San Marzano tomatoes would be perfect.
- If using fresh tomatoes, you will need about 2 ½ lbs (1200 g). Ensure that they are ripe and sweet; it’s preferable to use garden tomatoes or buy them at the farmer’s market.
- Remove the peel from fresh tomatoes before chopping them (See Expert Tips).