As of late, I have found myself incredibly interested in perfecting a red sauce recipe.

While I don't have the recipe in front of me, I know most of what I put in it off the top of my head. I would like to know if anyone has some tasty additions I could try, or substitutions I should make. Really, I am looking for any advice at all that would help me improve the taste of my sauce. Please note that I am going for a "lighter" tasting sauce, if that makes any sense at all.

The ingredients are the following ones, as far as I remember:

  • 3 tbsp Extra Virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic (mashed)
  • 1/4 cup white onion (chopped)
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 4 tsp thyme
  • 2 tsp basil
  • 2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup white whine
  • 1 can crushed red tomatoes

** And possibly some others I can't remember right now.

I would love to hear any of your tips!

  • Try and simplify it a bit. Choose one herb and highlight it (like 1 - 2Tbsp. of marjoram or thyme). A tomato sauce should taste like tomato, first and foremost. Add the other herbs and spices to complement the entire dish. – jeffwllms Aug 9 '11 at 14:07
  • What can I add to X questions are not considered constructive unless there's a specific goal beyond "improve" (which means different things to different people). Please follow the above link for examples. – Aaronut Aug 13 '11 at 14:07

This question might get closed, but I'll toss my 2 cents in. I think you're going about it the wrong way. Instead of trying to perfect an involved recipe for a single sauce, I would suggest you strive to create a good simple "mother sauce" that you can branch out from. My go to sauce contains all of 3 standard ingredients (Can of tomatoes, butter, and an onion). From there I may add other ingredients like garlic, basil, sausage, etc. It depends on what sort of flavor profile I want, but the base sauce is always the start. If I want spicy, I can add hot peppers. If I want sweet I can add a little sugar or honey. Or if I just want to taste tomatoes, I'll leave it as is.

Also, I highly suggest using San Marzano tomatoes for whatever sauce you come up with though. There is a huge difference between a generic can of tomatoes and a good quality can of San Marzanos.

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  • I even leave out the onion. As I have different recipes that call for a different cut on the onion (fine - medium dice, sliced, etc.). But I always add some carrot (finely shredded) to sweeten just a tad. But I agree this is the best way to go. – jeffwllms Aug 9 '11 at 14:05

I second @DHayes answer, although what I do is that I generally start with a base of onions, carrots and celery (which you can also precut & mix and keep in the freezer) which you mix with a little bit of extra virgin olive oil and you let brown a little bit. At this point you may add the tomatoes, a cup of water, forget about it... and let it cook for a while.

You can add herbs at the end, fresh basil works very well, as does oregano.

Then, depending on the recipe you may add chili, anchovies, garlic (all of which I would add before the tomatoes) etc.

Adding a teaspoon of sugar is also good to counteract the acidity of the tomatoes.

But, in summary, keep it simple.

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  • +1 for carrots. I've always found them in italian recipes and add a great sweetness, without changing consistency if chopped finely. – Alex Aug 9 '11 at 15:16

Ingredients are only half of the story! Do you use a long-simmering method, or is this a quick cooked (fresh) sauce? If you use a quick method, I would recommend substituting some of the olive oil for butter because olive oil reacts with some flavor compounds in the onion to produce a bitter taste that takes a good amount of simmering to cook away. What size can of tomatoes do you use? That is going to affect the ratios of the other ingredients. Other than that, since tomato sauce is really about highlighting a few prominent tastes, you should focus on getting the best ingredients possible.

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  • Butter gives a completely different taste to onion, that does not necessarily always work (I don't really like it with tomato sauce in general). If you slowly heat up the olive oil you won't have any side taste from the onions. – nico Aug 9 '11 at 19:52

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