Sugo, marinara, red sauce, gravy, passata, pomodoro...the names are endless for classic Italian tomato sauce. And as someone who grew up in an Italian family, we have some pretty strong feelings about what is what. And this simple, classic recipe with just a few ingredients is an authentic and traditional italian tomato sauce - sugo.
Everyone should have a homemade Italian tomato sauce in their back pocket. From scratch is so much better tasting than store bought, and it comes to gether so fast with ingredients you already have on hand.
This is my Italian family recipe. I very rarely share generational family recipes, not because they are necessarily secret (though my aunt and grandparents might jump out of their graves at this one), but because I don't have a measured out recipe. I was taught to cook by family and in cooking we never used measurements.
But this sugo recipe is too good not to share, and I have decided to put more effort and focus on sharing family recipes here, and this is the perfect start.
What is sugo?
The literal translation from Italian is 'sauce.' It's Italian tomato or pomodoro sauce, made simply with tomatoes and few other ingredients. Everyone's is different with varying seasoning and additional ingredients. My recipe has only six main ingredients (plus salt), and really brings the flavor and natural sweetness of the tomatoes front and center.
One thing to note - this is not passata. Passata is actually just pureed tomatoes, nothing else added.
It is the base for so many great things, obvs spaghetti pomodoro, but also things like a lasagna base, for meatball subs, for chicken parm, sausage and peppers, even as a quick pizza sauce.
Between this and my oven roasted tomato recipe, I always have a homemade sauce at the ready.
What is the difference between sugo and ragu?
Sugo is much more a sauce in the terms of it being more liquid. A ragu is more often chunkier with additional vegetables and many times with meat added to it. Similar because they both use tomatoes, ragu tastes less of tomatoes and more of everything else that you include. Definitely different.
Six basic ingredients that are almost all pantry makes this recipe extra awesome. Here's what you need:
- Olive oil
- Basil. Try to use fresh basil leaves (you can get them year round at every grocery store), but if not, use dried basil leaves.
- Crushed red pepper
- Tomato paste
- Crushed canned tomatoes
- Whole canned tomatoes
There's like three steps to making sugo:
- Gently cook the garlic in the olive oil for a few seconds to get it fragrant.
- Add the crushed red pepper and tomato paste, and continue to cook for about five minutes. You want to cook the raw tomato flavor out of it and get it deepen in color a bit.
- Finally add the canned crushed and whole tomatoes and place the whole basil leaves in and simmer for about 30 minutes until it reduces and thickens a bit.
Ingredient swaps and variations
While this sugo recipe is what I consider a classic Italian tomato sauce recipe, there is always room for adapting.
- Add a little wine. This is something that was a family discussion for a long time. My aunt added red wine to everything, and my grandma added white wine to everything. Both were adamant about their choices (I mean there was serious swearing involved when I asked about this). I leave it out of this traditional recipe because I want it to be simple and truly full of tomato flavor, not really anything else. But by all means, add some wine, you won't be sorry!
- Use onion instead of, or in addition to, garlic.
- Use fresh tomatoes instead of canned. A great option in summer.
How to store
The great thing about this is that you can make multiple batches and freeze it, or can it in mason jars. I like to can it, myself. Here is a great article on how to do this.
If you freeze, just make sure it is in a properly sealed freezer safe container or bag, and keep it for up to five months.
In the fridge this will keep tightly covered for about one week.
Since sugo has so few ingredients, I think it is really important to choose quality everything. Use a nicer olive oil, and imported canned tomatoes if you can find them. Also use fresh garlic, NOT jarred, pre-minced garlic. A classic an authentic Italian tomato sauce should taste fresh and ture to all the ingredients.
Family Italian recipes
Try these authentic recipes from my Italian family to yours.
- Sauce pan
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 5 garlic cloves smashed and finely chopped
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 2 tablespoon tomato paste
- 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
- 28 oz can whole tomatoes
- 2 tablespoon fresh basil
- In a large sauce pan or Dutch oven heat up the olive oil over medium heat. Add the smashed, chopped garlic and sauté for about 30 seconds to get it fragrant. Add the tomato paste and crushed red pepper, and continue to cook about five minutes to brown the tomato paste a bit. Add both cans of tomatoes and simmer for at least 30 minutes, but up to an hour, on low. The sauce should reduce and thicken a bit.