Nonna Maria’s Basic Pasta Sauce

Simple, authentic and easy. This sauce forms the base for many recipes, so once mastered, the possibilities are endless. In the early days, we made our own bottled tomatoes, but now the imported stuff is just as good (and much more consistent!). Nonna Maria's general rule of thumb is one 400g can of diced tomatoes per person, depending on how saucy you like it. While a simple recipe, it might require some trial and error to get the balance of flavours just right for your palette. Serves 2.


  • 2 cans of 400g diced tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup of passata (tomato puree)
  • 1/2 a red onion, roughly chopped into small cubes
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely diced
  • 1 and 1/4 teaspoons of salt
  • a few leaves of fresh basil
  • a good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • parmesan cheese to serve
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  1. Line the base of a pot with a generous amount of olive oil, about 2-3mm in depth. Add onion and garlic and lightly fry, stirring, over a medium heat. Throw in a couple of basil leaves.
  2. Once the onion and garlic softens, add the diced tomato, the passata and the salt. Also stir through 1/3 cup of water. Put the lid on and allow to simmer gently on low heat.
  3. After half an hour, give the sauce a stir and taste for balance. If too acidic, add a bit more salt. The sauce should be cooked after 30 to 40 mins (or when the oil rises to the top), but it can be left to simmer gently on low heat for a further 1.5 to 2 hours. The longer it cooks, the richer the flavour (Nonna Maria leaves hers to simmer for approximately 2 hours). If leaving to simmer, take care not to reduce the sauce too much that it burns and ensure you stir occasionally. If doubling the recipe, bear in mind that larger volumes take longer to cook.
  4. Once cooked, if the sauce is still too watery, allow it to simmer gently without the lid on until it has reduced to the desired thickness. Similarly, add a bit more water if the sauce is too thick and requires more cooking time. Stir through a few more basil leaves just before serving.
  5. Cook your pasta in well salted boiling water (a good rule of thumb is to salt the water until it tastes like seawater). When cooked, drain and toss through a few ladles of the sauce – enough to coat all of the pasta well. Serve pasta topped with as much sauce as you prefer. Finish with grated parmesan cheese.

Tags: Groceries

Why we like it

It's so simple yet so good! A classic sauce that forms the base for so many other recipes such as lasagne and spaghetti bolognese.

How we Eat It

We like to add a bit of bite - you can use hot chilli, but for a more piccante flavour, we drizzle some Muraca Perpperoncino ontop.

Nonna Maria's top 3 Tips

  1. Taste frequently.
  2. Don’t be afraid to use salt – it brings out the flavour of the tomatoes and balances the acidity. Add small amounts of salt at a time to prevent oversalting until you become familiar with cooking the sauce.
  3. Cook long and slow rather than fast and furious.

We Recommend

  • Annalisa Passata

    Find it at:
    Sauce & Condiments Aisle

  • Annalisa Diced Tomato Cans

    Find it at:
    Sauce & Condiments Aisle

  • Ravida Extra Virgin Olive Oil

    Find it at:
    Oil & Vinegar Aisle