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Tomato sauce – jar or homemade?

Tomato sauce – jar or homemade?


This is a jar of tomato sauce, the kind you would use as a pasta sauce or base for any number of meat dishes. It will cost you between 50p and £3; quality will vary and not necessarily be dependent on price.

Tomato sauce, or ragu to use the proper Italian term, is one of the most useful items in the kitchen and is an essential part of our Chicken Parmigiana recipe; not to mention the defining ingredient of a meatball sub. But just how difficult is it to make at home, and how does it compare in terms of time or cost? Let’s find out…

When it comes to homemade, you can do a quick version or a proper slow silky version. They both have pretty much the same ingredients and could not be easier to make; the difference lies in the time. Which as we all know equals money.

Ingredients for homemade tomato sauce

400g tin of chopped tomatoes (we find the value versions work best)


Olive oil

1 clove garlic, left whole but bashed

1 tsp flaked sea salt

A few sprigs of fresh herbs; oregano, rosemary, thyme (you can use dried, or just a single herb)

Tomato puree

The amount of oil, water, and tomato puree will vary with the cooking time. For the quick version, put all of the ingredients into a saucepan. Use a tablespoon of oil, 100g of water (one quarter of the empty tomato tin), and 2 tablespoons tomato puree. Give it a stir, set it over a medium heat, and allow to simmer for 20 minutes; turn the heat up if it isn’t bubbling fairly rapidly. This will give you a fairly chunky sauce with a robust flavour. It suits some dishes very well.

The slow version is the real deal. It will run rings around the shop bought stuff and laugh in the face of the quick version. Silky smooth, viscous with oil, and full of subtle layers of flavour, this is the stuff that clings to pasta and turns any food it touches into a textural joy. If you have the time, then this is the way to go. On the stove for two hours, it does have those time and money implications. Possibly offset by the fact that the ingredients cost next to nothing. Especially if you grow your own herbs. Thyme and rosemary are around all year and are easy to grow; well worth the effort of planting a few. Put them straight in the garden, rather than in pots and you won’t even have to water them.

The same as the quick version, all of the ingredients get tipped into the pan. This time, you want about 3 tablespoons olive oil, a whole can of water (if not more) and just 1 tablespoon tomato puree. Give it a stir and set over a low heat. Leave to simmer, very gently, for a good few hours, topping up with water if necessary. When ready, it is smooth and glossy. Very, very sexy.

Do give the slow version a try. Considering what goes into the pan, and how little you actually have to do, it is an absolute revelation.

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