Mary Ann's Blog

The Real Neapolitan Tomato Sauce

Striano, Italy may not be a destination for many but for me it was a trip of a lifetime to see how San Marzano plum DOP tomatoes are processed for sale.

Striano is in the province of Naples. I visited the Strianese Conserve s.r.l to get a better understanding of why these tomatoes are so outstanding and deserving of the DOP (denominazione origine protetta) or denomination of protected origin. Only the tomatoes grown in the Sarnese Nocerino area were considered the best because they were grown within the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius in extraordinary fertile soil that was perfect for tomato growing. And the farmers who grew them were lucky enough to have nearby water for irrigation. A win win all around. It wasn’t until the manufacturing and processing of these tomatoes became an industry in the mid 60’s that awareness of the San Marzano tomato became more well known.

The European Union recognized the importance of these tomatoes that come from the provinces of Naples, Salerno and Avellino and bestowed the coveted DOP standard.

Today touring the huge modern gleaming plant that processes the tomatoes in Striano is amazing to watch. A sea of tomatoes running along conveyor belts is inspected along the way by an army of red –uniformed clad women who pick and remove any tomatoes that are not up to standards and they do this all day every day in tomato season.

It is no surprise that the tomato put Italian food on the American map and created a love affair for all things tomato based including pizza and spaghetti. And we have compromised what those foods are really like at their Italian source. Tomato sauce is a case in point. There are a dizzying number of ways to make tomato sauce (sugo di pomodoro).Some use onions and garlic, some add tomato paste, some add carrots and celery and some add meat, in which case it is no longer a tomato sauce but a ragu sauce.

I grew up with a nonna (grandmother) from nearby Striano and her tomato sauce, which I still make today is made exactly the same way the original was made with nothing more that plum tomatoes peeled and crushed between your hands, whole cloves of garlic warmed in a couple tablespoons of lard or olive oil and the tomatoes added with a handful of basil leaves and cooked for about ten minutes. Salt was added for taste and that was tomato sauce in its purest tasting form.

When tomatoes are in season, I pluck them from my garden making jars of them that I store in the freezer for winter use. And when I need to buy canned tomatoes, I buy the Strianese which are available on line.

Neapolitan Tomato Sauce

Makes 1 quart

12 to 14 meaty, ripe large plum tomatoes in season 2 tablespoons olive oil

6 to 7 cloves peeled garlic, left whole

6 or 7 fresh basil leaves torn into pieces

Salt to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the tomatoes. Boil just a couple of minutes until the skin begins to blister. Drain, cool, peel and core and place the tomatoes in a bowl and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the garlic cloves and press on them with a wooden spoon. Let the garlic cook over medium heat until they soften, begin to turn golden and give off their aroma.

When ready to add the tomatoes take them by the handful from the bowl and crush them between your fingers right into the garlic mixture. Cook uncovered over medium heat for 10 minutes. Add the basil leaves and cook 3 to 4 more minutes. Add salt to taste. Done.

At this point you have a choice; leave the tomato sauce chunky and use as is or puree it into a smooth sauce. I like to puree it. To do this, transfer the sauce to fine sieve placed over a large bowl. Use a spoon to stir the sauce through leaving the seeds behind.

Tomato sauce can be frozen or kept in the refrigerator for 5 to 6 days.


  1. Jeff's avatar


    I spent a summer in school near that very region, and remember that the air was perfumed with the smell of cooking tomatoes!From the train one would see trucks full of fresh tomatoes on their way to the plants to be processed.
  2. Dante J. Caldera's avatar

    Dante J. Caldera

    I have traveled to Italy a number of times, on business, and tasted tomato sauces made in various parts of the southern and northern regions of Italy. I find this recipe to be the simplest and most basic Marinara sauce that I have enjoyed with my pasta.
  3. J.P. Arlotta's avatar

    J.P. Arlotta

    I just purchased some... Ciao S. Mariano Tomatoes of Agro Sarnese-Nocerino Area D.O.P. Crop 2012.
    Used some today for a simple pizza sauce with fresh oregano and basil.
    I agree with your blog entry. These particular tomatoes... in this particular canned brand, should only be used for a "sauce" type dish. Sauce as in the Sicilian-American version of the Sunday Dinner or for an afternoon meal.
  4. Rick Rattigan's avatar

    Rick Rattigan

    I tried your recipe for Sun dried tomatoes and loved it. I have been using it to put up extra tomatoes for several years. Have even given done as gifts. I never really cared for Sun dried tomatoes before but these are magnificent. Thanks.
  5. Janice Gardner's avatar

    Janice Gardner

    I have an abundance of Heirloom Tomatoes. Could I use these instead of plum tomatoes to make this sauce? Have always enjoyed your books and your cooking shows. My mom was a great admirer of you also. We cooked many recipes together, especially from your celebration cookbook.
  6. Angelo Passarelli's avatar

    Angelo Passarelli

    There are steps left out that are crucial to a typical Napolitano sauce. Our family secret is secret for a reason. Nothing on the net will ever by my family recipe that has existed for centuries!
  7. Andrew's avatar


    So funny that people like to keep their family recipe a "secret." I'm sure the world has plenty of better recipes that are publicly available. Somehow, we'll find a way to survive without those "secret" family recipes. Why even bother to post? So funny!
    My point here: thank you, Mary Ann, for sharing. Top notch recipe.
  8. Carl's avatar


    Very good recipe. I find two minutes is too long for boiling tomatoes -30 to 45 seconds is plenty - if you are not using too many tomatoes in the pot at once. 12-14 in a large pot will be fine - that is what we do when canning. Using a paring knife, slice a small x on the tip of each tomato before putting into boiling water; after boiling put into into cold water. The skins should easily pull off or squeeze out of the skin. The core can quickly be cut out after peeling.
  9. Yvonne's avatar


    Is it true to add fresh oregano plus fresh basil to pizza sauce
  10. satyaprasad kasturi's avatar

    satyaprasad kasturi

    can anyone suggest a brand for good tomato sauce in naples region
  11. Eduardo Ferrari's avatar

    Eduardo Ferrari

    Fake sauce. Why garlic? WHY GARLIC??? Why?

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